A paleo diet is a popular form of diet that resembles what the human ancestors consumed thousands of years ago when they were hunter-gatherers. Even though there is no direct knowledge about what exactly the human beings of that time ate, it is believed that their diet mostly included whole foods. The Paleolithic era, from which this diet derives its name, lasted more than 10,000 years ago. This type of diet and a physically active life enabled the hunter-gatherers to lead a life free from lifestyle-related diseases like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. The diet has shown positive results in terms of weight loss for obese people. While the advocates of the paleo diet are confident about the positive effects, the doctors are not confident about its effect on children, pregnant women, and older adults. The lack of proper research in the field prevents doctors from drawing any definite conclusions.
A paleo diet avoids the consumption of processed foods, refined sugar, grains, artificial sweeteners, dairy products, and legumes. It mostly includes meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. This is based on the concept that our ancestors did not have the right tools for agriculture and hence they hunted, fished, and gathered food from wild plants. This is a departure from the modern American way of eating which mostly consists of processed food or natural foods that have been subjected to grinding, combining, fermenting, or pressing. The paleo diet is also accompanied by lots of water that is consumed throughout the day. People on this diet also consume black coffee or green tea, but they avoid all forms of soft drinks and juices with added sugars. The diet also needs to be accompanied by a daily exercise schedule for getting the best results from a paleo-based lifestyle.
How a paleo diet impacts health
The paleo diet puts importance on choosing low-glycemic fruits and vegetables. A debate is ongoing about the actual type of foods that existed in that period and also on the variation in diets depending on region and climatic factors. Since modern-day fruits and vegetables do not resemble their prehistoric counterparts, there is a certain amount of disagreement on the basic components of the paleo diet. Hence there are no true boundaries around the diet. The basic target is to formulate a diet that is high in protein, moderate in fat, and low-to-moderate in carbohydrate content. In addition, it should be high in fibre, low in sodium and refined sugars, and rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Hence it also includes marine fish, avocado, olive oil, and nuts and seeds. This type of food generally promotes low blood pressure, low lipoprotein (LDL) levels, and reduces the risk for congestive heart disease and stroke.
The presence of fruits and vegetable also increase in intake of essential vitamins like Vitamins A, C, and E. in addition, the diet reduces the consumption of refined carbohydrates and hence diminishes the risks of type 2 diabetes and congestive heart disease. However, there is a lack of scientific research to support the long-term positive effect of a paleo snack. Since the diet eliminates the consumption of legumes, whole grains, and dairy, it reduces the intake of some vital nutrients like vitamin D, calcium, thiamine, riboflavin, and iron. The diet also reduces the daily calcium intake which can affect the bone health of the body. It also offers no option for Vitamin D intake and increased consumption of protein can affect the functionality of the kidney in the long run. At present, there is no evidence that supports a long-term adaptation of the paleo diet is beneficial for health.
Disadvantages of a paleo diet
Before preparing a paleo snack, the following points are to be kept in mind.
Since the diet is largely dependent on fresh foods, it may not be a feasible option for everyone. It needs time and effort to purchase, prepare, and cook meals regularly, which may not suit those with a busy lifestyle. Those who are not comfortable with the idea of cooking can also find it a difficult choice.
Fresh food items like meat, fruits, fish, and others will be much costlier than the frozen or canned varieties and hence this diet is not a budget option.
It has already been mentioned that the exclusion of some food items in this diet is a cause for concern. If nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and B vitamins are not consumed from dietary sources, supplementation will be necessary. A study has shown that after following a paleo diet for three weeks, healthy participants indicated a 53% fall in the baseline levels of calcium. This can lead to bone health deterioration, especially for the elderly. The exclusion of whole grains can also reduce fibre intake if sufficient vegetables are not consumed and this can have a negative effect on the gut microbes. In addition, a high intake of red meat is linked to a higher risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
Advantages of a paleo diet
The paleo diet is not without its advantages and some of them are listed below.
The paleo diet eliminates the consumption of preservatives, additives, artificial colours and flavours, hidden sugars, artificial sweeteners, and sodium. This prevents the entry of various chemicals into the body that can have multiple adverse effects on the system and keeps the body free from any dietary toxins.
Individuals who consumed a paleo diet along with regular sessions of exercise indicated weight loss and an enhanced metabolic rate. It also promotes muscle growth along with better gut health, better sleep, and effective stress management. There are also improved satiety levels from a paleo diet which helps individuals planning to lose weight. For those who are suffering from acute or chronic hyperglycaemia, this diet helps the glucose levels in the blood to remain steady throughout the day. This is due to the fact that the energy from fats, proteins, and low GI carbohydrates is released slowly and continuously. The diet is also anti-inflammatory in nature and a reduction of pain associated with inflammation is noted by many following it.
