Last Updated June 13th, 2021
Paleo Diet: Nutrition, Health and Weight Loss on a Platter?
Diets are not born in a day. Almost all of them have an interesting story to tell and is a reflection of the times that led to its origin. Just like the human body has evolved, so have diets changed to suit the nutritional needs of people. Paleo diet is in great demand and the reasons for it are many. While some dismiss it as a fad diet, there are others that look no further than Paleo. Is Paleo diet really a platter of promise? Does the Paleo diet, built on the meal plan of the prehistoric era work in the present day?
Paleo diet is not new. It can be classified as one of the oldest diets, its beginnings dating back to 2.5 million years ago. Essentially, in lay terms, the Paleo diet is a dietary chart drawn with the foods that were eaten during the Palaeolithic era.
Paleo diet, as anyone can guess derived its name from the era that marked its birth. It is also known by other interesting names such as – Caveman and Palaeolithic diet. The diet actually pushes humans to eat food like the hunter and gatherers during the olden times.
Blast from the Past
Even though the diet has been in use since the Stone Age, a reference to the Paleolithic diet was first made by gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin in a book in 1975. Ten years later, Stanley Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner, took it further. The popularity of Paleo diet leapfrogged in 2002 after the success of the book, ‘The Paleo Diet’, by Loren Cordain.The Palaeolithic man lived on meat, fish and plant food especially the ones found in the wild like seeds, fruits, nuts, and vegetables. They collected their food by hunting and gathering.
Tenets of the Paleo diet
The Paleo diet is very close to the foods eaten by the Paleo man. The belief of the Paleo diet is that humans should get back to eating what early human beings ate.
Paleo diets are built on the belief that present diets are not genetically tuned with the human body. The unhealthy change in the modern diet is largely attributed to evolved farming and agriculture methods that have disturbed the balance in the human body. Paleo questions the modern day diets and holds it responsible for the onset of many medical conditions like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Details of a Paleo diet
Paleo diets vary in type, combinations and have water tight guidelines.
The main objectives of the Paleo diet are:
- Weight loss
- Weight management
- Adequate nutrition
- Adequate Hydration
- All round health
By and large Paleo diets hover around the following food types
- Nuts and seeds
- Oils from nuts and fruits
- Fish with Omega 3 fatty acids
- Lean meats
A Strict NO-NO
Paleo diet strictly avoids the following food groups
- Dairy products
- Processed foods
- Refined sugar
- Legumes(peas, beans, peanuts, lentils )
- Grains, such as wheat, oats, and barley
The diet underlines the importance of keeping hydrated with water and staying physically active.
Evolution of Paleo Diet
Paleo diet or the prehistoric caveman diet has undergone modifications along the way. The present-day Paleo is built on the food of ancient times, yet it is constantly getting tweaked to include other food groups.
So, how and why did the caveman diet evolve into present-day diet plan?
- Archaeological research has shown that the diet 30,000 years ago may have included wild grains which are in strict contrast to the ingredients of Paleo diet. This is attributed to the evolution of genes concerned with the breakdown of starch. This is thought to have spurred dietary changes.
- The different variety in diet can be attributed to the changes in climate, geography, and availability of food.
- Further, evolved farming and agricultural methods have also contributed to alteration in the nutritional makeup of food.
Paleo Diet Meal Plan
A typical Paleo diet actually does not follow just one absolute diet plan. The premise that Paleo rests upon is that Palaeolithic humans sustained on a different variety of diets dependant on availability. While some had a diet with more animal foods, less carb and plant foods, there were others that consumed high carb, and more plant foods.
The list of Paleo foods
Paleo diet highly recommends intake of nuts, vegetables, spices, oils, healthy fats, seeds, eggs, fish and meat.
- Vegetables: carrots, tomatoes, kale, onions, peppers broccoli etc.
- Eggs: omega-3 enriched eggs is high order of preference
- Healthy fats and oils: coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil and others.
- Nuts and seeds: hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and more.
- Meat: pork, lamb, beef turkey and chicken as well as others under meat
- Fish and seafood: haddock, shellfish, trout, shrimp, salmon,
- Fruits: avocados, blueberries, bananas, apples, pears, oranges
- Tubers: turnip, yam, potatoes, even the sweeter ones
- Salt and spices: rosemary, Sea salt, turmeric, garlic
Paleo strictly bans soft drinks, processed foods, sugar, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, margarine, legumes, grains, and almost all the dairy products.
- The grains to avoid include barley, pastas, rye, and breads.
- The legumes to avoid include even the lentils and beans
- Paleo recommends avoiding all types of dairy including the low fat versions too
- Vegetable oils like corn oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, among others to be banned from the kitchen.
- Trans fats to eliminate are the semi hydrogenated oils and hydrogenated ones especially found in processed foods like margarine.
- Paleo diet considers all artificial sweeteners like saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium cyclamates. Natural sweeteners are still better according to this form of diet.
- Avoid all proceeded foods of any degree. Further, any food item with the label low fat or diet willhave additives which are taboo.
- Artificial meal replacements are a strict no-no.
- It is a good idea to read the labels and look into the ingredient lists on all foods. It is important not to ignore even the so called health foods.
- It is very good to choose foods that are pasture raised and organic. Most crucial factor to adhere is to opt for the least processedones.
