Paleo is all the rage in the fitness and nutritional world these days. In fact, it was the most Google’d diet of 2013. So what’s all this craze about? Well when you actually break down what Paleo is about, there’s a lot to love (and yes, there’s a few things to hate too, but we’ll save that for another article).
If you are looking for a diet lifestyle to transform your body, Paleo is definitely one of the better diets out there — if you can actually stick with it that is.
‘Paleo’ stands for ‘Paleolithic Diet’, a dietary approach that tries to mimic the food habits of the Paleolithic man. This dietary philosophy is in a way an extreme reaction to the modern lifestyle that often embraces trans fatty fries, high fructose corn syrup frosties, and GM burger patties. So the Paleo lifestyle is all about bringing back the good ol’ days of eating, way way way back before the dawn of civilization.
By ‘way back’ we are talking the prehistoric paleolithic man — you know, humans before the invention of farming and horticulture. We are talking about the hunter-gatherer days of humanity when we all jumped around wearing fur skins and bashing giant mammoths with stone clubs and all that.
Paleo is a philosophy that encourages humans to eat the foods we have evolved to eat. The understated corollary here of the Paleo diet is that by eating the foods we have not evolved to eat (i.e. processed foods), we are damaging our bodies.
The whole point of the Paleo approach is to completely avoid processed foods, which harm our bodies, and grains, which we have not quite evolved to easily digest.
There is actually a whole ‘range’ of Paleo approaches, from a relaxed Paleo approach which encourages you to avoid processed foods and starchy carbs to the more hardcore version which completely eschews dairy, legumes and other food types that most people would consider part of a healthy diet.
The vanilla Paleo diet follows these general guidelines
Basically, if your hunter-gather caveman ancestors didn’t eat it, you can’t eat it either. So say farewell to cakes, ice cream, BBQ sauce, cold beers and chilled wine. Say adios to pasta and bread. And no, rice is not on the menu either.
There are some logical flaws to completely resetting our dietary habits to that of prehistoric man. We actually don’t really know what the hell our ancient ancestors actually ate on a daily basis, from region to region. I think it’s safe to assume if our ancestors found a Big Mac lying around on the ground, they’d have no problem eating it, trans-fat be damned. Those days were about survival and you
ate scavenged whatever the hell you could get your hands on, be it nuts, berries, insects, or even a rotting animal carcass or three. If you could eat it, you damn well ate it!
Having said that, there is nothing at all wrong with trying to gear your diet around non-processed foods. That’s a positive thing. So if you can endure the food choices that embracing the Paleo diet
brings to the table does not bring to the table, awesome. Like any dietary approach, though, there is a quite a bit of effort involved in maintaining it. And Paleo is a very strict diet indeed — you can pretty much forget about meals-0n-the-go and you better damn well learn how to cook.
If you are trying to lose weight or just maintain a healthy lifestyle, Paleo is a good choice — one of the better diets out there and one that’s easy on your digestive system. The main issue you might have with the Paleo diet is that it can be a real challenge if sticking with the rules. But hey, if you can do it, good things await indeed.
Paleo can absolutely improve your health. And many of the benefits indirectly or directly can help improve your body physique too.
A proper Paleo diet is made up of whole foods. Yes, there are some exceptions to the whole food part like some packaged (natural) condiments and sauces, but the vast majority of your diet will be made up of natural, unprocessed food. By doing this, you automatically eliminate a gamut of preservatives, additives, artificial flavorings and sugars, excess sodium, and the like. This basically cleans up your eating habits by putting good fuel into your body while avoiding the bad stuff.
Most of us agree that too much processed food is a bad thing. It’s disturbing when you eat something as simple as a salted cracker then find out the ingredient list looks like it was pulled from a college chemistry textbook.
A strict paleo diet has you completely avoid processed foods. That means no crackers, no candy, no cup noodles, no mac n’ cheese, no bread. And yes, no donuts dammit. You only eat whole foods, not chemically extracted, mechanically refined, hydrolyzed substances of questionable nutritional value.
Avoiding processed food also directly ties into our next point, which will be of interest to most people who want to lose weight and build a better body.
The funny thing about avoiding processed foods is that your calorie consumption tends to drop dramatically. People who simply replace processed food with whole foods often lose weight without actually trying to cut down how much they eat. The reason? Replacing processed foods full of fats and sugars with more nutrient dense food choices reduces your calorie intake, increases the number of quality nutrients, and makes you feel fuller for longer (an increase in the satiety effect).
You can see this visually when you start to compare pictures of different foods with the same calories:
Notice that the less processed the food, the bigger the actual portion sizes are? Actually eating dense foods (the more whole the food, the denser that food often is) can do a lot for making you feel fuller during the day. The more full you feel after a meal, the less likely you will be to binge on snacks and the fewer calories you will intake.
This can make losing weight a whole lot easier than if you have a more flexible ‘eat anything’ approach to your diet. While it’s going too far to say you don’t have to count calories (you can still overeat on a Paleo diet!), let’s just say you are less likely to overrate on those high calories foods that blow your calorie totals out of the water.
