The Paleo Diet is becoming more and more popular. Some of this can be attributed to its popularity in the CrossFit community but it also appeals to a wide range of dieters looking to cut out processed foods, gluten, grains, and sometimes dairy. Learn more about the Paleo diet and if it is a good fit for your healthy and weight loss goals.
The Paleo Diet, short for the Paleolithic Diet, is essentially a diet that focuses on eating fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, proteins, and other naturally occurring foods that hunters and gatherers could have eaten during the “Paleolithic” era. For this reason, the Paleo Diet is also referred to as the caveman diet, since basically your goal is to eat just like a caveman would have before the introduction of processed food.
Also despite what you may have heard, there are lots of variations of the Paleo diet that vary in terms of what you can/can’t eat and how strictly you must follow the plan. Like any diet, it is important to find something that works for you and that you can follow in the long term.
The basic rules of the Paleo diet are simple
- Eat whole, unprocessed foods that are full of nutrients and nourish the body. This can include fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, seafood, nuts, natural oils, and tubers (sweet potatoes and yams).
- Avoid eating any types of processed foods or grains including dairy*, wheat, legumes, sugar, beans, corn, pasta, bread, rice, and other processed foods that normally come in a box or bag and are created in a factory.
Before we dig into exactly what you can and can’t eat on the Paleo plan, let’s talk about why eating Paleo has becoming increasingly more popular. According to proponents of the Paleo diet, humans were built and evolved over 40,000 years to eat what they could hunt and gather – fruits, vegetables, nuts, meats, eggs, and naturally occurring oils. During this time, humans were long, lean, and agile. They ate what they could naturally find around them and didn’t suffer from many modern day ailments including heart disease, obesity, dermatological problems, auto-immune problems, and other common illnesses.
Then the Agricultural Revolution happened and people’s eating habits began to change dramatically. Instead of eating what they could hunt and gather, people began to farm and process food for the first time. Humans started to base their diets around grains – pasta, rice, bread, corn - and sugar moved from being a luxury to a commonly used ingredient. All this “new food” fundamentally changed how people ate and the rates of problems like obesity, heart disease, and many other preventable ailments skyrocketed.
So what does all this mean? Well according to the proponents of the Paleo diet, this means that if we go back to eating like our ancestors did for almost 40,000 years, we can experience not only weight loss but also a myriad of health benefits including more energy, better skin, and fewer overall health problems.
On the other hand, Paleo does eliminate some healthy food groups, mainly whole grains and dairy. According to some, this can be bad for your health in the long term, especially if you are not careful to ensure you are getting enough vital nutrients. Also going Paleo can be expensive and with such a strict routine, some people find it hard to stick to.
Pros and Cons of the Paleo Diet
Like an diet, the Paleo Diet comes with its own list of pros and cons and its own share of controversy as it grows in popularity. Like any diet, it is important to consider these in relation to your lifestyle and goals to determine if the Paleo Diet is good fit for you.
- No calorie counting or portion control
- Diet is rich in soluble fiber, antioxidant vitamins, phytochemicals, omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fat, and low-glycemic carbohydrates.
- Clean diet without added preservatives, additives, or artificial ingredients
- Naturally gluten free and mostly sugar free, aside from natural sugars in fruits and vegetables
- Many anti-inflammatory benefits from removing gluten and increasing plant based foods
- Most people experience weight loss and maintain a lean build
- Most people consume more iron due to the increase in red meat and dark leafy greens
- People report feeling more full, likely due to increased fat and protein intake
- Many people report higher levels of energy and generally “feeling better”
- Diet is low in calcium, Vitamin D, and other nutrients usually found in dairy and whole grain
- Fat intake normally increases especially when meat is the center of the diet instead of vegetables and fruits
- Can be extremely difficult for vegetarians since the diet doesn’t include whole grains or beans
- Currently there is a lack of research about how healthy the diet is and a lot of controversy about whether it is healthy to cut out all whole grains and dairy
- Expensive - can be pricey due to the generally high cost of produce, meats, seafood, and nuts
How it Works
Following the Paleo Diet usually feels complicated at the beginning as you learn which foods are allowed and learn new recipes. However many people find that once they learn the core Paleo friendly foods, it is easier to follow the diet and make Paleo friendly choices.
The Paleo Diet, short for the Paleolithic Diet, is essentially a diet that focuses on eating fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, proteins, and other naturally occurring foods that hunters and gatherers could have eaten during the "Paleolithic" era. For this reason, the Paleo Diet is also referred to as the caveman diet, since basically your goal is to eat just like a caveman would have before the introduction of processed food.
Also despite what you may have heard, there are lots of variations of the Paleo diet that vary in terms of what you can/can't eat and how strictly you must follow the plan. Like any diet, it is important to find something that works for you and that you can follow in the long term.
Starting the Paleo Diet: The Paleo 30
Since following the Paleo diet exactly all the time can be difficult (it's hard to imagine never having sugar, grains, or alcohol again), most people suggest starting the diet by following a strict Paleo diet for the first 30 days. That means to kick off the diet and end some of your body's cravings for sugar and grains, you eliminate everything that is non-Paleo for the first 30 days without cheating. This will help your body adapt and also help you get used to eating this way. During this time, experiment with new Paleo recipes and find some go-to Paleo dishes that you and your family love.
Maintaining the Paleo Diet: Cheat Meals or the 85/15 Rule
Although not the official Paleo diet, many people advocate following the Paleo diet using either "cheat meals" or the 85/15 rule. These are meant to help you maintain the diet in the long term.
Cheat meals mean that 1-3 times per week, depending on your weight loss goals, you get to indulge in things that aren't Paleo – a bowl of pasta, a glass of wine, a piece of cake. These cheat meals should not be complete calorie fests, but should help you feel like you are "missing out" and should help for special occasion and holidays. If you notice a change in your energy levels or weight, make sure your cheat meals aren't too frequent or contain too many calories. One or two pieces of pizza is fine, but a whole pie may set you back.
Some people also prescribe to a cheat day, instead of a couple of cheat meals. With a cheat day, one time per week you get to eat whatever you want, "within reason." This can include any foods that aren't allowed on the Paleo diet as well as your normal Paleo favorites.
The third method that people use to help them maintain Paleo in the long term is to follow the 85/15 rule or 90/10 rule depending on how strict you would like to follow the diet. Under this rule, 85% or 90% of the food you eat should be Paleo and the other 10-15% can be foods that normally aren't allowed on the Paleo diet.