Paleo Diet Guide – Should You Eat Like a Caveman or Not?

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So if you have not been living under a rock or in a cave (pun intended), you have probably heard about the Paleo diet. It is one of the hottest new diet plans on the market.

The Paleo diet is a modern nutrition plan based on the presumed diet of Paleolithic humans. The diet is based on several theories: (1) That human genetics have changed only slightly since the end of the Paleolithic era and the dawn of agriculture. (2) That we as modern humans have adapted to the diet of the Paleolithic era. (3) With current science and technology, we are able to distinguish what the Paleolithic diet consisted of.

The diet first became popular in the mid-seventies when gastroenterologist Walter L. Voegtlin proposed that consuming the diet our ancestors ate would promote health. Today there are numerous doctors and nutritionists advocating a return to a preagricultural diet. There is no shortage of websites and books synthesizing diets from modern-day foods that share nutritional characteristics of the ancient Paleolithic diet. Many have developed their own variation. For example, some Paleolithic diet followers believe that human genetics have not yet adapted to cooked food and therefore will only consume raw foods. Some also recommend a higher protein, low carbohydrate and moderate fat approach to the diet.

Rationale
One of the early Paleo diet researchers, S. Boyd Eaton, has written a couple of books on the diet. He believes humans have inherited the biochemistry and physiological characteristics that existed before the invention of agriculture over 10,000 years ago and that genetically our bodies resemble humans some 20,000 years ago.

The reasoning behind the nutritional approach is that through natural selection, humans had time to adapt to the physiology and metabolism of the Paleolithic humans and the conditions of that time. But since the invention of agriculture and its change on diet, natural selection has not had sufficient time to adapt. Followers of the diet feel refined sugars, dairy products, cereals, refined vegetables oils and alcohol contribute little if no energy in a typical preagriculture diet. And that excessive intake of these foods leads to cancers, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

paleo-diet-guide-farmingWith the advent of agriculture and domesticated animals, humans started consuming large amounts of dairy products, cereals, beans, alcohol and salt. The Industrial Revolution added mechanical food processing techniques and intensive farming leading to the production of refined grains, sugars, oils and fattier cuts of meat. All of this has resulted in diets varying in glycemic load, acid-base balance, sodium content, macro and micronutrients density, fatty acid composition and fiber content.

The changes in diet composition are theorized as an increased risk factors in the development of diseases and chronic illness that have arisen since the end of World War II such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and obesity.

Paleo diet followers believe these illnesses are from over-consuming diets high in refined carbohydrates and less lean protein foods which are found in modern diets and are quite different from the foods eaten during the Paleolithic era. The Paleo diet was much higher in protein and less from carbohydrates.

Nutrition Considerations
Today, there are several variations of the diet, which mostly consists of grass-fed meat, eggs, fruits, vegetables, roots and nuts. What is not included are some variations are foods perceived as cultivated: grains, potatoes, refined sugars and processed oils. Please note, depending on which variation you may follow, some include potatoes while other do not.

The diet is rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids with lean proteins from grass-fed beef, which produce higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids as does fish and seafood.
Paleo diet followers will not lack for fiber in the diet with the variety of fruits and vegetables which are abundant in fiber. This may assist with lower risks for diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity. Primarily because with less refined sugars in the diet, the pancreas is less stressed to produce insulin.

Because dairy products are not eaten, two dietary deficiencies should be monitored: calcium and Vitamin D intake. A supplement maybe necessary as intake of these two items is likely suboptimal.

Is The Paleo Diet For You?
Whether you believe in the theories behind the diet or not and whether you may follow it to a tee or not is certainly up to you. As with any specific nutrition plan, it must be realistic and applicable to your lifestyle. Certainly eating less refined grains and processed foods, lean protein sources and a variety of fruits and vegetables should be a part of your diet regardless of the “nutrition plan” you may be following. Following is a general list of “foods allowed” and “not allowed” on the Paleo diet with some variations depending on the Paleo plan you choose to follow.

