I guess I’m able to laugh at myself because even as an avid CrossFitter and Paleo nutritionist, I find this video which takes a sardonic jab at the Paleo-CrossFit connection to be really funny. Of course, in reality, the relationship between CrossFit and the Paleo diet is not one of boneheads leading the blind as the video suggests. CrossFit serves a community of individuals interested in functional fitness and the back-to-basics, micronutrient dense, high quality Paleo diet supports this activity very effectively. However, whether you do CrossFit or not, the Paleo diet works to improve human health by exchanging nutrient poor, inflammatory foods for those that have high nutritional value and anti-inflammatory effects. The Paleo diet combines the diet and lifestyle basics of our ancestral past with the best biomedical discoveries modern science has to offer and by bringing together the best of the past and the present, we can heal ourselves from the diseases of modern civilization.
What is the Paleo Diet?
In its most basic form, following a Paleo diet means eating nutrient dense vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, healthy fats, nuts and seeds while avoiding grains, beans, soy, dairy, refined vegetable oils and refined sugar. In its broadest form, the Paleo diet places value on locally grown food that is produced ethically and sustainably and mimics the traditional human diet by including pastured meats and wild fish from animals that ate appropriately for their species and plant foods grown free of pesticides, herbicides and other potential toxins. Paleo also places a premium on certain unrefined fats and oils that are known to have health benefits. As such, the Paleo diet places a premium on foods with the highest nutritional value and the lowest toxic loads. It is an approach based on the nutritional habits that our hunter-gatherer ancestors evolved to thrive on during the 2.5 million years of the Paleolithic but does not copy their diet exactly – more on that in a minute.
Why should we follow the Paleo diet?
The Paleolithic era was long and formative and just prior to the relatively recent post-agricultural revolution that began around 10,000 years ago when humans transitioned from hunting and gathering to farming. Since this epic transition, many of us have not yet adapted physiologically to farmed foods including, you guessed it – grains, beans, soy, and dairy. As a consequence, when we eat these foods, we get sick. Some of us get really sick! Over time, these foods can irritate and eventually damage our guts in a variety of ways, which leads to all kinds of health problems including the chronic diseases that plague civilization today. Obviously, there is tremendous health value to avoiding foods we have not adapted to!
Should we reject all foods our ancestors didn’t have access to?
No, of course not. Avoiding foods we are maladapted to today shouldn’t translate into a rejection of all foods our ancestors didn’t have access to. If we behave like that, we’ll end up sounding as stupid and annoying as the actor in the video and we certainly won’t be helping the cause. What the Paleo diet provides is a framework of foods available today that are similar in structure and chemistry to the foods of the Paleolithic era. When we choose from this framework, our health improves and we can function at a higher level. It is unnecessary and quite frankly, impossible to eat exactly as our Paleolithic ancestors did and as discussed in this previous post, here are four reasons why:
1. We just don’t know exactly what cave people ate.
We really don’t know what a true Paleolithic diet consisted of because the scope of anthropological evidence is small and technically, it’s very difficult to tease out meaningful conclusions from what we have.
2. There was more than one true Paleo diet.
Early humans lived all over the globe in vastly different environments. What they ate depended on geographic location and what the topography, climate and seasons supported. And let’s not forget that the Paleolithic is a 2.5 million year time span. The types of foods available to our ancestors no doubt changed continuously over time.
3. Animals and plants of the past are not available today.
The plants and animals of the Paleolithic are simply not around for us to eat today. By now, most have gone extinct or evolved one way or another into something different in response to ever changing environmental pressures.
4. Romanticizing the past is silly.
It’s important to remember that today’s Paleo diet presents the best the past and the present have to offer. On the nutritional front, our ancestors faced threats of starvation, vitamin and mineral deficiencies and being poisoned by toxic plants. Furthermore, we can assume that not all the diet choices they made were necessarily wise ones, because well, they were human. Today, we are fortunate enough to be able to make the most informed decisions possible based on a vast and ever growing collection of anecdotal and scientific data.
As you can see, going Paleo is not about sticking to a dogmatic set of rules. That’s just silly. It’s about choosing from a nutritional framework based on the practices of our ancestors that includes foods we know to be of high nutritional value and low toxicity. Because we all have different tolerances and reactions to what we eat, it’s important for you to choose those foods that support your heath, sustain your energy and make you feel great.
For a comprehensive list of Paleo foods to choose from so you can feel your best, check out this paleo diet food list.
Wishing you all good health,