Eat Like a Caveman! The Benefits of a Paleo Diet

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If you haven’t heard about the Paleo diet, then perhaps you have been living in a cave. The words “eat like a caveman” are taken pretty literally in this Paleolithic program that has been gaining popularity over the last few years. The prehistoric way of noshing on grub is getting lots of attention, but what is it exactly, and what are the benefits of nourishing your body much like our primitive ancestors did?

What is the Paleo Diet?
The typical American diet is often chided as being carb laden, sugar heavy and overly processed. Believing that much of our modern-day diet is the root cause of most of our disease and ailments, Dr. Loren Cordain, an exercise physiologist, developed the concept of the Paleo Diet in the 1980s and has written extensively about it. The diet goes back in time (about 12,000 years) to the Stone Age, when hunting, gathering and eating fresh meats, fish, fruits and vegetables was the way of life. Not on the prehistoric menu were dairy products, grains, legumes, sugars and processed foods. So when noshing the Paleo way, you basically eat like cavemen, ditching Little Debbies and Big Macs for fresh meats and veggies.

Paleo-Friendly Foods
The Paleo diet involves eating whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense, nourishing foods. Paleo eaters typically opt for grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish and seafood, eggs and vegetables. Nibbling on fruit, nuts and seeds is fine as long as caveman-like portions are avoided. When choosing oils, stick to healthy oils such as olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia and avocado.

What Foods Are No-No’s
A good rule of thumb with Paleo is to gather food from the outside aisles of the grocery market. No healthy-eating caveman would make very many trips down the middle aisles—the ones full of packaged, processed goodies. The Paleo diet also leaves out legumes (including peanuts), dairy, soy, potatoes, salt and some common cooking oils such as soybean oil, canola oil and cottonseed oil. Check this article’s sources for comprehensive lists of Paleo-friendly foods.

What Are the Benefits of a Paleo Diet?
A clean diet without additives, preservatives and chemicals is considered easier on our insides, so our bodies don’t have to work as hard to digest food. The anti-inflammatory benefits from the plant nutrients in fruits, vegetables, oils, nuts and seeds aid our everyday function, while eating more meat means more iron is absorbed to build strong muscles and cells. Cold water fish (such as salmon) is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, helpful for the eyes, heart and daily brain function.

With a Paleo palate, a feeling of fullness or satiety is likely because of the higher intake of protein and fats, so the chance of getting hungry between meals decreases. And, of course, with the limited number of food choices, most people will lose weight on this plan.

Are There Any Risks to a Paleo Diet?
As with most diets, eating pure Paleo does have some downturns. If you take away foods and nutrients and don’t find suitable replacements, you can create a nutrient imbalance. While eating lean meat is good, choosing fatty meats and too much red meat may lead to high cholesterol and possible heart issues. Bones are at risk if very few dairy products are consumed, and not eating grains can deplete the body of energy. And if you are watching your wallet, this way of eating may be pretty pricey considering the high percentage of meat included. If you’re vegetarian, you may want to think twice before going Paleo. Since the plan excludes beans, protein is hard to come by on this diet.

Who Should Choose a Paleo Diet?
If you’re trying to lose weight and your energy levels seem low, then a Paleo diet might be just what the caveman ordered. And since the Paleo diet doesn’t have you counting calories, it might be more convenient than other weight loss programs you might have tried in the past.

Long-term Paleo
Eating Paleo isn’t easy. Since this diet strays from dietary carbohydrates, you may feel slow and sluggish at first because you are not eating sugar and pasta. But if you can make it past this period of “yuck” you will probably feel better in the long run. As with any diet or change in eating patterns, check with your doctor first.

Just as with any other diet, being vigilant is important while trying not to overdo it. Think about abiding by the 80/20 rule. Eat healthy and smart 80 percent of the time, so the other 20 percent of the time allows you room to relax.

We don’t live in the Stone Age, and it’s comforting to know that we have a little more help than our prehistoric ancestors. Check online for apps and websites that share Paleo grocery lists, recipes and tips. There’s no need to look for answers on cave walls. HLM

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