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Paleo: Eat like a Caveman
You may or may not have heard of the paleo diet in the last couple of years. If you have heard of it you may be asking yourself what the big deal is? And with the number of diets out there promoting weight loss and a whole caravan of other health benefits it’s easy to become overwhelmed. So let’s breakdown the paleo diet.
The Paleo diet has been around for many years but it has recently been made more popular by Loren Cordain, Ph.D who is known as the founder of the paleo movement. The rationale behind the diet is centered on how our diets have changed dramatically due to the agricultural revolution 10, 000 years ago. Our diet today is full of processed foods that are often high in refined sugars and fat which have contributed to increased incidence of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Before the agricultural revolution our ancestors were known to be very lean and fit with relatively no signs of chronic disease. This in part was due to their foraging lifestyle in which they were constantly hunting and looking for food therefore they were very physically active. So what’s changed since then?
The introduction of grains, dairy products, processed fats and refined sugars have created a mismatch between our diet and our genes, not to mention we are dramatically less active. It is for this reason that many people have opted to go back to the roots with this so called “caveman” style of eating. Foods that make the cut includes meat, poultry, shellfish, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, seeds, nuts, potatoes and oils (olive, flax seed, and coconut). Foods that are restricted in a paleo diet include all grains, dairy, legumes (including peanuts), salt, sugar, vegetable oils, and all processed or prepackaged foods. It is believed that one who commits to a paleolithic diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, gout and osteoporosis.
These claims might be surprising because of the high fat content of the diet however as proposed in a literature review by Hu & Willett (2002) there are three major approaches to preventing cardiovascular disease through diet.
The first approach includes replacing saturated and trans fat with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The second approach is to increase consumption of omega-3 fatty acids by either fish or plant based sources. And the last approach includes eating a diet high in vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grains. The most important finding that supported the paleolithic diet however was that after extensive research no strong evidence was found that supported a link between the intake of meat, cholesterol and fat and cardiovascular disease (Hu & Willett, 2002). Therefore giving scientific reasoning behind the claims brought forward by supporters of the paleo diet. You may have also heard that the paleo diet is great for weight loss, this is because the high protein and fat content can contribute to higher satiety levels compared to a high carb and low fat diet. Higher satiety levels means that one can feel fuller for longer therefore eating fewer calories.
All of this sounds fine and dandy, and maybe your already looking for paleo friendly recipes as you read this but you should always be wary of restrictive diets. Many critics of the diet are concerned about the nutritional deficiencies that accompany removing two whole food groups from one’s diet (dairy and grains), such as vitamin B, calcium and fibre defficiency. Another concern is that the diet is based on assumptions made of the lifestyle of our ancestors 10,000 years ago. There is no plausible way to actually verify these assumptions and many experts actually claim that 80% of those hunter and gatherers actually ate plant based diets instead. I personally think that the paleo way of eating can be done right but also terribly wrong. Some people just get too caught up with the whole “caveman” style of eating that before they know it they’re eating a hunk of meat wrapped in bacon and calling it paleo. I think the whole point is to get back to the roots of eating, by removing any pre packaged and processed foods and focusing on whole foods in their purest forms.
When it comes to changing your diet the most importat thing you can do is listen to your body. Many people have removed dairy and grains from their diet because their bodies might not agree with those foods. But everyone is different. Emphasis on the different because it is not always feasible to follow such strict diets. In the end the best thing you can do for yourself and your health can be summed up in one line from Michael Pollan’s In the Defense of Food:
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants
Till next time, livesmart, eatsmart.