What is Paleo diet and its health benefits?

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paleo the Caveman diet

Poor food choices have had a bad impact on our lives. It has been a harbinger of diseases and illnesses of varying severity.  From causing nutrient insufficiency to making us prone to ailments like diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, etc., our food choices have made the modern population unhealthy, unfit, and more ill than ever before. While medicines and other scientific advancements aim to help us live longer and better, our food habits have taken us a step back. Naturally, dieticians, nutritionist, and all other health experts are more concerned about our diets – what we should eat and what we shouldn’t.

A brief history about paleo diet

Researches and studies about the best diet for the modern man is nothing new. Experts have invested years into it and work is still going on to formulate better diets. That being said, a number of healthy diets have already been created by researchers, the Paleo diet being a popular one. The diet has its sources in the writings of Dr. John Harvey Kellog and Dr. Emmet Densmore who believed that bread was the harbinger of poor health. While the writings date back to as early as the 1890s, the idea didn’t gain much popularity until much later in 1975 when the idea was presented in a book by Walter L. Voegtlin, a popular gastroenterologist. The idea caught the attention of health experts and researches when it was popularized by Loren Cordain of the Colorado State University in his book. Since then, the diet became a matter of research and debate and is likely to continue for a long time to come.

What is a Paleo diet? (Definition)

The word Paleo refers to Paleolithic or the Old Stone Age. As such, a Paleo diet refers to the diet of humans in the Paleolithic Age. The diet is also referred to as the Caveman diet, the Stone Age diet, or the Ancient Diet. It tries to replicate the dietary habits of humans who lived during the Paleolithic Age. As humans were hunters and gatherers in this age, the diet consists of food that ancient men could hunt and gather. This excludes all food items that were harvested at later periods and relying more on food that the ancient man consumed. Proponents of the Paleo diet believe that the modern food system puts quite a strain on our gastrointestinal system that has barely changed since the Paleolithic age. Changing back to ancient ways of eating will not only relieve the stress on our gut but also keep a number of other illnesses at bay.

What is included in a Paleo diet?

Simply put, the Paleo diet will advocate the consumption of anything that formed a part of the diet of humans during the Paleolithic Age. As such, the main food items that can be included in a Paleo diet are:

  • Lean meat obtained from chicken, pork, turkey, lean beef, and bison.
  • Poultry
  • Seafood and fish.
  • Non-starchy vegetables which include green beans, lettuce, asparagus, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, etc.
  • Roots and starchy tubers.
  • Low sugar fruits and berries.
  • Herbs and spices.
  • Seeds like sunflower and pumpkin.
  • Celtic salt or sea salt.
  • Nuts like walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pecans, cashews, etc.
  • Oils derived from plants such as grapeseed oil, coconut oil, olive oil, etc.
  • Healthy fats obtained from coconut milk, coconut oil, butter, duck fat, avocado oil, sesame oil, fish oil, macadamia oil, etc.
  • Condiments like mustard, Apple cider vinegar, Balsamic vinegar, anchovies, pestos and salsas, low sugar tomato paste and sauce, etc

What you cannot eat in a Paleo diet?

Since the main objective of the Paleo diet is to cut out any food that happened after the Paleolithic age, any food item that was included in the diet at a later period must be removed. This includes:

  • All types of harvested grains like rice, wheat, barley, oats, and products made from them like bread, cereals, pasta, granola bars, etc.
  • Starchy vegetables like corn and potatoes and food made from them like chips, popcorn tortillas, etc.
  • Legumes like beans, peas, lentils, soy beans, kidney beans, peanuts, and any product made from the legumes, for example, peanut butter.
  • Dairy products like milk, yogurt, cream, cheese, etc.
  • All types of sugar that is used in candies, cookies, cakes, honey, soda, sports drinks, and more.
  • Meat that is high in fat, like Bologna, salami, pepperoni, ground meat, ribs, etc.
  • Foods that contain salt like chips, crackers, soy sauce, salt-added foods, etc.
  • Foods that are processed or are high in trans-fat, like French fries, cheese,and Macaroni, fruit snacks, doughnuts, etc.
  • Processed vegetable oils like soybean oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, etc. as well as products like margarine that use these oils.

Relaxed Paleo diet

Unless you want to be too strict in following the Paleo diet, you can follow a more relaxed version of the diet that allows some non-Paleo food items, but only occasionally. Such items include:

  • Milk from sheep and goat, but not cows.
  • Fermented cow milk products such as unsweetened yogurt, full fat cream, aged cheese, ricotta butter, etc.
  • Natural sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, dark chocolate, molasses, rice malt sugar, coconut syrup, etc.
  • Fermented soy like tempeh, miso, wheat free soy sauce, etc.
  • Alcohol like non-grain spirits, dry wines, etc.
  • Fresh green beans, green peas, corn, etc.
  • Pseudo grains like chia seeds, buckwheat, quinoa, etc.

