What The Heck Is: Paleo
By The Good Market
Celebrities like Jessica Biel, Miley Cyrus and Jack Osbourne have espoused the benefits of the Paleolithic diet, also known as “primal eating” or the “caveman diet.” Advocates claim it’s good for weight loss, increased energy and clearer skin, among a slew of other benefits.
But what exactly does it mean to “eat Paleo” and is it a diet that you should consider adopting in your own life?
First and foremost, let’s answer the basic question: What is Paleo?
In short, the Paleo diet encourages people to eat like cavemen, or more specifically, our hunter-gatherer ancestors. The rationale is that these ancient humans were healthier in their eating habits — consuming more fibre, vitamins, protein and omega-3 fatty acids, while eating significantly less saturated fat and sodium.
These early humans ate primarily wild-caught meat and fish, and whatever edible plants (including fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds) they could find. Their diets did not include grains of any kind (that includes rice, wheat and even pseudo-grains like quinoa), beans, legumes (like soy, lentils and peanuts), dairy — or Cheetos.
Paleo proponents argue that from an evolutionary standpoint, modern humans are still better adapted to eating this way. Our diverse modern diets are thus wreaking havoc with our bodies, causing a slew of diseases like obesity and diabetes; returning to the Paleo dietary model is therefore key for prime health, according to the diet’s fans.
Specifically, here’s what a Paleo diet would look like:
- YES to meat, seafood and animal products (like eggs and honey)
- YES to vegetables and fruits
- YES to nuts and seeds
- YES to healthy fats (like coconut oil, avocado, butter, ghee)
- NO to all grains and pseudo-grains
- NO to dairy (like milk and cheese)
- NO to beans and legumes (including kidney beans, chickpeas, soy products like tofu and lentils)
- NO to all processed food and oils (like canola oil)
Now, looking at what Paleo is, we can say one thing for sure: the diet encourages people to eat more good stuff (whole, natural foods) and less bad stuff (processed junk) — and no matter which way you look at it, that’s a good thing.
But, when talking about Paleo, it’s also important to discuss what it isn’t.
Firstly, we actually don’t know all that much about the state of health of our hunter-gathering ancestors. Were they incredibly healthy and fit and strong? Research shows that Paleolithic humans did not suffer from the so-called “diseases of civilisation” (e.g. obesity, coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes) but they did suffer from infectious diseases and even atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Secondly, nutritionists and scientists have expressed concern over the meat emphasis of the Paleo diet, especially red meat and its associated increased heart disease and cancer risk.
One report published in 2000 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that though modern humans would benefit from the strongly plant-based diets of human ancestors, the domesticated livestock we eat today contains more fat (not to mention hormones and antibiotics) compared to the wild prey consumed by early hunter-gatherer societies.
Paleo doubters have also pointed out that just because something wasn’t eaten by Paleolithic humans doesn’t necessarily mean the food would’ve been toxic or bad for them — they just hadn’t yet figured out how to cultivate and thresh grains, and how to make cheese. Obesity and diabetes probably have more to do with the modern invention of Twizzlers and Twisties than they have to do with grains and legumes, they argue.
In a 2016 U.S. News and World Report study, the Paleo diet was ranked as one of the worst diets for weight loss, preventing diabetes and heart disease. It ranked 36 out of 38 diets.
Favourite Paleo Recipes
Still, many Paleo fans swear by the diet’s health benefits. In fact, when Consumer Report surveyed 9,000-plus people about dieting in 2013, the Paleo diet ranked second best.
So, what’s the bottom line?
Ultimately, we at Good Market strongly feel that there is no “one-size-fits-all” diet. The Paleo diet certainly has its upsides and may work very well for some people. But for others, a less restrictive diet may be more sustainable.
This author, in fact, has dabbled with Paleo eating at several points in her past and can attest to some of the diet’s benefits. As mentioned above, the ditching of processed foods is one of the best things about going Paleo — and that dietary change will undoubtedly have an enormously positive impact on one’s health.
When choosing a diet, do your research! Choose something that’ll fit your lifestyle and preferences — something sustainable, balanced and nutritious, and one that focuses on whole foods. If you have concerns or more questions, seek guidance from a doctor or nutritionist.
What do you think of the Paleo diet? Would you try it? Connect with us on Facebook or Instagram and share your stories with us.