The Paleo Diet is also known by other names, such as the Paleolithic diet, the Stone Age diet or the caveman diet. There are actually slight variations among versions of the Paleo diet, so chances are you won’t find the same exact recommendations in every book or website talking about the diet. The basics of the Paleo diet, however, are always the same – and these are the things you need to learn about.
What Exactly Is The Paleo Diet Plan
The Paleo diet is a nutritional plan and weight loss diet that mimics the diet of our ancestors – especifically, those living back in the Paleolithic era. Back then, agriculture hadn’t been developed yet, which means the Paleo diet is a grain-free diet.
Technically, the Paleo diet is a low-carb diet, since no carbohydrates or sugars are allowed. However, this is not the goal of the diet — and you can easily modify the diet to increase the amount of carbs you consume. How? By adding more root vegetables, fruits and vegetables.
What Foods Are In The Paleo Diet
The Paleo diet consists of “wild foods” – foods that would have been eaten by hunter-gatherer tribes. This means fish, grass-fed meats and game meats are all acceptable, but farm-raised animals should be excluded. Vegetables and fruits are also acceptable, but there are variations on which ones are acceptable – some versions of the Paleo diet say you’re only allowed “wild fruits” such as berries, while others make more concessions. Some versions of the Paleo diet recommend raw eating, but cooking your foods is perfectly acceptable. Eggs, nuts, seeds and anything else you could pick up (gather), such as roots and fungi, are also acceptable foods in the Paleo diet.
What can’t you eat? Dairy products, grains and legumes are all out of the question. So is anything refined or processed, since that wouldn’t have been available back in the Paleolithic era. Salt and sugar are also out. Some versions of the diet ban caffeine and alcohol as well.
Major Benefits Of The Paleo Diet
The most obvious benefit of the Paleo diet is weight loss. This occurs naturally – and without you having to count calories or combining foods – because the diet asks you to cut sugars and processed foods. Highly-processed foods are the main culprit of today’s obesity epidemic, according to the World Health Organization.
The Paleo diet is also high in fiber, thanks to the many fruits, vegetables and nuts present in it. Fiber is great for weight loss because it contains very few calories but it can fill you up, helping control hunger and cravings. Fiber also helps balance your blood sugar – and when your blood sugar is stable, you don’t experience ups and downs in energy or that desperate need to eat sugars or white flours, which is common among people who eat lots of processed foods.
Another major benefit of the Paleo diet is that it contains lots of healthy, omega-3 rich fats. These are the fats found in nuts, seeds and fish. Unsaturated fats are good for your heart, and can help lower the levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. Although you’ll be eating saturated fats (from eggs and meats) as well, chances are you won’t be consuming as much as most people do. Why? Because dairy is one of the main sources of saturated fat in the American diet, and the Paleo diet bans dairy products.
Perhaps more important of all, the Paleo diet is a “clean diet.” That means it doesn’t include any preservatives or chemicals — which are common in highly-processed foods. In the Paleo diet, you’ll be eating all natural foods, preferably organic, so you’ll be getting all the nutrients the original food contains without any of the additives commonly found in processed foods.
Paleo vs. Other Diets
The Paleo diet is closer to low-carb diets than any other types of diets. However, there are also many – and significant – differences between eating a Paleo diet and following a different type of low-carb diet. The main one? Many low-carb diets advocate the purchase of certain processed foods to substitute the ones you’re leaving behind. The Paleo diet, on the other hand, is all about going back “to the origins.”
One good example of the benefits of the Paleo diet is a 2007 study published in the “Diabetology” journal. In the study, researchers looked at how two popular diets (the Paleo diet and the Mediterranean diet) affected 29 patients who suffered from both heart disease and high blood sugar. Some of the patients had type 2 diabetes, while others had glucose intolerance but not full-blown diabetes. After 12 weeks, the patients who were ordered to follow the Paleo diet had significantly improved their glucose tolerance, while the people following the Mediterranean diet had poorer or no results. According to the researchers, these results happened independently of whether the patients lost weight – a testimony to the health benefits of the Paleo diet.
