Some call it the Caveman diet while others simply call it Paleo. Whatever you want to call it, this diet plan is growing in popularity by leaps and bounds. Nutritionists, dieticians, fitness experts and athletes are all weighing in on its merits and credits. But is eating a Paleo diet right for you or should it be left to hardcore athletes and fitness enthusiasts who are more inclined to follow this high fat, high protein, low carb, low glycemic diet?
What is a Paleo diet?
The Paleo diet is based on eating only the foods that our Paleolithic ancestors survived on like meat, vegetables, fish, fruits, nuts and seeds. The premise of the diet is that our bodies are not genetically or physically capable of properly digesting and processing today’s over processed and genetically modified foods since they have no resemblance of the foods our ancestors ate millions of years ago. Most Paleo experts agree that the incidence of disease, inflammation, obesity, chronic conditions and many other health problems can be attributed to the foods that most Westerners eat today.
Proponents of the Paleo diet claim that you can lose weight, lower your blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels, sleep better, reverse certain autoimmune diseases, improve your mental function and your mood, and even increase your athletic performance if you eat a Paleo diet.
Paleo Foods: The Do’s and the Don’ts
The foods that you are allowed to eat while on the Paleo diet include:
- grass-fed meats
- seafood & fish
- fruits & vegetables
- nuts & seeds
- healthy oils (avocado, fish, coconut and olive to name a few).
On the other hand, the list of foods you cannot eat include:
- processed foods
- legumes (yes, peanuts too)
- salt and refined vegetable oils
Many Paleo followers also stay away from alcohol and caffeine. For some people, this list of unapproved foods and drinks can be a difficult adjustment.
The Pros and Cons of Eating Paleo
A lot of benefits exist in eating a complete Paleo diet. For one thing, eliminating sugar, processed foods, salt and caffeine is a giant step in the right direction when it comes to eating a healthy diet. Any diet that puts an emphasis on protein, healthy fats and carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables cannot be all bad. And since a Paleo diet is all about that, you would easily be getting enough vitamins and minerals from these nutrient-dense foods which you should already be doing regardless of what diet plan you follow.
On the other hand, giving up foods like bread, pasta, brown rice, quinoa, peanuts/ peanut butter, cottage cheese, milk and yogurt, can be a challenge if you eat these foods on a regular basis. Some people may also take issue with some of the foods that many Paleo followers eat like bacon, whole eggs (no egg white omelets with this plan) and full-fat meats which are higher in calories and fat.
One other thing to consider about a Paleo diet is that quite often, Paleo eaters are not just careful about what they eat, but also where the food comes from. Grass-fed meats, wild caught fish and free roaming eggs are acceptable as opposed to most meats, fish and eggs you find in the supermarket. The belief is that if the animals are being fed non-Paleo foods then, by extension, you will be eating those unapproved foods as well. And because these foods are not always easy to find, you may have to do some research to find a place that sells them, and they also tend to cost more.
Should You Follow a Paleo Diet?
Following a full Paleo diet may not be a good idea if you do not want to give up many of your favorite foods. If you do want to give it a try, however, start slowly by giving up one or two non-Paleo approved foods per week and replacing them with Paleo-approved ones. This makes for an easier transition so you do not feel like you are giving up everything at once. Plus, it gives you a chance to experiment with some new foods in order to see what you like and what you do not.
The other issue to consider is your caloric intake. One large whole egg is 70 calories and 5 grams of fat as opposed to 17 calories and 0 grams of fat for just the egg white (however, you do benefit from 6 grams of protein from a whole egg as opposed to 4 grams for just the white). And when you throw in full-fat meats and healthy fats, the calories can add up quickly. Keep track of what you eat as you begin changing your foods so you do not exceed your regular calorie consumption.
Many people have found a nice compromise when they follow a modified-Paleo eating plan. By doing this, 80%-85% of their diet is Paleo while the remaining percent is not. This seems to work for most people who do not want to completely give up their favorite foods or cheat meals.
The bottom line is that everyone should do what works for them—even when it comes to eating. Some people thrive on a Paleo diet while others feel deprived. You should never feel like you are suffering when it comes to eating. If that happens, then it is time for a change. But if you want to give Paleo a try, it may not be as difficult as you think. You may find some new favorite foods along the way that you would not have otherwise tried. And with the vast amount of cookbooks, websites, blogs and books about the Paleo diet, there are more than enough recipes, advice and support groups that can help you ease into this new and popular lifestyle of eating.