The Paleo Diet (also called the Palaeolithic, caveman or hunter’s diet) has grown increasingly popular over the last few years. But what is the Paleo Diet? Is it good for you? What is the rationale behind it?
What is the basic theory behind the Paleo Diet?
The theory behind the Paleo Diet is that the human digestive system has evolved very little, if at all, since the Palaeolithic era (think cavemen and you’re not too far off). Most people would agree that the diets of the cavemen are very different from the typical diets of the western world today. Therefore the theory recommends that humans should eat the types of food that were available during this period.
What foods can/can’t you eat on the Paleo diet?
Put simply, NO PROCSSED FOODS!! Also no grains, dairy and legumes, as they are a product of relatively recent agriculture. Two other things to cut out of the diet are potatoes (sweet potatoes are fine though) and corn.
Pretty much everything else is allowed in the Paleo Diet, as it is likely that they were available to our ancestors in some form. It is recommended that you eat around 50-60% lean meat and the remaining 40-50% fruit and vegetables.
Also check out these 7 Paleo Diet foods that are good for everyone
Arguments for the Paleo Diet
One of the main arguments for following the Paleo Diet is that cutting out processed foods may decrease the risk of you developing heart disease, certain cancers, autoimmune diseases and high blood pressure. This is partly due to amount of salt, sugar, unhealthy fats and nitrites that are rife with highly processed foods.
Advocates of the Paleo Diet also state that if you strictly follow the diet you do not have to eat 3 meals a day, you can pretty much eat whenever you feel like it (great, right?).
Because of the low fat-high protein nature of this diet and very high veg intake, you shouldn’t feel hungry as often (as the high water content of vegetables fills up your stomach for longer, telling your brain that you are full; there is also growing evidence suggesting that eating high protein – low fat meats can suppress the appetite).
Image by Charles Smith
Arguments against the Paleo Diet
One argument against the Paleo Diet is the assumption that the digestive system cannot cope with processed foods. If this was the case there would be a lot more malnutrition in the western world. Human digestion and corresponding biochemistry is absolutely amazing and can cope with a massive amount of different substances we can throw at it.
Another argument against the Paleo diet is that if the Paleo diet were followed we wouldn’t actually be eating what our ancestors were eating. Regarding animal meats, there is evidence showing that cavemen probably ate the whole animal including the eyes, innards, brains and gonads to name but a few, which we would be unlikely to eat nowadays.
It is also increasingly hard to get hold of good quality meat where the animal has been grass fed (most animals are grain fed which leads to a much fattier meat) and the meat hasn’t had any preservatives added, this said it is not impossible. Your best bet would be to go to your local butchers and ask then directly what the animal had been fed.
Regarding foods from plant sources, there is conclusive evidence that the nutrient content of veg is not as high as it was before the explosion of agriculture. This is because of many reasons, one being the introduction of pesticides and the quality of the soil detioating over the years due to chemical usage.
So if we followed the Paleo Diet, would be actually be following the same diet as our ancestors…Probably not.
The Bottom Line
So, you’ve heard arguments for and against the Paleo Diet. The bottom line is that a diet with less of the highly processed foods that are available in today’s world will only give you positive health benefits including a smaller chance of heart disease and smaller chance of development of certain cancers. It could also have a dramatic effect on your mood and energy levels. My recommendation is to give it a go, ease your way into it, and if it doesn’t work for you at least you have tried it, it definitely wont hurt you to try.
Example Paleo Diet Recipe: Beef Stew
What you’ll need:
– Olive Oil (extra virgin preferred)
– 500g of cut, lean, local beef steak
– 1 medium onion
– 2 garlic cloves
– 4 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
– 4 celery sticks, cut into 1 inch pieces
– 1 small butternut squash, peeled and seeded, cut into 1 inch pieces
– 2 cups of chicken broth (preferably homemade)
– 1 bay leaf, rosemary and dried oregano
Add some oil to a pan, and then add the beef, browning evenly on all sides. Remove the beef from the pan, put it to one side for a sec, and then add (perhaps some more oil if needed) the onion and garlic to the pan, cooking for 5 minutes. Add the carrots and squash and cook for a further 5 minutes. Re-add the beef, add the bay leaf, rosemary and oregano, pour in the broth and let it all simmer for 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper at the end to taste.