How To Start A Paleo Diet
Before you do anything else, you need to decide how you’re going to make the switch. A gradual transition might be easier, but it will also delay results. You won’t notice weight loss, changes in energy level, or a flat stomach if you’re taking weeks to transition to the Paleo diet. On the other hand, doing it cold turkey would be a lot tougher, but it would mean experiencing the benefits after just a few days.
If you still want to do a gradual switch, try giving up processed foods first. Then cut down on sugars and salt, while slowly introducing more and more foods in their natural state.
Raiding Your Pantry
Once you’ve decided to switch to the Paleo diet, you need to spend some time rebuilding your pantry. That means throwing away all processed snacks and replacing them with unsalted nuts and seeds, dried fruits, nut butters, banana and plantain chips (no sugar added). If you miss potato chips, you can get a similar texture from cassava root or taro root chips. They are available at most health food stores.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are best, but you can also buy frozen and canned – as long as you read labels and make sure what you’re buying doesn’t have any added sugars or sodium. In many cases, this means a trip to your local health food store to search for organic canned and frozen products, since cheaper, mass-produced brands tend to add lots of preservatives and salt to canned products.
Deciding What To Eat
Since the Paleo diet doesn’t require calorie counting or the measuring of portions, you can basically eat as much as you want as long as you stick to the approved foods. For example, you could eat a vegetable salad for lunch, or you could grill a number of veggies and then top them with nut butter or coconut oil. Try combining different foods in different ways to prevent boredom. Or try using approved sauces and condiments to spice up the flavors. Good options include salsa, tomato paste and enchilada sauce.
Other staples to stock up on include: milk alternatives (coconut and almond milk) and healthy fats, such as avocado oil, coconut oil, walnut and sesame oil and olive oil – especially cold-pressed olive oil. Aside from obvious fresh meats, you should also look for additional sources of protein. That will keep things interesting so you have more options when it’s time to cook.
Try canned wild salmon, smoked oysters (canned in olive oil), ground sausages (look for “no added preservatives”) and organic eggs. Ghee is a great source of fat with a very particular flavor that goes well with meats and vegetables.
What To Expect
Weight loss occurs fast in the Paleo diet. That’s because you’ll be giving up the two things that cause water retention: carbs and sodium. Of course, that also means that the initial weight loss is likely to be just water weight, rather than fat weight. Depending on how much sodium and carbs you were consuming before, you could lose up to 5 pounds within a week (sometimes more). This rapid weight loss is only going to happen during the first week or two, so don’t get discouraged when the process slow down.
Long-term weight loss in the Paleo diet depends on how well you stick to it. If you follow the diet for six days out of the week and then eat everything you want on the seventh day, your results might still be good – but the weight loss and the benefits won’t come around as fast. Also, going on and off the diet can make it hard on your body to adjust to the changes, and it can lead to cravings, digestive issues and headaches. If you have trouble sticking to the diet because you miss baked goods or sweets, it’s a better idea to deal with the problem, rather than over indulging once a week.
Maybe the best news about weight loss in the Paleo diet is that it won’t be painful. Many diets are very low in calories and you’ll feel hungry constantly. The Paleo diet, on the other hand, doesn’t have calorie requirements – you simply eat until you feel full. So how do you lose weight? The magic is the foods you eat. Protein is very filling, and so are fiber-rich fruits. So even though you’ll be free to eat as much as you want, you’ll end up eating less than you normally would. And since you won’t be hungry as often, you won’t feel tempted to snack constantly or to pick at high-calorie, sugary foods.
For example, almond flour and coconut flour are allowed in the Paleo diet. You’ll have to learn how to bake with them (they require different preparation and cooking times than regular white flour), but once you get used to them, they’ll be a great substitute. While you can’t have white sugars, you can use agave syrup and maple syrup in baking. Applesauce is also a great natural sweetener and can be used in cooking but also as a sweetener in sauces or as a “dip” for fruits or veggies.