The basic idea of paleo is eating non-processed, grain-free foods.
Foods that are good to eat include all meats, all vegetables, fruits, nuts, and fats that are not high in omega-6s (like coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil).
Foods that are discouraged include all grains (e.g., wheat, rice, barley, rye, quinoa, couscous, etc.), legumes (beans, peanuts, soy), fats high in omega-6s (like canola, sunflower, vegetable oil), and processed sugars (although eating copious amounts of honey, maple syrup or any other form of ‘natural’ sugars is also discouraged).
Is there any science backing this?
Contrary to what some people may think, the paleo lifestyle is simply chock-full of science. In fact, some paleo writers tell us so much of the science behind the lifestyle that it’s practically impossible to keep up! Even I’ve broken into the occasional medical study or two (despite having promised myself that I wouldn’t do so after quitting my life as a physicist!). But if you’re just itching to learn all the science behind paleo, then check out this handy Resource section.
What is all that caveman talk?
Part of the idea behind Paleo is going back to what our ancestors ate (hence the name of my blog, Ancestral Chef). But by ‘ancestor,’ I mean Paleolithic ancestors (i.e., caveman-era people). That’s why many people following the Paleo lifestyle fondly refer to themselves as caveman or cavegirl. Of course that doesn’t mean we actually have to grunt when we eat, eat with our hands, forgo electricity or live in a cave (although you are of course free to try any of these)!
Why I went Paleo!
I was definitely a skeptic when I first heard about Paleo. Why was there so much emphasis on our ancestors? And wasn’t meat supposed to be bad for you? And then of course, there was the “I can’t not eat bread!” response.
All of this changed after I read more about Paleo and discovered first hand just how much better I felt! It’s hard to deny the great feeling you wake up with every day regardless of how much of a skeptic you might be.
So what is so great about Paleo?
Eating less processed sugar meant that that I had much more energy. There were no more horrific sugar crashes after lunch (or after breakfast and dinner!). Eliminating wheat and other grains from my diet cured most of my gut problems. And, my heartburn issues (for which I had been taking medication for years) suddenly vanished.
I have to admit that eliminating bread, pasta, and cakes was difficult at first, but now that I’m acutely aware of how bad it makes me feel when I eat it, the temptation just isn’t there anymore.
Why does eating this way work? It’s not a coincidence that this just magically works. Our modern diets have really only been around for around the past 50 years. Before that we were much less reliant on processed foods in general. Sugar consumption has also increased dramatically over the years, and hardly anyone can deny that eating a diet lower in sugar is good for you!
As for why grains are detrimental to your health, it’s mainly a problem with some of the proteins in grains (e.g., gluten, which is in all wheat products). These proteins cause all sorts of digestive issues because our bodies view these grains as toxins.
Even though we think people have been eating grains forever, the fact is that scientists believe that grains entered our diet around 12,000 years ago (even though humans have been around for 2.5 million years). More and more people are discovering that even if they are not celiac, they are still gluten sensitive. So even people without any health problems often feel much better (just generally) when they cut out wheat and sugar.
Paleo is NOT…
- Eating raw foods (whether it be meat or otherwise, although there are a small number of raw Paleo eaters).
- Eating only meat. Veggies, fruit, and nuts also play a large part in our diets.
- Full of crazy people. I personally think I’m quite “normal.”
- A get thin quick diet. This is a lifestyle for healthy living. It’s quite likely that you will lose weight too, but the aim is actually being better for your body rather than starving yourself into a thinner body.
Other Facts About Paleo:
Like I’ve mentioned above, Paleo is really a lifestyle rather than a 2 week diet! Some exercising (especially lifting) is greatly encouraged.
Perhaps the most important thing that Paleo emphasizes…SLEEP!
This is perhaps the part of Paleo I’m really not good at. Most of us just don’t realize how lack of sleep truly affects us in so many ways (from brain function, to aging, to stalling weight-loss).
How do you start living a Paleo Lifestyle?
The first thing you should do is to cut out wheat from your diet. So, no bread and no pasta. This would be a great start. If you want to go further, cut out all processed sugars from your diet, and then all other grains (like rice, quinoa, etc.). It’s also good to start cooking with coconut oil (olive oil shouldn’t be heated as it changes when heated, but it’s great for salads!).