By Paul Stevenson
Having looked at the Ketogenic Diet in more detail in my previous article, I now turn my attention towards a type of ancestral diet known more commonly as ‘The Paleo Diet’. The Paleo Diet has risen from obscurity to become one of the most popular diets of the past few years. Here I take a closer look at the diet to see what all the fuss is about.
What is a Paleo Diet?
The Paleo Diet forms part of a recent movement built around the adoption of ancestral diets. The Paleo diet is 100% free of grains, gluten, legumes and dairy and is based on:
- Protein from properly raised animals (grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, free-range eggs)
- Carbohydrates from organic and local fruit and vegetables
- Traditional fats from ghee, coconut oil, avocado, olive oil, nuts and their butters
What Does a Paleo Diet Stand For?
The Paleo Diet is just one component of the ‘Paleo Movement’ that has been sweeping through countries like Australia, UK, Canada and America over the past 5 years or so. Their view is that the only way to tackle the health and obesity crisis we are seeing develop is to adopt practices of our ancestors who never faced any of the health problems we face today (Kresser, 2013). Their belief that the Standard American Diet (SAD), a diet that has been adopted throughout the Western world, has led to :
- High Blood Pressure
- Heart Disease
- Obesity (childhood obesity)
Not only that but the Paleo Movement adopts the stance that the way we now live our lives is creating a raft of health problems, from the lack of physical exercise the average person gets, to prolonged periods we spend sitting, to the amount of exposure to artificial light. As Kresser (2013) puts it:
“We were never meant to work around the clock under the glare of artificial lights, or spend half our lives sitting and staring at a computer screens” (Kresser, 2013)
The Paleo Movement believes that traditional hunter-gatherer cultures enjoyed excellent health; they were lean, fit and free from chronic disease.
What Might a Typical Paleo Diet Look Like?
Smoked Salmon with Free-Range Eggs and Asparagus
Celeriac and Bacon Hash
Cod with Coriander and Red Pepper Sauce and Sautéed Broccoli
Chicken, Tarragon and Grapefruit Salad
Lamb Chops with Roasted carrots and garlic
Meatball and Tomato Stew with Sweet Potato Wedges
Hard Boiled eggs with Avocado
What are the Benefits of the Paleo Diet?
- A focus on nutrient dense foods: This is very important as many of us have vitamin and mineral deficiencies due to the lack of nutrients we get from diets that contain processed foods. The emphasis on cooking and eating ‘nose to tail’ is a good example of this. The Paleo Diet encourages the use of organ meats, skin and cartilage, fish eggs and egg yolks in the diet. These parts of the animal contain nutrients that are difficult to obtain elsewhere in the diet.
- Elimination of Processed and ‘Junk’ Food: Many of the problems we see in the health and well-being of the population stems from an over-consumption of highly processed, high calorie, junk foods such as sweets, crisps, chips, pies, burgers, donuts, fried foods, and the list goes on and on. By removing these foods, the Paleo Diet immediately removes a lot of foods we tend to over-eat on. A lot of these foods contain what we call empty calories, that is, the foods contain calories but very few nutrients.
- Promotion of Gut Health: This is extremely important as digestive problems are becoming a major problem in the western world. For example, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects between 10-15% of the US population. The health of the digestive tract is of extreme importance to overall health and well-being. An unhealthy gut can contribute to a wide range of diseases, including diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, autism, depression and chronic fatigue syndrome.
What are the Problems with The Paleo Diet?
It’s hard to deny that a diet based around whole foods that are minimally processed will be beneficial to both health and body composition no matter what someone’s goal such as lose weight, build muscle or get stronger. However, the only slight concern I have with the Paleo Diet is it is unnecessary restrictiveness.
In my opinion, you should try to include as many food groups as possible in your diet to obtain nutrients as widely as possible. Therefore unless you have an intolerance or allergy to gluten or dairy I see no reason to cut it out of your diet. However, beyond that the Paleo Diet is a great way to eat. Foods are nutrient dense, with an emphasis on the quality of food.
The other problem is the lack of focus on food quantity. Whilst it is hard to deny that the types of food promoted on the Paleo Diet are extremely health-promoting, there is no real emphasis on food quantity. I firmly believe that any fat loss/weight loss diet has to involve calorie restriction in order to be effective. And whilst anyone adopting the Paleo Diet will lose weight to begin with due to the types of food that are restricted, to be effective in the long term there must be more of an emphasis on food quantity. It is absolutely possible to over-eat on ‘clean’ foods.
Who might Benefit from a Paleo Diet?
I believe that eating a Paleo Diet could benefit anyone. However, more specifically some of our Clean Health Fitness Institute personal training clients in our Sydney CBD and Chatswood gym’s who may want to adopt this approach could be:
- Those with existing digestive/gut issues
- Those intolerant to dairy or gluten (or both)
- Those who want to eat an ‘ad libitum’ diet and not count calories
Take Home Points:
- The ‘Paleo Diet’ is part of a wider ‘Paleo Movement’ which encourages the adoption of a diet and lifestyle employed by our ancestors
- This belief stems from the chronic ill health and obesity epidemic that is plaguing the western world today. Clearly the Standard American Diet, and variations of it across the Western World, with an emphasis on convenient and highly processed foods, are creating a host of health problems that the Paleo Diet claims to address.
- The Paleo Diet could benefit those with existing gut or digestive issues, or those who are intolerant/allergic to dairy and gluten.
- However, can be seen as unnecessarily restrictive if you have no issues with gluten and dairy
- Kresser, C, “Your Personal Paleo Diet”, 2013.
- Jacob, A, “Digestive Health with Real Food”, 2013.