Anyone who is even sparingly into health and fitness cannot help but hear about the much touted Paleo Diet! It has several nicknames attached to it! In case you have not heard about Paleo diet, you might have come across names like the caveman diet, the Stone Age diet, the Primal Diet or the hunter-gatherer diet. Well! They all are one and the same-the Paleo Diet! For those who have heard about it but do not have their facts right, we have tried to put together a comprehensive beginner’s guide to Arsenal you with knowledge and help you kick start your eating habits, the Paleo Diet way! Stay hooked:
What is Paleo Diet?
Based on the prehistoric human diet, paleo diet emphasizes on eating natural foods like fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts, seafood etc. It excludes almost all food items that came into being after the Neolithic Revolution in which agriculture started. Of course! You need to exclude the manufactured and processed food! Thus, with this diet plan, you can completely forget about dairy products, sugars, grains, legumes, processed oils, alcohol, tea, coffee and of all fast foods like pizza, burger etc. Popularized via the best-selling books of Loren Cordain, the modern version of the diet plan is all about eating a high protein and high fiber rich diet including healthy fats which help in weight loss without any worries about calorie intake!
Foods that You Can Eat in the Paleo Diet
Now that you know the basic principle of a paleo diet, let’s do a quick run-down of the items that you can actually eat while on a paleo diet and the principle of that inclusion.
- All lean meat
You can eat both fresh and frozen varieties of various lean meat like beef (steak, ground beef), lamb, duck, pork (chops, ham), chicken, turkey, ham, eggs, fish, and seafood.
The reason you can eat all lean meat is that you cannot overeat it even if you want and lean meat by itself cannot induce weight gain. Lean meat is known to cause a drop in the stress hormone, cortisol which eliminates false hunger pangs. The carnitine content of the lean meat boosts up the metabolism, induces burning of body fat, and improves insulin sensitivity. This helps you feel fuller for a longer period and thus you feel satiated.
- Oodles of Veggies
You can absolutely binge on all vegetables except potato, corn, and beans! We all know veggies are a storehouse of vitamins, minerals, fibers etc. They tend to fill you up without spiking your insulin. Since veggies are more alkaline than acidic, they also aid in bringing about the acid-base balance.
- Nuts/seeds in Moderation as Supplements
You can have any kind of nuts or seed except peanuts in moderate amount. You can eat them raw or lightly roast them though they should be unsalted. You can even have any of the nut butter.
- Healthy Fats
You must eat some healthy fats like avocados, flaxseed oil/grape seed oil and olive/almond/coconut oil
The principle for both nuts and healthy fats is same. Both groups are rich in omega fatty acid groups of 3, 6 and 9. These are essential for our body health and render numerous benefits like promoting healthy blood flow, reducing cholesterol levels, etc. These fats are anti-inflammatory in nature and aids detoxification. You might know that inflammation is the root cause of various diseases like heart attack, cancer, Alzheimer etc. Consuming them balances the ratio of omega 3/6/9 in the body. Do remember that fish oils tend to have more omega 3 while nuts and olive oil tend to have more omega 9.
- Few fruits
You can have any whole fresh fruit in moderation. Most recommended are berries and less sugary fruits. Do note that fruits juices are not allowed on this diet.
Fruits have sugars which are readily absorbed by the blood and thus they tend to raise the blood sugar levels. This does not aid your weight loss efforts and poses risk for a diabetic person or those suffering from any kind of metabolic derangement. Thus, their moderation becomes imperative since you cannot completely eliminate them. After all, they are naturally sweet and have loads of nutrients good for your body. As a rule, you must always keep its intake much less than vegetables.
- Thirst quenchers
Yes, apart from water, you can have any kind of black coffee (Espresso, Americano), green/black/herbal/oolong tea water and definitely lemon and water combo.
Much as you desire, you simply cannot eat like your ancestors! Our taste buds are quite developed now and flavors are inherently required. Thankfully, the paleo diet does allow some natural flavors to add spunk to your diet. Few of them are:
- Crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, salsa
- Fresh onion or garlic
- Fresh or dried dill and basil. Only fresh lemon grass can be used.
- Dried oregano, cumin, curry, mustard, and ginger.
- Black/red/chili pepper and powder
- Olive oil and vinegar as dressing
Food Items That are off Limits in a Paleo Diet
Below mentioned are the food items list that is strictly prohibited in the Paleo diet.
