What is paleo and why should I bother with it?

15 Oct

What is paleo?

The point of my blog is to inform people about paleo and help get them started on the diet by advising them of great resources and sharing my observations and tips.

So I am often asked the question: What is paleo? I suppose that’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask of someone who is encouraging you to give it a go.

The dawning of agriculture
In a nutshell, paleo is based on the premise that our human bodies evolved to live off the nutrition we commonly ate everyday for hundreds of thousands of years during the Paleolithic era, but stopped eating that way when humans adopted the agricultural model.

Introduction of grains and dairy to the human diet
Prior to agriculture, humans subsisted off mainly meat, nuts, fruit and vegetables. So, you could say paleo is a naturally low-carb diet. We also got a fair bit of exercise, but it wasn’t regimented, it was necessary for survival – catching prey, hunting and gathering, and frolicking in our spare time.

Once humans took up growing their food and trading it through agriculture, a few things happened; we introduced grains to our diet, which were easy to cultivate, store and trade, and we stopped having to chase down our food. True, we still had to till our farms, but this was monotonous, back-breaking labor and did not go a long way to keep us strong and fit. It burnt us out and wrecked our bodies. Speaking of bodies, another thing that happened when we introduced grains to our diet was that humans because shorter and stockier, and were much more susceptible to diseases and chronic conditions that our paleo ancestors had never heard of – like heart disease and diabetes.

Harmful farming practices
So at this point, not only did we start eating grains, which our bodies aren’t really designed to eat, but we started developing conditions such as celiac, which is an allergy to the gluten in many grains. Or farming practices have also gotten progressively more harmful as the years go on, from changing cattle’s natural diets from grass to grain (and hence changing the quality of the meat to contain harmful fats such as palmitic acid), factory farm setups that require farmers to use excessive amounts of antibiotics to stop the animals getting sick, and all sorts of nasty hormones to enhance growth of the animals and hence profits for the farmers – or more likely, ensure they can sell the meat at a cheap price.

Modern practices making modern fat people
All of this detracts from the quality of our diets. I won’t even go into high-fructose corn syrup or highly processed carbs or trans fats – you could google those and find out for yourself how horrible they are for us once we ingest them. Suffice to say, it is beneficial from a health perspective and a weight-loss perspective to switch on the wayback machine and eat more like our hunter-gatherer ancestors did. This doesn’t mean some fad diet where everything is raw – including the meat! You don’t have to get dressed in fur and drag your girlfriend around by the hair! You just have to eat the way your body was designed to, and then it will be more inclined to cooperate with you when you want to be lean and fit, instead of stuffing it full of all that “frankenkfood” garbage they package and sell to us in the supermarket. The stuff that never goes off.

Common myths about nutrition
There are also some very well established dietary norms that are in fact plain wrong – like the low-fat, high-carb model recommended by that ridiculous pyramid. It does nothing more than promote certain agricultural industries, as well as heart disease, diabetes, overweight and obesity in the poor public who simply think they’re doing the right thing. There is nothing grains can give you that other foods – foods that are healthy for you to eat- can’t give you. For example, vegetables have fibre. Why eat all that carby whole-grain bread for the exact same benefit and a stark net detriment? To have a go at paleo and enjoy a completely different way of living, you need to unlearn a lot of what you have learned before.

Recommended Paleo 101 reading: “The Paleo Solution” by Robb Wolf ( ex vegan and current biochemist/ trainer)

So – what are the basics?

No grains- do not eat any grains, including rice, wheat, and corn products.
No legumes – this includes peanuts, lentils, and beans.
No potatoes – these were a poisonous tuber when paleos roamed the earth.
No dairy – dairy is not part of the paleo diet*
Eat as much lean meat, eggs and vegetables as you like, especially leafy green vegetables and colorful vegetables. Try to only eat grass-fed organic meat, and organic veggies.
Eat good fats such as coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, and saturated fats from the meat in your diet. Fats are essential to a healthy diet and do not have a direct link to weight gain**
Eat lots of berries, which are full of antioxidants and vitamins.
Eat some nuts.
Eat limited amounts of other fruit, as fruit is generally high in sugar so not great for weight loss. If you want to go paleo but do not have a weight problem, then chow down as much fruit as you like!

*personally, I eat dairy. Which means I am more ‘primal’ than ‘paleo’ in that regard. I don’t have much milk, just mainly cheese, cream, butter and yoghurt. These items are not detrimental to my weight-loss efforts

** While ingesting fat does not automatically lead to you storing fat tissue, consistently eating a diet that exceeds your daily calorie expenditure will lead to weight gain. However, foods high in proteins and fats are also very satiating and therefore you will simply not eat as much as you would, say, if you ate a bowl of pasta and were then hungry all over again 2 hours later once the carbs had crashed out your blood glucose levels, leaving your body begging for more nourishment. You can say goodbye to those highs and lows on the paleo diet!

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2 Responses to “What is paleo and why should I bother with it?”

  1. Mary Sunshine October 15, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

    It’s hard. Been on the planet almost seven decades; the emotional and physical solace of carbs are so inbuilt in my neural networks.

    Eight years ago, I lost twenty pounds doing Atkins: it felt like cruel and unusual punishment, but it was so necessary. Then I stopped Atkins. I’ve managed (mostly) to maintain, but mostly just because my appetite has decreased with age.

    I really like your blog: discovered it actually through a Twitter suggestion because I follow a lot of lesbian feminists there. Your name popped up. I’ve always wanted to live in a cave! 😛

    Your posts are strong and inspiring.

    • cavelesbian October 16, 2011 at 8:26 am #

      I hear ya, Mary! Well done on keeping (most of) the weight off – my parents managed to lose a fair bit on a low-fat, calorie-controlled diet, but unfortunately it’s been creeping back up on them recently. I’m currently trying to get them to go paleo – I’m sure there will be an update somewhere down the line if i succeed 😉

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