What Is Paleo: The Ultimate Guide To Understanding Today’s Caveman Craze
Before we jump into the post today, there is something I MUST do.
Wish my main squeeze a happy birthday!
Hard to believe I’ve been around for 11 of your birthdays. Seems like yesterday I was flirting with a hot 23 year old and here you are a hot 34 year old! Like a good wine, you’ve only gotten better with time. Cheers to many more birthdays and the best celebration later this week!
Okay… thanks for letting me be sappy. Back to the post:
Diets intrigue me. I love learning about nutrition, people’s habits, and mindset when it comes to food.
Even in college, diet fads peaked my interest to the point that my senior thesis was on the physical affects of the Atkins Diet.
Do you know how hard it is to convince 10 college aged women to go on a no carb diet for 6 weeks? It was equivalent to telling a guy he can’t masturbate for that same amount of time. Life without chocolate and sugary “hunch punch” is no life at all.
Clearly, that’s an exaggeration and in the end I had a great group of girls pull together for the sake of science.
All that to say, diets are cool and interesting.
Fast forward 10 years… I’m a trainer and clients ask me all the time for nutrition suggestions and about today’s popular diets.
Sure I can do the research, but I also love testing. I’m not afraid to experiment with myself and see what today’s nutritional plans and diets are all about. Heck, I was a vegan for 2 years because of a 90-day experiment!
What does that have to do with today’s post? We’re getting down and dirty with one of the most popular nutritional plans of today…
The Paleo Diet.
Why paleo? Because the #1 nutrition question I get is, “Hey Taylor, What is paleo?”
We’ll answer that and even get some amazing tips from the paleo world’s biggest leaders.
What Is Paleo?
According to the paleo guru, Robb Wolf the paleo diet is defined at:
“The Paleo diet is the healthiest way you can eat because it is the ONLY nutritional approach that works with your genetics to help you stay lean, strong and energetic! Research in biology, biochemistry, Ophthalmology, Dermatology and many other disciplines indicate it is our modern diet, full of refined foods, trans fats and sugar, that is at the root of degenerative diseases such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, depression and infertility.”
I find this a bit biased and not so helpful. Benefits are great, but that doesn’t explain at all what paleo actually is.
Robb, I respect you and all, but let’s clear this up a bit.
The Paleo Diet Is…
Not a short term weight loss diet.
It’s based on the notion that for optimal HEALTH (not weight), we should consume whole, all-natural, unprocessed foods. Foods that fuel our bodies, not harm them.
The overall premise and the major marketing label is to “eat like a caveman”. We were designed to eat REAL food to live a healthier, nutrient dense life. Not a diet filled with chemicals and artificial additives.
That’s it, that’s what paleo is all about. Of course I don’t expect this simple answer to satisfy your paleo curiosity. It doesn’t mine. That requires a few more tid bits of info!
Why Don’t Paleo Followers Eat
Oatmeal is a real food. Wheat is a real food. Beans are real foods. Peanuts (legumes) are real.
So then why don’t paleo advocates chow down on any of them?
Their argument is that while these foods are real, agriculture has only been around for roughly 10,000 years. 10,000 years compared to the 200,000 years we’ve been around makes it a very new hot ticket item. And one that we haven’t fully adapted to yet.
Because our bodies haven’t adapted fully, paleo followers believe that grains, sugar, nut oils, and legumes are related to increased inflammation and a slew of health conditions that our culture is faced with. To paleo followers, agriculturally grown food is a industrialized item and held within the same circle as preservatives, additives and “fake” food.
Is there a coincidence that since consuming wheat and other “neolithic” foods, obesity, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular/heart disease, and diabetes have increased?
I’m not arguing that they are or are not correct, I’m just simply stating the viewpoint of the paleo eater.
So let’s make a quick correction here, paleo eaters DO EAT carbs, they simply avoid farmed foods like wheat, oats and potatoes.
But wait… last I checked my carrots were grown in an agricultural environment. In fact, I’ve never seen a wild carrot on any of the hikes we’ve been on. Have you ever seen brussel sprouts growing long the road side?
Nope, just in gardens.
Which brings me to my point…
Paleo Isn’t REALLY Eating Like A Caveman
If you ate like a caveman you would be eating meat a lot and veggies when you could find them.
The veggies would be whatever was in season and growing wild. Right? I mean, I don’t think that during the ice age the cavemen were able to find a ton of wild lettuce or apples. And I don’t think that our European ancestors were peeling tropical bananas.
If you were to really live like a caveman, you would have a knife in your hand to find your own food. Thankfully, we’re blessed with some clean stores to grab meat ready for cooking. Could you imagine working all day and then going hunting for dinner?
So really, it’s not about caveman living, it’s about going back to the basics.
What’s Wrong With Beans And Legumes?
We know that wheat makes flour, breads, cookies and pasta… so it’s somewhat obvious why paleo followers avoid it. It’s behind a ton of processed foods and sweets. Instead of playing the “is this a good wheat product or bad?” game, it’s easier to simply stay away from all.
But what about legumes?
I mean hummus, lentils, edamame, and peanut butter…
All of those are amazing things! And foods that sound quite healthy. What gives Paleo?
They contain a toxin called phytic acid. Phytic acid binds to the food, making our bodies unable to absorb a lot of the nutrients found in it.
While beans have an awesome nutritional profile, the phytic acid makes that profile not what our bodies get. Bummer.
While eating legumes from time to time won’t likely affect the body, eating them as a main source of one’s diet will. In fact, people that rely on beans and legumes for much of their nutritional profile, can end up with several dietary deficiencies.
A second component is high lectin levels. Lectin is a protein found in most foods, but highest in legumes. Not everyone has an issue with them, but those that do (like IBS sufferers) can experience intestinal issues and damage. No bueno.