It should also be no surprise that whole foods have more actual nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and in balanced proportions, a much better ratio of protein, fats, and carbs than do processed foods. So by replacing processed food with whole foods, you are basically adding more vitamins and minerals to your diet, cutting out chemicals, while reducing your overall calorie intake. You are also getting a much better ratio of both macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) and micronutrients per calorie! A win win situation.
The Paleo diet emphasizes lots of protein (free range animals, non-processed dairy), carbs from non-grain sources (fruits and veggies), and healthy fats (nuts). When you cut out the starchy carbs from say pasta and breads, you often tend to make up with more protein and more fats. If you think about what you usually eat, a major part of your diet is likely starchy carbs (noodles, bread, rice, potatoes, etc). When you remove those carbs, you have to fill the dietary gap with something else — and a major part of that something else tends to be larger protein quantities during meals.
There’s a number of key benefits to higher amounts of protein in your diet:
It’s important to note here that just shoving excess protein in your diet over what your body can process based on your activities won’t necessary lead to any additional benefits unless your body requires that protein for specific uses. So if you do not lift weights and roll or train MMA, just getting more protein into your system won’t really do much. If you are lifting weights and/or very active with your body, the protein will be used to build /repair muscles. Protein is very important if you want to transform your body.
When people talk about Paleo, the first assumption people often have is the diet is all about protein and fats. And while this is true, a side effect of cutting out complex carbs is that you replace them with simple carbs which are more easily processed by the body (fruits and veggies). Because you get all of your carbs from simple carb sources, you also dramatically increase your micronutrient intake because you eat more veggies and fruits. This (can) result in a more nutritionally balanced diet.
Often people only look at the macronutrients as being important — the carbohydrates, the fats, and the proteins. However, the micronutrients — vitamins and minerals — are also very important for keeping your body running smoothly, boosting your immune system, and aiding in the processing of macronutrients.
A number of studies have shown some evidence that removing starchy carbs and processed foods can reduce bloating, gas, and increase absorption of nutrients. Particularly, processed foods have been shown by some studies to increase inflammation in the gut. Celics (people allergic to gluten) will certain benefit from the Paleo diet as foods that contain gluten are avoided with the Paleo diet.
The digestive benefits brought to you be avoiding processed foods and starchy carbs means it’s easier to digest your food and you will likely experience less inflammation in your gut (and stomach). So the basic Paleo diet approach of eating fibrous veggies, drinking lots of water, and minimizing salt content can reduce your stomach bloat and make your stomach look that much trimmer.
If you are trying to do a low-carb diet, Paleo makes it particularly easy because you’ve already cut out the majority of starchy carbs like bread, noodles, potatoes, and rice. Paleo is not inherently low carb on its own (though you generally eat fewer carbs while on a Paleo diet), but it’s much easier to adjust to an actual low carb diet from Paleo than to go from a regular diet to low carb.
Since you already avoid complex starchy carbs (rice, pasta, bread, etc), all you do is simply reduce your intake of simple carbs — that means cutting down on the number of fruits, veggies, sweet potatoes, yams, etc). And since you are probably already eating fewer carbs as part of the normal Paleo diet, it’s not so much of a stretch to cut them back even further.
The hard part of a true low carb diet is adjusting to the loss of some of those commonly enjoyable foods like pasta and bread that we regularly take for granted. But with Paleo, you’ve already tamed the carb beast, so making a few more adjustments with your carb intake is much easier. You’ve already cut out all those ‘bad’ carbs, so the hard work is pretty much done.
Paleo is the current fad diet right now. But it’s one of those ‘fad’s that moves people in the right direction. While there are plenty of critics when it comes to this diet, as a whole, you can’t really argue against the benefits of pursuing a diet that cuts out processed foods and starchy carbs and emphasizes increased protein and healthy fat intake.
If you are eating a nutritionally unbalanced diet then switch over to a diet like Paleo where you are far more likely to get a more balanced ratio of proteins, fats, carbs and micronutrients while also cutting out most of the chemical junk, you’ll feel better and look better over the long run.
Paleo, really, is not a magic diet — it just helps you cut out the junk and eat the right balance of foods your body can easily process.
But the diet is not for everyone.You can get pretty much all the same benefits by taking a less restrictive approach to food selection (i.e. some starchy carbs are ok, dairy is ok, occasional snacks or fast food is ok, alcohol in moderation is ok) which means you don’t have to live a spartan lifestyle when it comes to your eating habits. Do you really want to be that guy in the corner who can’t enjoy himself at a restaurant with friends that one time a month you do go out?
A ‘healthy’ diet effective is only as effective as the person who can follow the diet; and if you’ve every tried to follow a specific dietary lifestyle, you know just how damn hard it can be to stick with it. Diets are only good if you can stick with one for the long term. If cutting out carbs and all processed foods are too tough for you, then Paleo is not a diet you should pursue — there are plenty of other diets that are not as restrictive in terms of food choice that will give you (around) the same results.
But, if you can live with the food selection, The Paleolithic diet can bring a lot of health benefits to the table. And hey, you will likely build a better physic and be more healthy and happy.
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