An introduction to the meaning and benefits of the paleo diet
What is the paleo diet?
A paleo diet, also known as paleolithic nutrition or the hunter-gatherer diet, describes a way of eating that emulates the diet of our ancestral past. In its purest form, a paleo diet allows you to eat only those foods that humans ate at the start of our species’ revolutionary process, some 2.5 million years ago. This includes foods that can be obtained from hunting and gathering like lean meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, seeds, and nuts. What’s exempt from this diet are foods that are farmed, such as dairy products, legumes, and grains.
For most of human history, how we ate subsequently shaped our genetics. From an evolutionary standpoint, our genes have not been able to keep up with the massive changes in the kind of food and food supply that have occurred in due course of time and as a result of multiple factors. This is particularly true in terms of how we respond to the food we eat, the prevention of disease, and the vitality of our species. The incongruence between our physiology and environment in the modern world has had an impact on our health and well-being in ways that were not familiar before. The basic idea is that a lot of new foods were introduced in our last major evolutionary change and we simply haven’t caught up. Hence, there are many nutritional and beneficial effects of reverting back to the simple diet that was followed by our ancestors. Increase in diseases such as chronic obesity, diabetes, and heart problems across the western world have propelled the paleo diet into popularity because of its beneficial contribution in reducing the risk of these diseases and having a positive impact on those that suffer from them.
How does it work?
The paleo diet predominantly comprises unprocessed, whole foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, shellfish, grass produced and organ meats, free-range poultry, free-range eggs, nuts, and certain healthy oils. These contain adequate vitamins, minerals, fibers, and other nutrients. They fill you up faster so you eat less frequently, which also helps curb weight gain. The idea in the plan is to always go for the least processed item. Drawing from this, the paleo diet prohibits and eliminates the consumption of high-fat and processed foods containing refined sugars, refined grains, refined vegetable oils, trans fatty acids, salt, artificial sweeteners, and added chemicals. These foods have little to no nutritional value and many calories. According to paleo proponents, grains contain different compounds and proteins such as gluten, lectins, and phytates, which they claim cause inflammation in the body and block other nutrients from being absorbed. Legumes as well have a high content of anti-nutrients such as lectins and phytic acid, which can lead to a host of health concerns, including autoimmune diseases.
Why is the paleo diet so popular?
The paleo diet, quite simply, is the diet to which the human species is best adapted. It includes only those optimal foods that our body requires and eliminates all that is unnecessary. It is as close as we can get to a diet unadulterated by modern agricultural methods, animal husbandry, or processed foods, elements that have only existed for a short amount of time relative to the span of human evolution. The reason for its popularity is because the body responds so well to this diet and shows improvements almost instantly. Some critics point out that by eliminating multiple food groups (grains, dairy, legumes, and starchy roots), the diet can cause nutrient deficiencies. However, the diet actually incorporates intake of copious amounts of nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables and fruits, lean meats and seafood, all the while eliminating inflammatory foods such as grains, dairy, refined sugars, refined oils, and processed foods. So, it doesn’t necessarily ‘eliminate’ food groups, rather it replaces them with more nutrient-dense foods. The lost calories have to be replaced and the paleo diet does this by replacing nutrient-poor foods with nutrient-rich foods. Besides, the diet is also a low glycemic load diet, which promotes normalization of blood glucose, insulin, and helps prevent metabolic syndrome. The benefits of the paleo diet go beyond reducing the risk of illnesses. Eating the foods our bodies were designed to eat enable our bodies to function optimally—that means improved skin, hair, and nail quality, less nasal congestion, less brain fog, better overall energy, and improved ageing.
Given these benefits that provide our body with genetically determined nutritional requirements, the paleo diet is ideal for long-lasting health and well-being, and as such there is not much doubt as to why it has become increasingly popular globally.
To know more about the diet, book a consultation with us here, or call on +971 4 346 6641.