At this point, virtually everyone on the planet understands that diet is key to good physical health and mental wellbeing. With a healthy and balanced diet, it’s possible to lose weight, prevent disease, and feel better. Certain foods in your diet could even help to relieve anxiety, improve mood, and boost cognition.
The biggest challenge for most people is knowing what kind of diet to follow. With countless fad diets being prevalent in popular culture, there’s a lot of misinformation. Even some of the most popular diets are not fully understood by those who follow them.
Take the Paleo diet as an example. It’s often referred to as the caveman diet, due to its heavy emphasis on natural foods that would have been available before humans discovered agriculture. It discourages the consumption of processed foods, dairy products, legumes, and grains. The Paleo diet is protein and fat-rich and is one of the most meat-heavy diets of all.
While it is often ranked by consumers as one of the best diets out there, Paleo is sometimes at the bottom of the lists compiled by health experts. It’s time to understand the truth of this low-carb diet and find out whether it’s worth incorporating into your lifestyle.
The Fundamentals of the Paleo Diet
At its heart, Paleo is all about whole foods. Paleo also discourages the consumption of legumes and grains, even those that haven’t been processed.
This results in a relatively low carbohydrate intake compared to most other diets today.
Here’s what people are advised to avoid on a Paleo diet:
• Cereal grains like wheat, millet, rice, barley, oats, corn etc. Both whole and processed grains are avoided on Paleo.
• Legumes, such as beans and peanuts.
• Refined or raw sugars in any form.
• Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yoghurt.
• Potatoes and similar starchy vegetables.
• Vegetable oils.
• Processed food, including manufactured beverages.
That’s a pretty significant list of things to avoid, especially when considering the average diet today. Anyone that follows a Paleo diet will find that the lifestyle change is significant. It can be incredibly difficult for people to eliminate all the ‘bad’ food groups under Paleo.
These are the foods that are recommended:
There are options when it comes to food that is allowed under Paleo. Some of these may surprise you, as they would likely not have been available to ancient humans…
• Organic grass-fed meat, or poultry.
• Fish and other seafood.
• Non-starchy fresh fruits and vegetables.
• Nuts and seeds (excluding peanuts, which are legumes.)
• Unrefined coconut and olive oils.
There are no special rules regarding when to eat on a Paleo diet. Most people who follow the diet will consume three main meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) with small snacks in between.
What are the Benefits of Following the Paleo Diet?
Considering the list of allowed and disallowed food groups, Paleo already looks quite healthy. Reducing processed foods, most oils, salt, and starchy vegetables could help you to lose weight and feel better. Indeed, many followers of Paleo started the diet to manage weight and get in shape.
There are other unexpected benefits that most people wouldn’t be aware of without trying the diet or putting in some extensive research.
Take a look at all the most significant benefits below:
• Increased Energy: People who follow a Paleo lifestyle and diet will tell you that they typically feel more energetic than before they started the diet. This is because many of the allowed foods in the Paleo diet are nutritionally-dense. Nuts, meat, and seafood are all excellent sources of energy that can be quickly metabolized. Paleo is also particularly high in vitamin B12, which helps to support energy production.
• Weight Loss: Weight loss is the reason that most people try Paleo for the first time. The diet can help to promote weight loss by removing many of the most common carbohydrate-rich food groups. Replacing these with lean proteins and healthy fats can assist with weight loss. Paleo also encourages people to eat more low-starch vegetables that are rich in fiber. This helps to reduce cravings between meals, while increasing satiety with fewer total calories.
• Improved Brain Health: Paleo is high in Omega 3, thanks to the increased intake of seafood and legumes. Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid that can improve cognition and protect the brain against degenerative diseases.
• Increased Muscle Development: Protein is the building block of all muscle in the body. Due to its emphasis on grass fed meat, poultry, and seafood, Paleo is high in protein. This can lead to increased muscle development in those who are regularly active. Combining Paleo with resistance training could be an effective way to increase your muscle mass.
• Reduced Toxin Intake: Processed foods are loaded with toxins that can be harmful to your health. If you want to reduce toxins in your body the natural way, Paleo could be an effective option. Whole foods, particularly certified organic foods, contain fewer toxins than those that are heavily processed and treated with chemical pesticides.
• Higher Vitamin Intake: Paleo can help to boost vitamin intake, thanks to the abundance of whole food sources that can be consumed. Vegetables, fruits, and meat can all help to boost vitamins that the body can’t easily synthesize.
• Reduced Inflammation: The Paleo diet is antioxidant rich, especially when cruciferous vegetables are integrated into the diet. Antioxidants fight free radicals in the body, reducing oxidation. There are countless benefits to consuming more antioxidants. Inflammation can be reduced or even alleviated altogether. Reducing oxidation and inflammation will also help to protect against some forms of disease, including cancer.
The Negatives of a Paleo Diet
There’s no single ‘miracle’ diet that will bring you good health without compromises. Paleo can be an effective way to lose weight and increase overall nutrition. However, it’s not perfect for everyone, and there are also some aspects of Paleo that are not ideal for everyday health.
Here are the biggest risks and downsides of Paleo.
• It Can be Hard to follow: Many experts note that Paleo is hard to maintain, due to the elimination of several food groups. The diet is counterintuitive for Americans and other natives of western cultures where starchy carbohydrates are a significant part of every meal.
• Paleo Can be Costly: There’s a reason why processed foods are so widely consumed in the developed world. To put it bluntly; they’re cheap. Inexpensive meal planning is possible on Paleo, but in most cases, you will spend more to follow this type of diet than if you were to follow the average American or western diet. This can turn many people away from Paleo, especially when considering the cost of fresh organic meat.
• It’s particularly difficult for Vegetarians to Follow this Diet: Legumes are essential for a vegetarian diet. Soy products are often used in place of meat. On Paleo, legumes are strongly discouraged, which can make it difficult for vegetarians to get the right nutrition. Vegans will find it near impossible to follow a Paleo diet, due to the high reliance on meat and seafood.
• Highly Active People Will Not Benefit from a Paleo Diet: Active people, including athletes, need at least three grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. This daily requirement cannot be met on the Paleo diet, due to the elimination of starchy grains and vegetables. If you are more physically active than the normal person, then this diet would not be ideal. However, Paleo could be slightly adapted to include more carbohydrates while still eliminating vegetable oils and processed foods. This would still come with a host of benefits, like decreased toxins in the body and increased vitamin B12 intake.
Is the Paleo Diet Worth It?
Not every health expert is a fan of Paleo, but millions of people have taken long term benefits from the diet. The biggest obstacle is price and the ability to commit to a diet that often puts you into a mindset of avoiding certain foods.
Paleo isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth trying if you want to lose weight and reduce your reliance on processed food sources. Smart shopping choices could result in a relatively affordable diet that improves your health and overall nutrition.