You might have heard about some of your more health-conscious friends going "Paleo" and starting to follow the Paleo diet. Popularised by media and celebrities in the past few years, Paleo diet is currently one of the most on "trend" ones. So is it just another fad or is Paleo diet here to stay? And should you try it?BackRead More
Where Does It Come From?
Before the rise of agriculture and the ‘Neolithic’ period, roughly 10,000 years ago, the ‘Paleolithic’ period reigned supreme. Our modern ancestors used to be hunter-gatherers who foraged for fruits and vegetables naturally growing and took down bison, elk, antelope and any other animals for their food sources.
And this is where the Paleo diet comes into play – it’s supposed to be based on the eating habits of our early ancestors.
What Is It Based On?
Scientists, dieticians and nutritionists have been trying to find the link between our modern eating habits and a number of diseases for quite some time. Although there’s still a lot of research to be done, some studies suggest that the amount of processed food we are eating can negatively influence our health.
This is why some specialists suggest that we should go back to the way we were eating thousands of years ago as this what suits our bodies most. And they might be right – 10,000 years is a long time but it might not be long enough for our bodies to make significant changes in order to adapt to our new lifestyles.
What you’ll be glad to hear is that maintaining a Paleo lifestyle takes away any calorie counting or portion control that some diets stress you definitely to need to incorporate to achieve maximum results.
In a description of a Paleo diet, it is explained that “Paleo is a diet based on genetics – our genetic code is just wired for a completely different environment than the one we live in today. But any diet based on genetics ultimately has to take into account genetic differences: by pure accident of genetic variation, some of us are more or less-suited to various aspects of the modern diet and lifestyle.” Although this isn’t based on any true science, and is true to an extent, humans have shown an immense adaptability to all environments and terrains and if a small dietary change were to disrupt everything we’d be long gone. And if there’s anything we at DNAFit know about, it’s genetics, and how the emerging field of ‘epigenetics’ is showing, more and more, how genes can be turned on and off by environmental factors, signalling change.
What does pertain to genetics is that there are also different variations of the Paleo diet related to food intolerance and sensitivities like lactose intolerance and carbohydrate sensitivity due to the fact that our Paleolithic ancestors lived all over the world with access to different food sources, but still, reportedly, led healthful lives.
What Can You Eat? What Can’t You Eat?
Essentially, the Paleo diet gets you eating a diet high in fats, moderate in proteins and low in carbs. The main tenet is that you should be living like prehistoric man as our genes have not changed in the time that we ‘evolved’ from being hunter-gatherers to farmers.
Our bodies are supposedly more adapted to handling foods such as lean protein, fruit and vegetables, fats from nuts, seeds, avocados, fish oil, grass-fed meat and seafood.
What our bodies don’t handle so well, contributing to rising obesity and other health complications, are processed foods, which tend to be most of what we eat.
When you think about it, it makes sense. Our ancestors lived active, healthy lives that were fraught with danger and as soon as society began to evolve we have all become lazier and less likely to go hunting for our next meal. So we should eat food that’s somewhat like what our ancestors used to while exercising outdoors, in healthy, vitamin D-rich sunshine.
Proven benefits of the Paleo diet include better workouts, stable blood sugar, burn off stored fat, anti-inflammatory, clear skin and better teeth, reduced allergies, balanced energy and improved sleep.
All you have to do is ask yourself: what would a caveman eat?
In a small study that compared to Paleo diet with the Mediterranean diet, the Paleo diet was better at reducing type-II diabetes. It’s also been shown that limiting or cutting out grains and legumes aids autoimmunity. Although this study worked, it’s still not clear whether it was the Paleo diet that was directly attributing to the reduction of type-II diabetes as other factors always need to be considered.
Over time, the diet choices of man have changed for convenience and the rise of agriculture but genetics have not. Cutting out carbs leads to healthy bodies that burn stored fat for energy in a process called ketogenesis, which contributes to healthy weight loss. And with your new activity and Paleolithic lifestyle you’ll be reaching your fitness and nutrition goals in no time.
While the Paleo diet may not be the be-all-and-end-all of diets, it can be, in fact, more satiating as you’re constantly consuming protein, fats and carbohydrates that are rich in nutrients. No more pesky grains taking up negative space inside of you.
One thing that must be noted is that the Paleo diet is not the easiest to stick to. Cutting out bread, pizza, dairy and all processed food is next to impossible in this day and age and only eating grass-fed meat and good fats from nuts is expensive. So it might be a good idea to leave yourself a ‘cheat day’.
Then there’s the food you’re eating: despite the fact that food is much more accessible for us right now, the quality of the food that we are eating might have a big impact on our diet.
So if you really want to eat a “clean” Paleo diet, you might have to spend a little more money on your weekly grocery shopping and pick more expensive produce.
There is also scepticism around the Paleo diet:
There’s not enough scientific evidence to back up all the claims made by the Paleo diet enthusiasts. It is definitely a healthy diet but it might be quite rigorous and difficult to follow. Also, as we are all different, there’s no one-size-fits all diet so Paleo diet might work for some whereas others would feel like it has very little benefit to them.
What you should consider when deciding to go on it?
The Paleo diet can be restrictive at times but it does indeed cut out a whole lot of sugar and processed foods that have been proven to be related to poor health.
However, changing a diet often means changing your lifestyle completely, so it might be quite hard to get used to. You will have to cook much more and also you might want to put aside a bit more money for weekly grocery shopping.
But there’s no doubt that it’s worth it – Paleo diet might not be the cure for all diseases, but it does promote a healthy lifestyle which is always beneficial to your health and wellbeing.