A new diet has swept the wellness scene, and though its popularity may be fairly new, its roots are actually quite old – prehistoric, in fact.
The paleo diet, also known as the “caveman” diet, is based on the belief that humans are meant to eat the way we did in Paleolithic times. The theory goes that we’re not particularly well adapted to consume the foods that burst onto the nutrition scene with the advent of agriculture and farming only 10,000 years ago.
So what are you supposed to eat on the paleo diet? Everything that ancient humans were able to hunt and gather: lots of vegetables, fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, organic and grass-fed meat, wild fish, and roots. Sounds doable, right?
The catch is you’re also supposed to eliminate foods that are staples in many people’s diets. Here’s what you’re not supposed to eat when going paleo:
Grains: According to paleo proponents, grains are the number-one cause of modern disease – all the chronic inflammatory conditions that people did not experience in prehistoric times, such as cardiovascular disease and obesity.
That’s because grains contain three big anti-nutrients (phytates, lectins, and gluten) that cause inflammation. In addition, the carbohydrates in grains can cause spikes in blood sugar and insulin, which over time can lead to metabolic syndrome, which is characterized by obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and more.
Legumes: Beans, peas, lentils… they’re all a no-no on the paleo diet. That includes peanut butter, too! Like grains, legumes contain phytic acid and lectins, which are thought to prevent your body from absorbing other nutrients, lead to digestive upset, cause autoimmune disorders, and more.
Dairy: There’s some debate in the paleo community about how much dairy is acceptable, but most agree that grass-fed butter is healthy, and some say full-fat yogurt and cheese are fine in moderation. Otherwise you should avoid dairy, especially anything that’s been processed and stripped of its natural fat.
Processed oils: The paleo movement strongly discourages the consumption of canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, and all other heavily processed vegetables oils. However, olive oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, other cold-pressed oils are all considered healthy sources of fat and are encouraged.
Refined sugar and sweeteners: This one is more obvious – almost everyone agrees that refined sugar is pretty terrible for you! The debate opens up when it comes to natural sweeteners. Some proponents of the paleo diet are fine with small amounts of honey, maple syrup, and other natural sweeteners, while others say sugar is sugar, and it should be avoided as much as possible.
Though paleo is often stereotyped as a diet of bacon-wrapped burgers without the buns, ideally it’s a diet full of vegetables, some high-quality animal protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates that won’t mess with your blood sugar levels.
Yet at Integrative Nutrition, we always say that nutrition is a fledgling science – it’s the only field where two theories that are diametrically opposite can both be proven true.
There are plenty of studies that directly refute almost everything that paleo stands for – for example, it’s also been proven that whole grains are the key to a long and healthy life, beans are nutritional powerhouses, and the overconsumption of animal protein and fat can cause heart disease and even cancer.
So what are you to make of it? It’s simple: experiment and find what works for you. As we teach at Integrative Nutrition, bio-individuality is key. That means there is no one-size-fits-all diet. Paleo may be great for one person but terrible for another.
Have you ever tried eating paleo? How does it make you feel? Let us know in the comments below!