Perceived Benefits of Paleo Diet
Paleo diet is considered a healthy food choice. Even though some entire food groups are being cut off, yet it can be a healthy alternative to high grain, sugary, processed food, fats and oils.
- Paleo diet encourages eating like our ancestors
- Paleo diet is very close to a Ketogenic diet, which is a bit stricter with respect to low carb and high fat diet.
- Research shows it may help in the management of diabetes. A study involving a small group showed, those that followed a Paleo diet saw significant improvement in their blood sugar levels, insulin sensitivity and lipid profiles as compared to the group on traditional diets that contained grains, salt, legumes and dairy. Since the study cohort was not large enough to make a definite conclusion, there is a need for a detailed in-depth study to record the benefits.
- Elimination of processed carbs form the diet may actually help with weight loss and management.
- Paleo promises better skin and helps increase energy levels
- Victims of metabolic syndrome on the Paleo diet showed slight improvements in fasting blood sugar, triglycerides, and blood pressure as compared to others on a normal diet.
- The Paleo diet may actually help those that prefer easy to follow diet plans with a way to count the calorie intake.
- Paleo diet offsets risks of lifestyle diseases because of effective weight management
- Staves of a major risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke
Paleo diet facts
- Nutrition of Paleo diets come very close to the biologic scheme of humans. The human genome has evolved based on this type of diet which emphasises high protein.
- Strangely the people who are living the longest are not on Paleo diets, rather a diet which has more cereal grain, starch and occasional meat.
- Paleo diets are many and it is not possible to pin-point to a specific one
- Paleo diets are backed by many research insights, so it’s a diet that stands the test of time and research.
Risks/Side Effects of Paleo Diet- Is it a healthful Plate?
As with all diets, concerns about Paleo diet abound.
- The overriding concern with Paleo diets is whether it is a balanced diet.
- While it is rich in nuts, vegetables, and fruits that are part of the ahealthy diet, avoiding dairy products leave a huge gap in dietary sources of calcium and protein. Similarly, when whole grains and legumes are avoided, many vital nutrients, vitamins and fiber are lost in the nutrition.
- Cutting off vital food groups such as grains may also make the consumers nutritionally deficient. It can lead to reduced levels of calcium and Vitamin D. Prolonged Paleo diet intake could lead to bone issues, osteoporosisand risk of fractures.
- Further, consuming a protein rich food or a diet centred on meat can also exacerbate the risk of cardiovascular disease, since meat contains high levels of saturated fat.
Warning about Paleo Diet
Diabetics need to consult with their specialists about the medications and doses before embarking on a Paleo diet. Low carb diet can actually make the blood sugar levels crash. Therefore, existing diabetic medications may be inadequate to handle these fluctuations. Alterations in the medications are imperative for those diabetics who wish to go on a Paleo diet.
Further, women susceptible to osteoporosis, especially those above 50 years old should seek the advice of medical specialists before going on a Paleo diet. Insufficient Vitamin D and Calcium can up the risks of osteoporosis and lead to further weakening of bones.
The reality that prehistoric men who lived on the Paleo diet were not perfectly healthy and battled a host of infectious diseases, as well as parasitic infections casts doubts on the safety of this diet. There are records of atherosclerosis among them, which may have led to cardiovascular disease.
Drawbacks of Paleo Diet
- The Paleo diet does not advocate including legume and whole grains. According to Paleo, legumes are high in phytates and lectin. Research has pointed out that the benefits of legumes overshadow any potential antinutrient composition. When we cook legumes, these anti-nutrients are eliminated.
- Paleo advocates are against grains as they believe that it can increase inflammation and associated health issues. Completely eliminating the grains and legumes from the diet may not be a healthy option in the long run.
- Paleo diet aficionados found it very difficult to stick to a strict Paleo diet schedule.
Modern and Evolved Paleo Diets
The Paleo diet food group has undergone several changes over the years to include a wider variety of foods. The rules have become a bit relaxed and the bandwidth of Paleo diets have expanded to include some of the foods that science has encouraged. But, what is alarming is the statistics of people showing a high preference for processed and packaged foods.
- Paleo diets have evolved to become more like a model to build diet plans rather than a strict diet watchdog.
- Paleo diets also permit rice devoid of gluten.
- Paleo diet has changed to make healthy improvements to the normal diet with fresh vegetables and fruits.
- Paleo permits high-quality red wine of course in small amounts. It recognizes the presence of antioxidants and essential nutrients in red wine.
- Paleo considers dark chocolate with high cocoa content is extremely good for health.
- For those that eat out, Paleo meals can be chosen easily by selecting fish and meat with vegetables.
Although Paleo recommends only water as the best option for hydration levels, the following beverages are getting included.
- Green tea is highly recommended as well as other tea, considered healthy with beneficial compounds as well as high antioxidant content.
- Coffee is also permitted as Paleo acknowledges the high anti-oxidant content in it.
To convert the complete kitchen into a Paleo one, it is important to completely remove all unhealthy temptations form the space. The Paleo list of permitted foods can be used as a shopping list to purchase the products.
The quintessential Paleo diet is not rocket science. It is basic and very close to nature as it is simply modeled on what the early ancestors ate with no access to evolved sourcing/ farming /cooking methods. It is the most natural form of food, perhaps even time tested, as it focussed on whole and healthy foods.
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