What’s the Theory Behind the Paleo Diet?
If you’re completely new to the Paleo diet, this is the place for you. The Paleo way of eating is becoming more and more widespread, so you may have heard about it at work, in the gym (especially if you’re a CrossFit type), or at a party where your friend was telling you how he lost all that weight. While it may be a new diet, it’s actually quite (well, extremely) old, hence its name. The Paleolithic era was from about 2.5 million years ago until about 10,000 years ago when we humans started intensively cultivating crops and raising animals for food. At the end of the Paleolithic era, people started to transition from eating the animals they hunted and the plants they gathered to eating the grains from their crops and the meat and milk from their domesticated animals.
Since then, heart disease, obesity, diabetes type 2, cancer and other inflammatory diseases have crept in to our societies, whereas modern hunter gatherer societies (who are believed to eat similarly to our Paleolithic ancestors) show almost no signs of any of those maladies. Since food is so integral to our health, we can only assume that the hunter-gatherer way of eating had a lot to do with their impeccable health, and in the last 100 years, there has been a lot of research to substantiate that idea. This Paleo way of eating and being takes us back to our roots, and you’re hearing so much about it because it makes people feel better: they lose weight, gain muscle, have more energy, have less inflammation of all kinds, their skin looks better and they feel younger. Digestive problems often disappear, seasonal allergies and asthma may abate, and people regularly go off their diabetes medications, including insulin.
The great thing about it is that this way of eating is not a crash diet – you’re not going to feel hungry if you do it right, so it’s sustainable – 2.5 million years sustainable.
What Do You Eat on the Paleo diet?
Since the hunter-gatherer way of eating was first researched and brought to the public’s attention by people like Weston Price, Art DeVany and then Loren Cordain (and others since, namely Robb Wolf and Mark Sisson), there has been quite a bit of contention about what hunter gatherers actually did/do eat and how to realistically manifest that in the 21st century. Loren Cordain first argued that coconut products were too full of lauric acid to be good for people, and while he’s let up on that belief a little, he still states that hunter gatherers in tropical areas who eat a lot of coconut would be even healthier if they didn’t.
Cordain also condoned drinking the occasional diet soda, full of aspartame and other toxic, synthetic sweeteners. We don’t necessarily agree with that here at Paleo Plan, given the research done on the myriad negative effects of most synthetic sweeteners. Another source of contention is sweet potatoes and other starchy root vegetables. Are they Paleo or are they not? Well, there is plenty of evidence that some hunter-gatherer groups ate root veggies as main staples in their diets, so what seems to be happening in the Paleo world is an acceptance for these starchy foods for people who are quite active, like hunter-gatherer groups generally were. One more disagreement is that Loren Cordain doesn’t like the fat/protein ratio of bacon and other fatty meats, but Mark Sisson adores it and Robb Wolf doesn’t hate it. All of these, and many other topics, are constantly evolving.
It’s Not Cut and Dry
Here at Paleo Plan, we believe in having a great framework for your diet that helps you easily say “yes” or “no” to certain foods. Following the Paleo Plan makes that really easy, since your menus, recipes and shopping lists are all laid out for you. (Click here for more info on subscribing to our service.) There is a time and a place for being really strict with your diet, like when you have debilitating food sensitivities or when you’re preparing for an athletic competition.
For everyone else who’s trying to live a long, healthy life AND have fun while doing it, give yourself a break sometimes and eat what feeds your soul. That’s why we give you the Flex Days if you want them on Paleo Plan. Have some lentil soup your mom made especially for you. Or have a beer and pizza (gasp!) every once in a while. It’s good for two reasons. One, you get to live a little. And two, the bloating or headache or (enter symptom here) you might get after indulging will help you remember why you’re eating Paleo in the first place.
Below, you’ll find a list of foods and to what extent they are accepted as Paleo. Our guidelines are created using a mixture of all of the Paleo gurus’ philosophies and research, our own beliefs, and what is realistic to implement in your daily life.
For all of the foods listed, our hope is that you choose those that are free of pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, animal abuse and that the food the animals were fed was appropriate for their species.
You can eat all of them without limit, except…
Vegetables to limit for weight loss:
Potatoes – stay away from potatoes if you have an autoimmune disorder
Limit fruit intake, especially dried fruit, for weight loss, according to some, but otherwise, eat all of them freely.
MEATS and EGGS
Eat meats and eggs freely, but in order to mimic our ancestors best, eat these products from animals that were grass fed/pasture raised. At the least, steer clear of meats with preservatives and color or flavor enhancers, particularly added nitrites, as they can be pretty toxic.
Eggs – from chickens, ducks, emu, quail, etc.
FISH, SHELL FISH, FISH EGGS
All species are fine – just be conscious of mercury levels and ecological practices. Know that smaller fish like anchovies generally have less bio-accumulation of heavy metals and toxins, and high levels of omega 3 fatty acids.
NUTS & SEEDS
All are good, as well as the butters that are made from them. Also on this list are coconut flour and almond flour. Peanuts are NOT NUTS – they’re legumes, and thus are not on the list. If you’re trying to lose weight, limit nuts and seeds to about 1 or 2 ounces per day, as the calories add up quickly!
kombu, wakame, other seaweeds, algaes, etc. They’re all good – great, in fact.
Watch your intake of all of these if you’re trying to lose weight – they’re very calorie dense.
Note: Unrefined palm oil used to be on this list, but because of its production is directly associated with the ensuing extinction of orangutans, we’ve removed it from the list. For more info, go here.
Filtered or spring water
Freshly juiced fruits and vegetables
EAT IN MODERATION
Alcohol (all kinds)
Sweeteners – Raw honey, stevia, coconut sap, grade B maple syrup
FOODS TO AVOID
Pasteurized Dairy – butter, milk, yogurt, kefir, cream, ice cream, powdered milk, and anything else from an animal’s teat. This is debatable in the Paleo community, so do your reading and choose for yourself. In our opinion, if you’re going to have dairy, you should make it raw, whole-fat, fermented dairy. Read more on that here.
Grains or grain-like foods - wheat, rice, millet, oats, spelt, kamut, quinoa, buckwheat, wild rice, amaranth, sorghum, rye, barley, corn. AND any flour, noodle or other food made out of any of these.
Legumes – All beans. Black, pinto, red, soy, lentils, peas, peanuts, adzuki, garbanzo, navy, mung, lima, black-eyed peas, you get the picture… Snowpeas, sugar snap peas and green beans are acceptable to eat. Read an explanation about why legumes are not on the diet here.
Refined Sweeteners – sugar cane, white sugar, brown sugar, refined maple syrup, refined honey, aspartame, sucralose, Nutrasweet, Splenda, and anything else refined or man-made.
Highly Processed Oils - any oil that is hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, fractionated, refined, or otherwise adulterated.
Most Vegetable Oils – Any oil with a high omega 6 content that comes from a seed, grain or legume, such as corn, soybean, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed, grape seed, peanut and others. Seeds like flax and hemp have a lower omega 6 content and thus are fine. Just don’t cook with those.
Fruit Juice – unless it comes straight from your juicer at home.
Soft Drinks – see “Sweeteners” above.
Refined, iodized salt – use unrefined sea salt instead
There you have it. If you have questions about specific foods that you don’t see here, let me know by posting a comment or writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.