What is the Paleo diet?

Paleo is short for Paleolithic, which refers to a time period about 2.5 million to 11,500 years ago. 

The Paleo diet is based off of what scientists and experts have evidence to believe people during the Paleolithic time period consumed. The Paleo diet focuses on consuming whole foods rather than food that comes from packages. In short, it emphasizes eating as close to the earth as possible. 

The theory behind the Paleo diet is that our bodies are genetically mismatched to that of our modern diet, what is referred to as the Standard American Diet (SAD).  Experts believe that this mismatch is a contributing factor to the obesity rate, heart disease, and inflammation in the brain, which impacts brain health (Neurosci Biobehav Rev.).

What are the benefits of the Paleo diet?

There are many benefits to the Paleo diet, but there are also some downsides, so let’s go over both to cover our bases!

Pros:

Cons:

  • It is possible to eat too much protein, which can cause calcium loss and in turn, impact your bone health
  • It is a difficult diet to maintain for vegetarians and vegans, as it excludes beans
  • It is hard to eat out at first if you are strictly following a Paleo diet, and can at times be hard to maintain
  • Excluding grains and dairy, while beneficial for some, can be harmful for others in terms of energy and overall health
  • The Paleo diet can be expensive. To cut down on costs, it’s helpful to shop the frozen section for produce and eat seasonally

What to eat and what to avoid:

Eating on the Paleo diet can actually be quite doable and easy to adjust to. While it may take some navigating around the grocery store or farmer’s market at times, a Paleo diet can definitely be reasonable in terms of cost and living adjustment. You just need to learn what you enjoy most and how best to incorporate it into your daily life!

Below are some rules as to what to eat and what to avoid while following a Paleo diet.

Enjoy:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Lean meats (preferably grass-fed)
  • Fish
  • Seafood
  • Eggs
  • Natural oils (such as coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado oil)
  • Sea salt, spices, black pepper

Avoid:

  • Refined sugars (including cane sugar, corn syrup, tapioca syrup, powdered sugar, etc.)
  • Dairy products (except for ghee, which is Paleo-friendly and does not contain lactose due to its cooking process)
  • Regular table salt
  • High fat processed meat, such as bologna, salami, and hot dogs
  • Anything processed (think candy bars, packaged cookies, pretzels, etc.)
  • Soy
  • Peanuts

Enjoy at your own discretion:

There are some foods that are not as cut and dry as choosing a vegetable over a slice of bread. Certain foods, such as the ones listed below, are allowed on the Paleo diet depending on the strictness and definition of Paleo. This is due to the fact that there is no “one” Paleolithic diet. When humans spread out across the world, they consumed whatever food source was available (which is why some studies point out that there is evidence that Paleolithic people consumed grains when necessary). Some foods that are sometimes allowed include:

  • Potatoes
  • Wine
  • Ghee/grass-fed butter and/or fermented products, such as yogurt and kefir
  • Legumes (if you are a vegetarian or vegan, it may be necessary to consume these, as they contain necessary nutrients that may go missed if excluding meat. Please consult your doctor.)

The key to a successful diet is learning what works best for you and your body, and adjusting the diet to meet your needs. Always consult your doctor if you have any questions as to what might work best for your goals and needs.

Where can I find Paleo friendly recipes?

There are many Paleo friendly recipes across the web! The Paleo Leap has wonderful recipes, as well as some Paleo food bloggers, such as Paleo Running Momma and 40 Aprons

However, Paleo recipes don’t have to be complex! A simple Paleo friendly day could be as follows:

Breakfast: 2-3 scrambled eggs, 1 roasted sweet potato, sliced fruit

Lunch: salad with lettuce and mixed raw/cooked vegetables, avocado or nuts, grilled chicken, and olive oil and balsamic dressing

Dinner: Baked salmon with vegetables and avocado or dressing

Snacks: nuts, fruit, sweet potato sliced into fry shapes or wedges, hard boiled eggs, vegetables for dipping into guacamole

The bottom line

Like with any diet, you can be as strict or as lenient as you would like. If some parts of the Paleo diet work for you, then you can incorporate them into your lifestyle! Eating a Paleo diet can be very enjoyable and satisfying, and it might just get you to try something you otherwise wouldn’t have!

However, it is always important to discuss any dietary changes with your doctor specifically to see if the Paleo diet will work best for you and if so, how to incorporate the Paleo diet into your life.