I'm sure the first few questions in mind are: What is the Paleo diet? Why should I pursue such a thing? The USDA outlines a solid diet, why should I change that?
The Paleo diet is eating as closely to what paleolithic man consumed but taking into consideration modern life. This includes the removal of the following items from your daily life:
- All Processed Foods
- All Grains (gluten especially)
- Legumes (including peanuts)
- Most dairy products (ghee, clarified butter, and some hard cheese are ok in moderation)
- Processed sweeteners (refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup etc.)
- Soy (it is a neurotoxin)
- Unsafe Oils (canola, peanut, or most plant based refined oils)
You would replace those items with whole foods (fresh vegetables), quality meats (grass fed and finished and/or pastured), animal fats, limited fruit and nuts.
The USDA pyramid should be banished and drawn up from scratch according to what our body needs and not mostly derived from grains and cereals or dairy. Grains have been shown over and over to cause numerous issues within the body so why should that be the major category from which we get nutrients? It shouldn't. Any doctor that tells you that whole grains are highly nutritious should be ignored. They obviously know little about how our body handles grains or the bio-availability of these nutrients. Food should be our gateway to health and most doctors only have about 6 months of their entire time in medical school dedicated to nutrition. Even so, the nutrition that they're given is the same tripe we've been handed for the past 50+ years. We need to re-program not only ourselves but our medical professionals.
This sounds like a monumental task of reversing your entire diet and emptying out your pantry of pretty much everything however if you seek a healthy lifestyle then this is the beginning of your journey and a better grip on your life. I won't downplay the difficulty of starting out, the costs involved, and the frustration of not being able to eat some things like pizza but in the end it is well worth the trade. Plus, once you get rid of the garbage you lose the taste for junk food and cravings diminish.
For a jump start with meal plans check out Primal Palate's 30 Day Intro to Paleo.
So, why would anyone want to do this and not just live life enjoying their boxed foods that taste good? Our systems are under constant attack in daily life. Our environments are loaded with toxins and we battle bacteria, environmental pollutants, and viruses on a continual basis. Our gastrointestinal tract hosts the largest portion of our immune system, so in essence, the best way to step up the battle is to begin in the guts and heal any damage. All of the items mentioned on the above list have a lovely way of attacking our body in one way or another causing inflammation which results in the form of indigestion, bloated feelings, gas, sugar crashes and may eventually turn into obesity, diabetes, auto-immune disorders, heart and cardiovascular conditions or a bevy of other maladies. By removing these items our body can divert all of that energy from battling inflammatory conditions to actually doing what it should have been doing all along, keeping the body in check from outside invaders. We have, by ingesting these foods, added a second layer of attack against the body often unknowingly. Doesn't it make sense to give your body a break and avoid a lot of problems later in life or even relieve problems that you may be experiencing now?
The other reason to give up those items is that it interferes with your hormonal balance. Our insulin gets out of whack, leading to diabetes and pre-diabetic conditions. Our cortisol is trashed leading to adrenal fatigue, insomnia, and pure exhaustion from little to no activity. Once our hormones are imbalanced our body does the best it can to keep up but layers of unwanted fat begins to pile on, we become lethargic, we cannot think clearly, and we become apathetic and just say "Oh well I am getting older and this is what happens."
And yet another reason to avoid the above items is that you will lose weight almost effortlessly once your GI is back in order. The reason for this is that we've basically forced our body to accept carbohydrates as a fuel source. Our body begins to efficiently use the stored fat as fuel and not relying on the carb load for a quick sugar fix. You're also putting your body into what is referred to as Ketosis. This is essentially your reserve fuel mode for the brain. The brain does need a sugar form but our body creates ketones in the liver to handle this job and if we keep the liver happy with fat then it is happy to supply ketones to the brain for functioning. Some people even find that a pure state of ketosis (a ketogenic diet) is even more beneficial than Paleo. It has been found that Ketogenic diets are very helpful with epilepsy and with further research I am seeing evidence of mitochondrial DNA repair in this state. Fascinating, no? Our bodies are quite amazing if we give them what they need and the time to repair the damage that we have caused to them.
I am definitely not an authority on the Paleo diet and I myself modify things as needed for my body as you would too should you decide to try this for yourself. These are guidelines that have shown, quite well, to work for a lot of people, however everyone is different and will need to adjust items in their diet once they get back in the drivers seat of things. Mastering the machine is a difficult task and takes some work and experimenting. You may find that nightshades are terrible for your body but that you're able to consume most dairy (which really isn't Paleo but a lot of 'Primal' people drink milk). In the end, the most important part is to remove what damages your body by detoxing initially, experiment with foods one at a time to see how you handle them, increase the fat content of your foods to burn fuel at a proper rate, and enjoy life without inflammatory diseases, obesity, or diabetic conditions.
Give your body the fuel it needs and not the fuel that gives you a dopamine hit. Reprogram yourself and take control of your body instead of it controlling you. To me, this is what Paleo is all about. The standards of the Paleo label are to eat like a caveman but essentially we're just dialing back potentially harmful foods and eating more simplistically as our bodies are designed.