So why go Paleo? To start things off, here’s a little Paleolithic timeline for you. We started eating the Paleo way about 2.5 million years ago, and then we drastically changed our diets about 10,000 years ago when we began cultivating grains and legumes. That’s not much time for evolution to catch up with us, meaning our bodies are still most adept at eating the way we used to eat: meat, vegetables, fruits, and some nuts and seeds.
When I say not a lot of time, think of it like this: 10,000 years out of 2.5 million is equivalent to a little under 2 months of a 40 year old man’s life, or .4% of his life – not very much. Switching from our evolutionary diet of animal products, veggies and fruit to a diet full of grains and legumes is like that movie Super Size Me where Morgan Spurlock goes from eating his normal diet to eating only McDonald’s food for 30 days. His health plummets – he gets fat and depressed, and he develops fatty liver and sexual dysfunction.
That’s basically what’s happened on a grand scale over the last 10,000 years of humanity. We’ve replaced wholesome, clean plant matter and animal foods with a high carbohydrate, low nutrient, high toxic chemical diet and we’ve gotten sick. We’ve shrunken in size, our bones are osteoporotic, we have more cancer, obesity and diabetes, an alarming incidence of heart disease, inflammation of all kinds, skin problems and the list goes on. And on. We are sick. But our Paleolithic ancestors were not and the hunter gatherer tribes that still exist are not.
So, what do you eat on this diet? Here’s a sample day (or see our sample meal plan here):
-Eggs, sausage, mushrooms, onions, garlic, and kale
-Sauteed and scrambled in coconut oil
-Avocado to top it off
-Tossed green salad with tons of veggies (spinach, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.)
-Olive oil, herb, and lemon juice dressing
-Cantaloupe, blackberries, and pecans
Leftover baked salmon and red peppers
-Steamed summer squash with lemon juice, coconut milk, and cinnamon
-1 or 2 dates
See, that’s not so bad is it? There are tons and tons of nutrients in there and no fillers. It does take some getting used to – more for some than others. Most people go through a detoxification period (see the post on detoxing here) where your body is learning how to efficiently use fats instead of carbohydrates as a major source of energy.
It took me almost 3 weeks to not feel like I was walking through oatmeal all the time when I first started eating Paleo. And then one day, I just felt better. I felt great, actually. Some people’s transition period lasts only a few days, though. It depends on how much your body dislikes grains, legumes, refined sugars, and dairy; the more it dislikes those things, the harder you detoxify and the worse you feel. Once you’re done detoxing, though, most people end up with fewer cravings, more energy, leaner bodies and clearer heads.
Here’s the approved foods list:
Eat as much of these as you want, as long as they’re from clean, pasture raised sources:
Fats – tallow, lard, coconut oil, olive oil (uncooked or lightly cooked)
Nuts (peanuts are not nuts)
Seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower)
As a recap, if you were to follow the Paleolithic diet, you would eat the foods above and remove grains, legumes, dairy, and refined sugar from your diet. Here’s a post explaining the do’s and don’t’s of the diet in more detail.
Think that looks too hard? Well, in the beginning it is for some people, but I hear most Paleo people say that it was way easier than they thought it would be to make the transition. If you still need some convincing, here are 4 reasons you might want to think about going Paleo:
Lectins are found in large amounts in grains, legumes (especially soy), and nightshades (potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, tobacco, eggplant). One theory is that lectins are a natural defense mechanism for plants, in that they make plants very difficult for animals like us to digest. They are sticky, so when they enter your digestive tract, they glom on to your intestinal walls and wreak havoc there. They can contribute greatly to leaky gut syndrome, which is when you essentially develop holes in your gut that allow food particles to get into your blood stream. Basically, it’s when your poop gets into places in your body that it’s not supposed to go. Your immune system attacks it and any kind of inflammation (food sensitivities) can happen from there, including autoimmune diseases like celiac and rheumatoid arthritis. Leaky gut has a lot to do with basic gastrointestinal complaints like gas, bloating, and indigestion, which often lead to fatigue, headaches, etc.
The sad part is that we could be disarming some of the lectins by soaking, sprouting or fermenting our foods, but that’s old fashioned and only old hippies do that anymore. So we choose to make up the bulk of our diets with plants that evolved to thwart us – and then we wonder why we feel like crap.
2. Phytic acid
Along with lectins, phytic acid is considered an anti-nutrient. Phytic acid is not digestible by non-ruminants (read: non-cud-chewers) because we lack the enzyme phytase. Phytic acid is found in (guess what) grains, legumes, corn, soy, nuts and seeds (but yes, nuts and seeds are allowable in moderation on the Paleo diet because they don’t contain an armory of other anti-nutrients like grains and legumes do). Phytic acid actually binds to the magnesium, calcium, zinc and iron in foods and takes those crucial nutrients OUT of our bodies. We do not want that to happen. Cordain and others believe that this alone is greatly contributing to the worldwide epidemic of iron-deficiency anemia. Many people are deficient in magnesium as well, which can contribute to everything from muscle cramping to PMS. And why would we not want to be stripped of our zinc? Well, it’s just SUPER important to our immune systems and for our reproductive abilities. No biggie. I didn’t get to calcium yet – I’m saving that for number 3…
3. You don’t need dairy (gasp!).
Calcium – let’s go there, shall we? We are all told to eat our dairy, drink our milk, and eat our yogurt because we need the calcium for strong bones. For some reason, though, butter was demonized in there somewhere, so we came up with margarine – it’s all so confusing… Anyway, Americans are scared to death of not getting enough calcium, and I think it’s a scam. I believe it’s another ploy by Dairy Management Inc to get us to buy America’s surplus of factory farmed cheese. People, bones are not just made up of calcium. I repeat, your bones are not just sticks of calcium. You need a lot of minerals to build them, plus protein and a bunch of other nutrient co-factors that you find in nutrient dense foods like meat, vegetables and fruits. Here’s the funny part - dairy is HIGHLY acid forming in your body, and when you have a net acid diet (lots of grains, dairy, and meat, and few fruits and veggies), calcium gets leached from your bones to try to neutralize the acid. Yes, dairy can contribute to osteoporosis.
4. The Paleo diet is satisfying.
Have you ever gone on a low-fat diet? Do you have low-fat products in your kitchen right now? I thought so. We’re all just as afraid of eating fat as we are of not getting enough calcium. There are groups of Inuits who live predominantly on fatty fish, seal oil and fish eggs who have no signs of heart disease, obesity or cancer. Fat carries flavors and it makes us feel full and satiated. It gives us the sensation that we’ve eaten something hearty (because we have), so we don’t need to eat again for a while. Dense protein (meat) has a similar effect on us. An ample amount of protein and fat together create balanced blood sugar levels so we don’t crash and burn all day, all week, forever… So when the bulk of your diet is coming from those two macronutrients instead of carbohydrates in the form of refined grains, you get a sense of satisfaction every time you eat.
When people start eating Paleo, they often lose weight, feel less hungry, and have fewer cravings for sugar. Their skin clears up, they have more energy, and they find that muscles start appearing where there had only been flab for years. This way of eating can literally reverse diabetes, reduce your chances of getting cancer, and reduce inflammation in your joints. It can help you avoid heart disease. People’s digestive systems thank them for this diet, and many people even get to come off of their antidepressants and other medications.
I am a nutrition therapist and I’ve seen all of these effects first hand in people. In my opinion, if you’re struggling with health issues, this diet is well worth a shot. You have nothing to lose by trying it out.
If you want a little extra help with meal planning, that’s what we’re here for. To subscribe to the Paleo Plan and receive weekly menus and grocery lists, go here.