So many diets, so many options, so how do you choose the right one for you? You might try intermittent fasting with its many metabolic benefits, or maybe the time is right for you to try keto. But if you are looking for something a little “easier” that incorporates hearty foods you are probably already eating, consider the Paleolithic Diet.
I am sure you have heard of the Paleo diet. Some people call it the Caveman diet. You have friends who have tried it; maybe it was those cross-fitters you know. It has been one of the most popular diets for over a decade now, and for very good reason. Paleo, short for Paleolithic, is an adaptable diet with lots of delicious food choices. It does not require complicated, specialty purchases and can incorporate much of what we Americans are already used to eating.
An easy, healthy diet known for weight-loss success and manageable meal-planning? It doesn’t get much better than Paleo.
What Is the Paleo Diet?
The Paleolithic Diet was developed almost 50 years ago by a prominent gastroenterologist trying to tackle America’s late-century health crises. He thought – correctly – that processed foods were damaging our bodies and he encouraged his patients to eat like their prehistoric ancestors.
The Paleolithic Era, or “Old Stone Age,” lasted from 2.5 million to 12,000 years ago. This is when early humans started using tools, hunting animal herds, and painting on cave walls. They also ate a very specific and limited diet. There were no soft drinks or fast-food restaurants 20,000 years ago!
The premise of the Paleo diet is that if we eat like our Caveman ancestors, we will eat only the food naturally suited to our species. Scientifically, we know this was the era of rapid bone and brain growth that made humans the successful animals we are today; this was the time of “the survival of the fittest.” Eating a Paleo diet can give you to the tools to be healthy, strong, and fit today.
Eating The Right Foods
A good diet should be a lifestyle choice, not a short-term plan. The Paleo diet can be a smart lifestyle choice because of all the healthy, easily-accessible foods recommended. Quite simply, imagine what there was to eat 10,000 years ago and try to get as close as possible to that today.
What to eat
- Lean, grass-fed meats: Our Paleolithic ancestors didn’t farm, they hunted. No GMOs.
- Cage-free poultry and eggs: Free-roaming animals are healthier and happier, better for the environment and better for you.
- Wild-caught or sustainably-farmed fish: Fish is a great source of healthy fat and protein that our Paleolithic ancestors would have enjoyed in the wild.
- Vegetables, vegetables, and more vegetables! It goes without saying that you should eat vegetables with everything.
- Fruits and berries: Our ancestors were foragers. Get your sugar-fix naturally and boost your vitamins at the same time.
- Nuts and seeds: Nuts, nut oils, and nut flours are a great, Paleo-friendly source of healthy fats and fiber.
What to avoid
- Processed foods: Stay away from the middle grocery store aisles. You want foods that are simple, straightforward, and natural.
- Sugar: Our Paleolithic ancestors got their sugar from fruits, berries, and honey; you should do the same.
- Dairy: Butter, milk, and cheeses are all farming products. Like many people today, our Caveman ancestors would have had trouble digesting these products.
- Grains: Along with dairy production, the harvesting of grain took place hundreds, if not thousands of years after the Paleolithic era. If you want to eat like a Caveman, grains are not on your list.
Get your macros right
We used to think about eating right only in terms of calories. Our food labels help us count those calories and as long as we stay under a certain number (usually 2000-2500 per day), that should mean we are eating a healthy diet. But recent studies have shown that counting calories is not enough. We need to pay closer attention to the macronutrients we are eating in those calories. In other words, what are the right calories?
“Macros” are the building blocks of the calories we eat: fats, proteins, and carbs. These are the nutrients that fuel our body, replenish our muscles after a workout, and keep us energetic all day long. A healthy diet is all about balance and any good diet, from Paleo to Keto to the Mediterranean diet, relies on a good balance of your macros.
When you switch to a Paleo diet, you will find that your carbs drop and your protein consumption goes up, so it is important to get your balance right from the start. It is always a good idea to start any new diet with help from a nutrition and fitness professional. Give us a call or get started with our online programs today and the coaches at John Wellborn Fitness can help you navigate your macro balance.
Unlike more restrictive diets, the Paleo diet relies on a general sense of balance rather than a strict adherence to grams of macronutrients. The suggested ratios below give you an introduction to the kind of balance you should aim for in a Paleo diet. Talk to your fitness and nutrition coach to see what balance is best for you.
Since the Paleo grocery list includes lots of lean, grass-fed meats, getting enough protein in your diet is an easy step. Most Paleo diets recommend getting 20-35% of your calories from these sources: lean, cage-free meats and poultry, organic eggs, and nuts.
30-45% of your calories on a Paleo diet should come from healthy fats. Paleo staples like salmon, avocados, nuts, and nut oils are full of heart-healthy Omega-3s. Unsaturated fats are your friend; keep the saturated fats down by making wise, lean meat choices.
Because the Paleo diet eliminates grains, beans, and legumes, people following this diet have lower carbohydrate intake than the average eater. However, the Paleo diet is not necessarily a “low carb” diet. 20-40% of your calories should still come from fiber- and phytonutrient-rich foods like vegetables, fruit, and berries.