And finally, the other element keeping paleo followers away… their high carb content. I know, when you think of plant protein you think of beans. But that’s not really the case. Take for example, a cup of black beans. They have around 230 calories, only of which 53 of those calories are protein. 170 calories are contributed to carb content and the rest to fat.
So if you’ve been leaning on beans for protein, you might want to rethink that argument.
Let’s talk peanuts…
This is so disappointing to me. I was talking with a friend recently, who is a registered dietician and she informed me that peanuts are the moldiest foods around. Gross. It came up because I mentioned that Dan is always congested and eats a TON of peanut butter each day.
Of course I had to research! Turns out my home girl knows her stuff. Tear.
Peanuts are carriers of something called, Aflatoxins. They don’t actually produce the toxin, but mold that grows on the peanuts do. This same mold grows on corn and thrives on plants stored in humid, moist places. It’s so prevalent that it’s pretty much impossible to kill off. The FDA called the mold an unavoidable contaminant.
Aflatoxins in high dosages are linked to cancer, hepatitis B and a href=http://superhumancoach.com/negative-effects-of-regular-peanut-butter/>developmental issues during pregnancy. ← I’m pretty sure when Dan reads this, he’ll never eat a scoop of peanut butter again.
So there you have it. The ugly and the uglier sides of legumes and beans.
So we eat them?
When I was a vegan, we ate beans all the time. Since then, I’ve studied more on the subject and limit our intake to 1-2 servings per month. I love beans (a good bowl of chili is the best) but we do limit them. As for peanut butter, it’s Dan’s favorite, so that we have yet to cut back on.
That’s likely going to change though after this. Ha.
All The Foods Paleo Followers Avoid
Aside from grains and legumes/beans… what else does the paleo diet shun?
Milk: Not all paleo advocates follow the no dairy rule. This one is up for debate. The “hard core” paleo followers stay away from it, saying that it wasn’t available during the paleolithic era and therefore shouldn’t be consumed now.
Dairy is rich in nutrients and vitamins and helps promote growth. But that’s what it’s supposed to do. Did you know humans are the only ones to continue to consume milk past infancy? While you may see me consuming a piece of cheese from time to time, I hold fast in my “no dairy” rules. Not because it’s not tasty but because I don’t think adults need it. And I’m not even paleo!
Vegetable Oils: Soyoil, corn oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, and sunflower oil. These oils do not have an ideal fatty acid ratio (Omega-3s : Omega-6s) for consumption and often times they are over processed.
Sugar: Pretty self explanatory. Sugar is bad. In increases insulin, promotes fat storage and is more addictive than heroine. I’m pretty sure cavemen didn’t sit around baking donuts.
Potatoes: Like milk, this is another that depends on how hard core you want to be. I know lots of paleo eaters that love potatoes and I know others that wouldn’t touch one with a 10-foot pole.
According to The Paleo Diet, potatoes have a higher Glycemic Index than sugar. Promoting high surges in blood sugar and insulin levels. This of course promotes fat storage and a quick rise and fall in energy.
Potatoes also carry a toxin called Saponins which protect the potato from microbial and bacterial attacks during growth. When ingested by humans (or other animal), saponins can cause havoc on the gut by creating holes in the gut lining. Fun times. Leaky gut anyone?
Now of course, a potato from time to time isn’t going to hurt (otherwise all kids would be running around with leaky guts from fries) but continued consumption can.
Okay, let’s forget about they what they don’t eat and quickly list out the foods that are consumed on a “traditional” paleo diet.
The Foods You Can Eat On Paleo Diet
- Meat and poultry
- Sweet potatoes
- Healthy fats: coconut oil, olive oil, ghee
- Nuts: almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc.
- Milk alternatives: almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk.
The list is huge and as someone who has dabbled in Paleo, you can eat without feeling deprived. Through use of coconut sugar, dates and maple syrup, your sweet tooth can be satisfied. With lean meats and tons of vegetables, your plate will run over with delicious meals.
Personal Issues With “Paleo” Labeling
I am a huge advocate for healthy, all natural nutrition. However there are a few issues with the whole title thing that I am not satisfied with.
If you’re going to avoid all food that wasn’t available in the paleolithic era, then perhaps you should study your ancestory to see your origins? I mean, did we all have access to tropical fruits and vegetables? Not likely.
There are also debates as to when agriculture started and new research coming out often that says it may have been much earlier than we originally believed. ← I highly recommend reading this article.
Anytime a belief is created around an era of time, there has to remain an air of open-mindedness. New research is always coming out and with it, thoughts change. To be strictly paleo, means keeping an open mind and not being so black and white. History isn’t and therefore a diet based on an era can’t be either.
Other than that, those are my only qualms with the paleo style of living. In fact, if I were to classify my own diet, it is most closely related to paleo than any other nutrition profile floating around.
The #1 Rule: Experiment
If you’re wondering how it would feel to go paleo, try it out. Take it for a test drive. Experiment for 2-3 weeks with a strict paleo diet and see how you respond.
If you feel great, awesome! If you don’t feel any different, then you know.
For me personally, I’ve learned several elements of the paleo diet work for me, but I am not so rigid in it. I don’t call myself a paleo follower because I love a good cupcake from time to time. I love roasted fingerling potatoes at dinner and I love a good cookie from time to time.
Rigidity isn’t for me, but that’s because I have a great grasp on my body and what fuels it. But I also know at special times (like the holidays) food can get away from me and I need a strict restart. That’s when I’ll turn to strict paleo for a 3-4 weeks to help get my healthy habits back in the game!
Now you know all you need to know about paleo!
Here’s a few sites to help get started in terms of recipes and guides!
Useful Paleo Websites
Should you decide to experiment with paleo, best of luck!