- No sugar or artificial sugar
Any kind of sugar or artificial sugar like Equal, Splenda, Stevia, honey, molasses, corn syrup, fructose etc. are strictly avoided. This is because they can not only spike blood sugar levels but also seriously interfere with your weight loss goals.
- No junk food
All kinds of junk food like cakes, desserts, cookies, pastries, chocolates, chips, ice-creams, snack foods etc. Foremost, they are not the natural form and are grain and dairy based which is a strict No in the paleo diet.
- No grains
All kind of agriculturally grown grains and their products like wheat products, rice products, pasta, bread, oatmeal, cereals etc. are not to be consumed even slightly
Paleo diet believes grains as unhealthy and lacking in nutrients which have an adverse effect on our digestive system. It tends to cause bloating and weight gain. Mist grains have lectin protein which causes gut irritation and numerous other digestive/gastrointestinal problems, constipation etc. it also has plenty of gluten which is not advisable for many. Grains also lead to carb addiction.
- No legumes/beans
All kinds of legumes like peanuts, lima beans, black beans, pulses etc.
Legumes have phytates which leach out the bone minerals. It also contains lectin which not only causes various digestive problems but also various autoimmune diseases.
- No dairy
Milk and all kinds of dairy products like yogurt, cheese, cream, butter etc. are prohibited.
Cows give milk after being grain fed. Thus, they are nutrient deficient and loaded with antibiotics and growth hormones. They spike insulin levels and increase the risk of prostate and ovarian cancer.
- No alcohol
All alcoholic drinks like beer, whisky, malt air any other hard liquor are prohibited.
Paleo Diet Plan
For any health plan, meal planning is one of the most critical components. To help you kick start it, we present a sample first week meal plan.
- Two eggs and bacon for breakfast
- A big salad with romaine lettuce for lunch
- Rotisserie chicken with sliced apple for dinner
- A kale and kiwi green smoothie for breakfast
- Grilled chicken strips and asparagus for lunch
- Grilled tuna with celery for dinner
- Again 2 eggs and bacon for breakfast
- Mixed veggies and stripped streak for lunch
- Grilled chicken with some mixed berries for dinner
- Fresh strawberries and bananas for breakfast
- Tuna salad and an apple for lunch
- Grilled steak and mashed cauliflower for dinner
- Sausage and sautéed broccoli for breakfast
- Hamburger patty and spinach for lunch
- Salmon and avocado for dinner
- 2 eggs and bacon for breakfast
- Steamed vegetables and grilled chicken as lunch
- Grilled shrimp salad with romaine lettuce and spinach as dinner
- Paleo pancakes with strawberries or blueberries in breakfast
- Pork chops and sweet potatoes for lunch
- Bison burger patty with steamed vegetables as dinner
Tips on Building Your Own Paleo Diet Meal Plans
You can always create your own meal once you get you a clear idea of what you can eat and what you cannot. This is something that we have already discussed. Again, you need to understand that unlike other diet plans, the Paleo Diet is not something that you eat till you reach your desired weight goals. It is more of a lifestyle that you adopt. It is for the long haul and thus you need to incorporate variations. Few tips on building your own meal plan week after weeks are:-
- Paleo diet need not mean predominant meats. You can increase your veggies intake and create plenty of delicious paleo recipes out of it.
- In case, you are not a fan of veggies, ensure that you at least have a serving of it in each meal.
- The diet plan does not put any limitation to calories. Since food choices are also limited, you might end up overeating them. Thus, you need to realize that it’s ok to overeat veggies like lettuce, cabbage but it’s not proper to eat a jar full of nuts.
- Ensure that you are eating quality and lean cuts of meats. Meats here do not mean hot dogs. They should be lean, clean and from a good source.
- Ensure to include some healthy fats in your diet. In case your hunger persists and you are not getting the full feeling, eat some avocado or coconut and increase some amount of healthy fat in your meal plan. This is because they make you feel satiated.
- The net is full of paleo recipes and food lists. Keep changing and experimenting to enjoy the variations and not feel deprived or bored with food.
Benefits of a Paleo Diet
Paleo diet is basically a dietary philosophy which can have much positive impact on a person’s life. Let’s throw light on some of its scientifically proven benefits.
