What is Paleo? The Secret to Healthy Eating May Lie in Our Distant Past
For decades, various ‘experts’ have tried to tell us what to eat in order to lose weight, prevent and treat ailments, and generally be healthy.
The diet industry brings in billions each year, but what is the industry really doing for us?
According to most research, they aren’t helping much.
We have access to more diet advice than ever before, but more people are overweight and/or obese than at any other time in history.
Something is obviously amiss. When it comes to examining the healthiest way
for any organism to eat, the most logical approach is to examine that creature in its natural habitat.
You probably would not try to feed fruits and nuts to a wolf, or feed chunks of raw meet to a horse. Even if an animal chooses to eat something that isn’t part of its natural diet, continuation to do so tends to have severe consequences (the most common example is dogs eating food from the owners’ table, leading to a number of health problems). Healthy eating comes from following eating habits in an organism’s natural environment – “the way nature intended.”
Paleo Diet: The Oldest Diet in the World?
What about humans?
Most humans live in ‘civilization,’
which began about 10,000 years ago, and is NOT a natural environment.
Civilization is an artificial environment
in which people bend nature to their own wills.
This is not necessarily a bad thing,
as civilization is what has protected us from the elements, predators, starvation, and many other life-threatening factors.
However, the agriculture that has developed with civilization replaced the primitive human diet
(a hunter-gatherer diet) with a new way of eating that is less healthy, and ultimately, unnatural for our species.
Early humans hunted animals and gathered vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and (sometimes) eggs.
They had primitive fires
for cooking animal protein, but that was the extent of their culinary sophistication. This natural way of eating kept them lean, fast, resilient, and very strong.
The human body has not changed substantially in about 150,000 years, but the human diet changed radically only about 10,000 years ago.
We live longer than primitive humans because we have fewer direct threats (like predators and untreated injuries), but we live longer in spite of our modern diet, not because of it.
A Simple Diet from a Simpler Time
The Paleolithic (Paleo) diet is an attempt to reclaim the eating habits
of our ancestors, before the creation of farming, baking, brewing, and processed foods and sugars. Our digestive systems are simply not equipped to properly process
wheat, sugar, processed foods, fried foods, or milk products (other than breast milk in infancy). Even considering the vast array of diet theories
out there, the well-supported ones tend to corroborate the idea that these modern food and beverage creations have a negative effect on the human system.
Various studies have backed up the benefits of the Paleo approach
to eating, but perhaps the best proof is ‘living proof.’
Studies of isolated hunter-gatherer societies that still follow the diet practices of our Paleolithic ancestors show that these people tend to be lean, fit, energetic, strong, and generally healthy.
In industrialized civilizations
where the population consumes large amounts of sugar, wheat, processed foods, and dairy, people tend to be overweight, lethargic, and suffer from a range of diet-related health problems.
The Paleo diet includes fish, fowl, red meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts, tubers, natural oils, and eggs.
In all cases, it is best to find food that is organic, free-range, wild, or grass-fed.
To think of it another way: if it is possible to actually go out and find what you’re about to eat in the wild and prep it with nothing more than direct heat, it probably qualifies as Paleo. Of course, that doesn’t mean you’re actually expected to hunt and gather your own food.
The Benefits of a Paleo Diet
Foods included in the Paleo diet
tend to be much lower in calories
than other processed foods, and they do not have the same likelihood of intolerance
(intolerance to gluten and milk are very common). Most processed foods and wheat products are nutritionally bankrupt, but Paleo foods are packed with nutrients that are easily absorbed
and processed in the human digestive system. You can eat heartily, feel satisfied, take in nutrients, and still lose weight and build muscle.
Let’s be honest – the Paleo diet is not always convenient and it’s not always cheap.
The goal is to eat foods that are as close to nature as possible,
which also means organic produce
and grass-fed meat
whenever possible. These can be a bit pricey sometimes, and you may not always find a good selection of Paleo-friendly meals in your local restaurants.
All of that being said, let’s examine the benefits...
- One major benefit
is that you can eat as much as you want of the Paleo foods;
you can indulge a big appetite and you don’t have to engage in tedious calorie counting.
- Another benefit is you will avoid many of the food allergies and intolerance issues
that can cause a range of health issues.
- This way of eating is also more alkalizing than the common diet,
which means that it reduces the acidity that tends to break down your immune system and harm internal organs.
- A shift in diet can also lead to more variety,
because you have less of a tendency to just pick up the same convenience foods (pizza, burgers, etc.) all the time.
Most importantly, the Paleo diet actually works.
It is commonly reported that people who start eating this way feel better, lose weight
, get healthier, and continue the Paleo lifestyle with very infrequent lapses.
Getting Started on the Paleo Diet
Major lifestyle changes can seem very overwhelming, so it’s not a bad idea to take things slowly. Consulting a health professional is always a good idea
when you are thinking about making major health changes, and reasonable exercise should accompany your dietary changes.
If you are really interested in improving your health, try to think long term.
Unlike a fad diet, the Paleo diet is a way of life
– similar to vegetarianism or a gluten-free diet. It is something you should consciously consider
when planning all of your meals.
That being said, you don’t have to swear an oath that you will never eat wheat or processed food again. It’s all about how your diet averages out.
Try to gradually and systematically reduce your consumption of non-Paleo items on a regular basis.
A piece of birthday cake or a glass of wine once in a while is probably not going to kill you.
The point is to transform your common daily habits for a better overall routine.
If you can take it one day at a time, you may be amazed at how easy it is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. There are many valuable resources that can give you more details about the science of the Paleo diet and how to make this important transition back to natural eating habits.
Dai Manuel is a Dad, Husband, Entrepreneur, Motivational Speaker, Professional Blogger, Social Media Strategist, Brand Architect, CrossFit Athlete & Coach, and soon to be published Author of the “WholeLife Fitness Manifesto
”. As a fitness retail entrepreneur, personal trainer, motivational speaker and all-around life enhancer, Dai Manuel has helped thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals through education, inspiration, and training. His wildly popular online exercise programs
and online community have allowed him to share the idea that a sustainable healthy lifestyle is possible for everyone. You can check him out at www.daimanuel.com
– as well as connect and interact with him on Twitter