Health Benefits Of The “Caveman Diet”
Any good nutritionist will tell you that adding more fruits and vegetables and reducing your carbs is a good start to almost every diet and lifestyle change. The Paleo diet encourages you to make these healthy choices and balance them with the elimination of processed foods and sugars. Enjoy healthy, environmentally-friendly meats, fish, and poultry. The Benefits are plenty.
A well-balanced diet, high in protein and low in carbs, will naturally lead to greater fat-burning and increased metabolism. One of the benefits of a lower carb diet is that the body turns to protein for fuel, which is a much more effective fat-burner. Combined with regular fitness activities, the Paleo diet helps you lose weight and keep it off.
You’ll be less hungry
Foods that are high in fat and protein help you feel fuller longer. I challenge you to eat an avocado (can anyone even eat a whole avocado?) and still be hungry in an hour. The Paleo diet encourages your body to burn calories effectively and efficiently. You will feel full longer, thus helping you keep your snacks and portions small and healthy.
People on a Paleo diet often report feeling more energy. While the transition into a new diet might initially leave you feeling sluggish as your body adapts to new food and eating patterns, the increase in protein and decrease in sugars will balance out your metabolism. You won’t have those sugar highs and lows, the afternoon crash, or the early-morning fog.
A healthy gut (bacteria)
One of the original theories behind the Paleo diet is that by going back to our “original” food sources, we will reset our microbiome (gut health) to its “original,” natural state. Wild animals and a heavy reliance on plants and vegetables will encourage the nearly 100 trillion bacteria in our gut to respond positively to our food choices. Science increasingly shows that gut health has a much bigger impact on our overall health than we ever imagined.
The Paleo diet coincidentally tackles many of the inflammatory gut problems in society today. Many people who struggle with irritable bowel issues and Crohn’s disease have found that reducing or eliminating dairy and processed grains significantly reduces their symptoms. Similarly, people with Celiac disease and lactose intolerance find that the health benefits of a Paleo diet are doubly-effective, helping them reduce inflammation and lose weight in a healthy new lifestyle.
Are there any risks?
As with any diet, there can be some down-sides. The most common complaint about Paleo is that a true Paleo diet can be expensive. Grass-fed meats and organic vegetables don’t come cheap. Fortunately, farmers and food stores are making these healthy-sourced products more and more accessible and affordable. However, you might find a Paleo diet expensive to switch to if you are used to buying a lot of prepackaged, quick foods.
Another concern with the Paleo diet is that by eliminating legumes, grains, and dairy, you will have a noticeable reduction in your calcium and fiber intake. One way to combat this is to make sure you are eating enough lean protein in your meat and fish choices. Supplement this with nuts and nut oils. Also, choose cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussel sprouts, and kale for a big fiber boost.
Finally, a Paleo diet can be difficult for vegetarians. Yes, Paleo is a great, vegetable-heavy health choice, but because it eliminates beans and legumes, vegetarians may find it difficult to get enough protein. This does not mean vegetarians can’t go Paleo, but they should make sure to work closely with their personal trainer or nutrition coach to make sure they are making complete and proper nutrition choices.
Paleo meals you’ll love
You’re ready to sample some Paleo goodness! Get cooking with some of the quick and easy meals below to taste how delicious a Paleo Diet can be. You will never hear someone on a Paleo diet complaining about their meal!
You need something quick and easy, hearty and delicious. This recipe is all of that! With just two paleo-staple ingredients and a few dashes of your favorite seasoning, let the powerhouse combo of a Baked Avocado and Egg start your day off right.
Lunch is a great time to load up on berries and veggies. This Easy Summer Salad with Dairy-Free Yogurt Dressing will satisfy your sweet tooth and fill you up to power through your afternoon. Fennel is the magic ingredient here!
If you are going on a Paleo diet, you need a killer salmon recipe. Perfect this quick and easy Baked Salmon for weeknights and parties year-round. All you need are some fresh herbs, lemons, salmon and a piece of tin foil for a delicious, star dish.
Nothing is more romantic than making pasta together and there is no reason to give that up just because you’re on a Paleo diet. This recipe for Paleo Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Kale will guarantee romance. And don’t worry if you can’t find cassava flour, almond flour or Bob’s Paleo flour work great in this recipe, too!
You are off sugar and feeling great on your Paleo diet, but sometimes you still crave that luxurious dessert. If you haven’t discovered the magic of Medjool dates yet, make this recipe for Raw Brownies today! Chocolatey goodness makes you wonder why you ever got bogged down by processed sugar in the first place. And with just a few simple ingredients to keep stocked in your pantry, you can make this your signature dessert and impress all your friends.
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John Welborn Fitness is your one-stop wellness site for fitness and nutrition coaching. As a certified fitness educator who offers personal training plans that fit your personal needs, John is ready to help you succeed. Whether you are looking for guidance on your diet choices, coaching through your new fitness goals, or an overall wellness plan, contact John today!