Foods Allowed on The Paleo Diet:

  • paleo-diet-guide-foodsMeats: Preferably, grass-fed and pasture raised. Poultry, beef, goat, lamb, pork, bacon, organ meats, eggs.
  • Fish and shellfish: All species are allowed but be sure to be conscious of ecological practices and mercury levels.
  • Nuts and seeds: Here, all are included as well including the nut butters made from them. Please note: peanuts are not included because they are actually legumes.
  • Fat: Lard, coconut oil, extra virgin olive, walnut oil, avocado oil, macadamia nut oil, hazelnut oil.
  • Vegetables: All vegetables are acceptable including sweet potatoes. It is ideal if the veggies are local and organic.
  • Fruits: Fruits guidelines are the same as for vegetables. Remember to eat a variety of both daily.
  • Beverages: Filtered or spring water, fresh squeezed fruit and vegetable juices, herbal teas, coconut water.

Foods to Avoid on The Paleo Diet:

  • Dairy: Simply, if it contains milk in any form it should be avoided. Butter, cheese in all forms, non-dairy creamer, dairy spreads, yogurt (frozen), ice cream, puddings.
  • Soft Drinks and Juice: Avoid all.
  • Grains: Avoid all grains and grain containing foods: cereals (hot and cold), breads, crackers, baked goods.
  • Legumes: Avoid all beans from green to white fresh, frozen, canned, etc. Peanuts and peanut butter, miso, lentils, lupins, mesquite, soybean and all soybean products (tofu, soymilk).
  • Peas: Black-eyed peas, chickpeas, snow peas, sugar snap peas.
  • Fatty Meats: Canned meat (Spam), hot dogs, salami, etc.
  • Sweets: Candy bars, candy and gum, sugar.

Whether you choose to follow the Paleo nutrition plan or some variation of it then just remember to eat whole foods, avoid processed and refined foods. Eat as close to nature as possible and avoid foods that cause stress for the body (blood sugar, digestion etc.) Eat nutrient dense not energy poor foods to maintain optimal energy levels.

Food is a pleasure in life and one of the few things we can control. So choose wisely and make your choices count. The following is tasty recipe I think you will like. Enjoy!

Vegetable Hash with Poached Eggs
Yield: Serves 4 (serving size: about 1 1/3 cups squash mixture, 1 egg)

Ingredients:

  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion
  • 1 cup (1/4-inch-thick) slices fingerling or small red potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried herbs de Provence
  • 1 cup diced zucchini
  • 1 cup diced yellow squash
  • 1 cup diced bell pepper
  • 1 cup green beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 2 cups chopped seeded tomato
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 4 large eggs

Preparation:

  1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add onion, potatoes, and herbs de Provence; spread mixture in a single layer in pan. Cook for 4 minutes, without stirring, or until potatoes are lightly browned.
  2. Reduce heat to medium. Stir in zucchini, yellow squash, beans, pepper, salt, and 3/8 teaspoon pepper; cook for 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat; cover and let stand 5 minutes. Stir in tomato, chives, and parsley.
  3. Add water to a large skillet, filling two-thirds full; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer. Stir in vinegar. Break each egg into a custard cup. Gently pour eggs into pan; cook for 3 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. Carefully remove eggs from pan using a slotted spoon. Divide squash mixture evenly among 4 plates; top each serving with one egg. Sprinkle eggs evenly with remaining 1/8 teaspoon of pepper.

Nutritional Information (per serving):

  • Calories: 221
  • Fat: 10.8g
  • Saturated fat: 2.5g
  • Protein: 10g
  • Carbohydrate: 18g
  • Fiber: 4g
  • Sodium: 400mg

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About Author

Lisa Ronco

I am a Registered Dietitian, and accredited through the American Association of Drugless Practitioners as a Certified Holistic Health Counselor, a certified Personal Trainer and Spinning Coach with over ten years experience in the fitness and wellness industry. See my profile page for more information!

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