The diet also helps in getting better sleep and an improvement of mood. This makes it a good choice for those suffering from depression or anxiety. The antioxidants present in fresh fruits and vegetables also result in better skin and hair. While the diet helps in weight loss, it also reduces any feeling of bloating and helps to keep the gut organisms in a healthy state.
A few effective paleo snacks
While the range of paleo foods does not include the idea of snacks in the traditional way, there are quite a few healthy snacks that can be enjoyed as a part of the diet. These snacks are mostly plant-based and hence they can be a good choice for anyone who does not want to consume animal protein. Here are a few ideas for paleo snacks that you can enjoy in your home.
Flavoured roasted almonds
While almonds are a health-friendly snack, eating plain roasted almonds may not feel interesting for prolonged periods. So you can mix your week’s volume of almonds with 4 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast, a dash of paprika, some salt, onion powder, dried dill, dried chives, and dried parsley. Bake the mixture for around 20 minutes and stir it to prevent burning. Your dish of flavoured roasted almonds is ready for consumption.
Mix fruits and seeds
Try your own version of a mixed assortment of dried fruits and seeds as a healthy paleo snack. You can use pumpkin and sunflower seeds that contain nutrients like fibre, iron, and omega-3s. Mix it with dried strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries that do not contain any extra sugar or preservatives. This can be the ideal trail mix that you can enjoy anytime. Keep in mind that peanuts are excluded from the paleo diet and hence they cannot be used.
Cashew butter and blackberry chia pudding
Chia seeds are loaded with omega-3 fats, and the minerals calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. Combine it with other healthy items like blackberries and cashew butter boosts and create a delicious pudding. Put two teaspoons of chia seeds in a cup of non-dairy milk and add vanilla extract and honey to bring the right flavours. Refrigerate the mix for a night and in the morning add the necessary amount of cashew butter and fresh blackberries to prepare a delicious pudding.
Whole fruits are a great paleo snack that is found easily and needs no preparation at all. They are also a rich source of fibre and other nutrients that help the body in various ways and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. These fruits can also be paired with other nuts and seeds to prepare a wholesome dish that is the perfect paleo snack.
Avocado tuna salad
To prepare this simple snack, cut the avocado in half and scoop out the flesh. Mix this with some canned tuna that is free from preservatives. Add lemon juice, salt, and some black pepper. Put the mixture back in the avocado and enjoy the flavours. This can also be prepared with eggs or any other fish like salmon. Avocados have multiple health benefits including reductions in weight, blood sugar levels, and LDL cholesterol which are major causes behind heart diseases.
Coconut yogurt mix
Coconut yogurt is allowed in a paleo diet as it does not originate from dairy products. It is high in fat and calories and is also beneficial for gut bacteria. The yogurt can be mixed with fresh berries, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, dried and unsweetened coconut flakes, and honey to prepare a delightful dish. This is not only filling but is also nutritionally rich.
Banana fruit salad
Bananas not only contain high amounts of dietary fibre but are also rich in vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. Cut a banana into small pieces and add a tablespoon of almond butter. You can then add some other fruits of your choice like apples and mangoes. Finally, add some other items like pumpkin seeds, cinnamon powder, and cacao nibs. This is a perfectly satisfying snack for those on a paleo diet.
Chicken salad on sweet potato chips
Sweet potatoes contain multiple nutrients and are also rich in compounds like beta-carotene. Take thin slices of sweet potatoes and add some olive oil. Bake them in the oven for around 20 minutes till they turn light brown. Now prepare the chicken salad in line with the paleo guidelines and spread it over the top of the sweet potato strips to generate the perfect combination of proteins and nutrients.
Items excluded from paleo diet
It is best to list down the items that are not allowed while preparing a Palo snack so that you do not go beyond the paleo guidelines.
- Grains like wheat and anything with gluten.
- Legumes like beans, lentils, chickpeas, and others
- Any form of refined sugars and carbohydrates. This includes bread, pasta, cookies, white sugar, artificial sugar, high fructose syrup, sodas, fruit juices, etc.
- Dairy products like milk and other forms of low-fat dairy including butter.
- Processed vegetable oils and fats such as canola oil, soybean oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil, along with margarine, and spreads derived from these oils.
- Any product containing gluten.
Many people have the idea that a paleo diet is low in carbohydrates and rich in meat. This is not true as the diet includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, and nuts. A shift to a paleo diet can be good for a change but long-term dependence on it can deprive the body of some essential nutrients. In case you are suffering from any ailments, it is not the best idea to make drastic changes in your diet without consulting the doctor. While a paleo diet can help you to lose weight and have some nutritional value, other forms of a healthy diet along with exercise can also achieve the same results. It is best to enjoy an occasional paleo snack while enjoying a balanced, wholesome diet for long-term health benefits.
- Animal fats like meat and eggs.
- Nuts and seeds.
- Fresh vegetables and fruits.
- Diary products like milk and cheese.
- Processed foods.
- Sugar consumption.
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