- Sustained weight loss
This is the biggest reason why paleo diet appeals to many. The diet does not provide you with a short-term weight loss but rather a sustained weight loss which is almost permanent. With no calories count and eating oodles of fruits and vegetables to your content means that you are not deprived of food or going hungry. Thus, the weight loss here is effortless.
- Increased satiety
In all other diet plans, there is a limitation of calories or food intake. Thus, hunger pangs are a common complaint in most in most of them. Breakfast cereals fill you temporarily and you start feeling hungry in an hour or so. This perpetual hunger often drives you to make poor dietary choices. However, an awesome benefit of the Paleo Diet is the increased feeling of satiety and reduced cravings for food especially with an hour or two if eating. Thus, you get more of actual hunger instead of those stemming from thirst, emotion or your stomach getting empty too quickly. This comes from eating an abundance of lean proteins as well as good fats in moderation in your diet.
- Reduced Inflammation
The whole of Paleo diet is based on eating foods which are dense in nutrients and rich in healthy fats like nuts and vegetables. You are also eating grass-fed beef, wild salmon, varieties of egg etc. All these are ethically sourced and sustainably farmed. Thus, your body gets the correct balance of all three varieties of omega acids i.e. 3, 6 and 9. This balanced ratio goes a long way in reducing the overall inflammation in the body which is actually the root cause of various diseases in our body including cancer, atherosclerosis, peptic ulcers etc.
- Improved glucose tolerance and increased insulin sensitivity
Today, diabetes is spreading like a wildfire and poor diet and lack of exercise is the biggest cause of it. Scientific studies have established that Paleo lifestyle can decrease the insulin resistance of the body and prevent diabetes. The Paleo diet has proved exceptionally beneficial for people suffering from diabetes.
- More robust immune system
One of the major benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables is that they make both your digestive as well as immunity system more robust. They have a fantastic detoxifying effect on our body. Thus, your body’s resistances to germs, infection, free radical etc. increase exceptionally.
- Improved lipid profile
Scientific studies have established that Paleo Diet improves the body’s lipid profile. This reduces the risk of heart diseases by increasing body’s good cholesterol i.e. HDL and reduces the body’s bad cholesterol. Thus, you end up having better protection against almost all kinds of diseases. You feel more energized and you definitely sleep better! What more could you ask for!
The Drawbacks of the Paleo Diet
Like all things, there are several inherent flaws with this diet. Let’s throw light on a few of them.
- Not ideal for vegetarians
Paleo diet is all about eating lean meat and fish. It cannot be followed if you are a vegan as top notch vegetarian sources of protein like beans and other legumes are prohibited in this diet. Again, the diet does not allow salt. Thus, you need to check canned food for the presence of salt. Hence, the diet is simply not universal.
- It is expensive
Following the paleo lifestyle can prove to be a costly affair. An increase of meat and fish in your diet and including all organic vegetables and fruits definitely gets your grocery bill. Again grass fed meat attracts a higher cost. Thus, the diet is not affordable to all.
- Elimination of dairy and grains is not necessarily healthy
We all know that grains, dairy, and legumes are not all that bad. Cereals and grains do provide us with long-term health benefits. They not only give us carbohydrates, proteins, fibers but also many essential vitamins and minerals. The wholegrain varieties are rich in health-promoting phytonutrients. Dairy products are rich in calcium and vitamins which are a boon for our bone health. Thus, it does not feel fair to deprive the body of essential nutrients.
- Lack of variety
The diet plan seriously lacks variety and you just have to be content with meat. This restrictive nature makes you easily bored with the plan especially since so many other healthy foods are right in front of your sight. Ask any nutrition professional, they would all recommend eating a whole range of healthy foods. Paleo diet lacks severely in this department.
Final Take on the Paleo Diet
Undoubtedly, Paleo diet does have its benefits and leave a positive impact on the overall health of the body. Giving said that, it does not seem smart to cut out key food groups like cereals, grains, and dairy as they deprive your body of some essential nutrients. Moreover, you can achieve same benefits by getting enough exercise and eating a well-balanced and healthy food diet of all groups. A more flexible approach which includes a wider variety of food might be more sustainable. But definitely, the choice varies from person to person.
Finally, what do you think about the Paleo diet? Have you tried it? How was your experience? Do share your thoughts with us in the section below!