Health benefits of Paleo diet

Now that you know what you can eat and what not in a Paleo diet, let’s move on to know how the exclusion of some foods and the inclusion of others can actually help you. Researches and studies have shown that the Paleo diet has a number of health benefits, especially considering the health risks of modern food habits. By going back to an ancient diet, you allow yourself to be closer to the natural food habits of man and leave out food that are potential threats to your health. The most common health benefits of the Paleo diet are as follows:

  1. Pure eating

When you switch to a Paleo diet, you throw out all of the processed food from your diet. Not only that, but you also remove unnatural, harmful foods from your diet. However, following the Paleo diet doesn’t mean that you have to compromise on the taste and flavor of foods that you eat. In fact, by eating organic, wholesome, natural foods more, you get to eat nutritious food without any compromise on flavor or taste.

  1. Reduced inflammation

Many of the modern food items have been found to cause damage to the mucous membrane that forms the lining of the digestive system. This leads to inflammation that makes the immune system more sensitive. Researches indicate that the main triggers of inflammation are alcohol, sugar, gluten, and dairy. By cutting out all of these from your diet, you can easily control problems like allergies, asthma, etc.

  1. Reduced hunger cravings

If you are worried that you will feel starved while following such a restricted diet, you are quite wrong. You are cutting out some foods, but that doesn’t mean that you will go hungry. In fact, when you eat a protein and fat-rich diet, hunger cravings become less as you remain full for a longer time.

  1. A healthier gut

For a healthy body, taking care of gut health is of utmost importance. And a Paleo diet does just that. It eliminates all food items that can affect the gut flora. By doing so, it ensures that the gut flora can continue with its normal functionalities like digesting food, boosting the immune system, and regulating metabolism. By keeping your gut healthy, you ensure better overall health.

  1. More nutrients

Many people worry that cutting out so many food items will deprive one of the necessary nutrients. That, however, isn’t true. When you follow a Paleo diet, you exclude food items like legumes and grains that slow down nutrient absorption. Moreover, food items like fruits, veggies, seeds and nuts, etc. are good sources of necessary nutrients. Thus, your body gets enough nutrients to carry out all functions normally.

  1. Better physique

A Paleo diet relies heavily on protein foods. As such, the body receives good amounts of proteins that it uses for building muscle mass. With proper bodybuilding training, a Paleo diet can help improve muscle mass in undeveloped areas, and thus, create a lean, well-toned physique.

  1. Improved mental health

Modern food habits not only take a toll on our physical health, it also affects our mental health. When you eat nutritious, wholesome food, you feel better, both physically and mentally. You will have mental clarity and more energy. Along with good sleep, proper exercise, and adequate self-care, the Paleo diet can greatly improve your mental health.

  1. Fewer toxins

Paleo diets cut out food additives and other harmful chemicals that introduce toxins into the body. It also supplies ample antioxidants to the body so that it can flush out all toxins that enter the body. The consumption of antioxidant-rich food helps boosts your immune system, thus, healing your body from within.

  1. More energy

When you eat nutritious food, you give the body a continuous supply of energy instead of an energy spike that can leave you feeling drained after a while. Moreover, Paleo foods do not cause any spike in blood sugar levels. So, you do not have to continue eating often. In short, you eat to live and not live to eat.

  1. Easier weight loss

An important benefit of switching to a Paleo diet is that help lose weight faster. While most diets for weight loss focus on restricting food consumption, the Paleo diet focuses on cutting out food items that cause weight gain. Moreover, since the diet is low in carbs and sugars, it helps manage metabolism and sugar levels betters. This, along with good sleep and exercise, will help in weight loss.

Things you must know before switching to Paleo

Before you plan to switch to the Paleo diet, there are a few things that should be kept in mind.

  1. Meat and eggs must be procured from animals that are pasture-fed and free-range so that the meat has more nutrients than the commercial variety available in the present times.
  2. There are no fixed proportions mentioned in the Paleo diet as it doesn’t focus on the calorie count. While eating a lot of spinach or lettuce will not be much of a problem, eating too many nuts may cause some problems. So, you will have to maintain proportions yourself.
  3. The diet isn’t quite suitable for athletes as intake of carbohydrates is very less.
  4. The diet is a bit difficult to follow if you are a strict vegetarian as it excludes many vegetables and beans.
  5. If you are diabetic, a Paleo diet is good for you. But you should change diet only after your doctor approves it.
  6. People with Vitamin D and calcium deficiency may face problems when on a Paleo diet. A consultation with your doctor is a must.
  7. People with chronic kidney or heart diseases should also not jump to a Paleo diet all of a sudden. Your doctor will be able to recommend the best course of action.
  8. When you switch to a Paleo diet, you may notice issues like fatigue, headaches, etc. These symptoms usually go away after a week or two.
  9. While our ancestors had a very active lifestyle, most modern people do not do so. So, regular exercise is necessary along with the Paleo diet for the best results.

The Paleo diet can, indeed, do wonders for your health. But you have to make sure that you switch diets only after consulting your doctor to avoid any adverse effects. Also, focus more on healthy eating than following a diet plan to be in trend. After all, your health is at stake and you should do what is right!

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