What is Paleo Diet and its Benefits?

Avatar for Mish Khot By in paleo, Paleo Diet on 27/10/2020
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The Paleo diet has been endorsed by celebrities for a while now, including Gwyneth Paltrow and our very Chef Pete Evans. We seem to be surrounded by books and blogs as well as supermarket shelves that are lined with paleo-compatible foods. It may have left you wondering how and why anyone would want to eat like a caveman and what is paleo diet in the first place.

Paleolithic diets first emerged in the 1985 and were inspired from the Paleolithic period, a period of human history stretching all the way from approximately 2.5 million to approximately 10,000 years ago. It is believed that human beings at that point depended largely on vegetables, fruit, nuts, insects, roots, and meat, which varied on season and availability. The health benefits of this diet are considerable and have been touted by followers for a few years now.

paleo diet recommendations

What is paleo diet?

In order to answer what is paleo diet, we have to go back to the dietary patterns of our ancestors from the Paleolithic period. The diet is also referred to as the caveman diet or the ancestral diet.

This was a time before the agricultural industry developed, when the dietary habits of humans relied on weather, season, location, and availability of food sources.

This diet stems from the belief that most modern day chronic metabolic disorders are the result of the human body being unable to adapt from those ancient times. Followers of this diet believe that going paleo lets you maximise the efficiency of your body and enjoy the metabolic effects in a positive manner.

paleo diet veggies

This sort of diet tends to be higher in protein and lower in fats when compared to our modern diets. It places importance on essential fatty acids whilst being high in fiber and low in sodium. It recommends eating only what is paleo suitable, which means only the foods that our ancestors had access to. This means avoiding processed or packaged foods and limiting food items such as:

  • Cereal grains
  • Dairy
  • Legumes
  • Refined sugar
  • Processed foods
  • Potatoes
  • Alcohol
  • Vegetable oils
  • Sweeteners

The Paleo diet believes that carbohydrate consumption was low during the Paleolithic period, which is highly debated as carbs could have come from other sources depending on the location, seasons and food availability. While it may be impossible to find some of the foods that our ancestors ate or to mimic their eating habits, you can apply the principles of it to your daily food intake.

What are the pros of a paleo diet?

There are certain factors which work in favor of this diet such as:

  • The focus on whole and unprocessed foods
  • It emphasises consuming healthy fats from nuts and seeds
  • Protein is sourced from healthy sources like meats, eggs and fish which provides you with higher quality protein but keeps you full between meals
  • It recommends larger amounts of fruits and vegetables, something which most Australians do not get enough of
nutrition on your plate

What is paleo diet in terms of science and nutrition guidelines?

While there are few scientific studies conducted on the paleo diet, they are few and far in between as well as small in scale. There is a severe lack of high quality studies which does not work in the favor of the Paleolithic diet. A few points have emerged out of the study though:

  • The diet was concluded as being difficult to adhere to as compared to other diets
  • There were no long-term follows up to ascertain viability
  • One study showed that a 9.3 % increase in income would be required on an average to meet nutritional targets suggested by this diet

On the basis of the Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADGs), the paleo diet has faced some severe criticism. The only thing the paleo diet has in common with the ADGs is the exclusion of processed and sugar-laden foods with whole foods. Other than that it is criticized for the following reasons:

  • It excludes a number of whole food groups which can lead to nutritional deficiencies.
  • It encourages high protein consumption instead of carbohydrates which is not sustainable for energy
  • ADGs recommend whole grains, legumes and dairy all of which are excluded from the paleo diet and can lead to a number of health problems when not consumed

When it comes to dietary advice, the health and general state of the population needs to be considered. The ADGs have a sharp focus on weight loss because a majority of the Australian population qualifies as overweight. Accredited Practising Dietitians (APDs) take into account these guidelines to help most Australians come up with specific diets to lose weight after considering a number of factors including current health and economic status. No general diet found in books, magazines or the internet can match their level of tailored and expert-driven advice.

Some of the food recommendations made by the Paleolithic diet have been highly criticized in Australia as well as worldwide:

  • The diet bans consumption of dairy foods which can lead to poor calcium levels
  • It demonizes healthy high-fibre grains and legumes, such as lentils, chickpeas, beans
  • The diet is incredibly low in carbohydrates compared to other diets which can lead to excessive eating as you might not have enough energy to sustain you during the day
  • With low carb consumption comes the risk of higher protein and fatty acid consumption in the form of meats and fats, something Australians are already eating too much of
  • As with all fad diets, paleo-style diets limit not only your food choices, but also affect your social behavior by making it difficult to share food with your loved ones or to eat in restaurants

What is the paleo diet list of recommendations?

While the diet does seem restricted, it actually has a plethora of options when you break it down. This makes it easier to create meal plans for interesting meals. This is very important because food boredom can lead to cravings, which will make you eat all kinds of unhealthy foods.

While there are a lot of options to consider on this diet, you will have to make peace with giving up some favorites like alcohol and peanut butter.

The modern paleo diet advocates the consumption of meat and seafood in addition to eggs, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits and healthy oils. Processed food is out of the question and those adhering strictly to paleo recommendations should also avoid grains, potatoes, legumes and dairy.

a diet rich in vegetables and fruit

Vegetables form the crux of this diet along with fruit. Nearly all vegetables are allowed with the exception of potatoes. Some of the vegetables you can consume are:

  • Spinach
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Rocket
  • Bok choy

Fruits are the second dominant group in this diet and your primary source to satisfy those sweet cravings. Consider the following fruits:

  • Berries
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Citrus fruits
  • Kiwi
  • Melons
  • Grapes
  • Lychee
  • Peaches

But one cannot live on fruits and vegetables alone and some amount of protein is required for daily functioning as well as to make you feel full. Bear in the mind that the paleo diet prescribes only grass-fed meat. You can consume the following protein sources:

  • Red meat
  • Fish and other seafood
  • Poultry and eggs

Fat makes up a critical component of this ancestral diet but the focus is strongly on healthy fats which can be found in food sources such as:

  • Avocado
  • Olive oil
  • Butter and ghee (made from grass-fed animals)
  • Coconut oil
  • Chia seeds
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Tahini

When you cook, you can use the following herbs and spices. These not only ensure that your food tastes incredible but also provide myriad health benefits. The spices you can add to food are:

  • Fresh chives
  • Leek
  • Garlic
  • Vinegar
  • Chilli
  • Cacao powder
  • Parsley
  • Mustard
  • Basil
  • Ginger
  • Coriander

Hydration is vital to any diet and is essential to ensure good digestion as well as optimal health. Paleo friendly options include:

  • Water
  • Kombucha
  • Coconut water
  • Bone broth

What is a good paleo diet meal plan?

As you can see there is a vast variety of food available for consumption on this diet. When you consider that there are no calorie restrictions in this diet, you’ll begin to see the flexibility this diet gives you. The only rule to remember is that you must include vegetables in every meal as they are the foundation of this diet. Here are some options:

Breakfast

  • Casserole with sausages
  • Ham and butternut squash hash
  • Scrambled eggs with salmon

Lunch

  • Roasted chicken salad with pecans, vinaigrette, raisins and apple slices
  • Chicken wrap with leafy vegetables

Dinner

  • Chicken and wild mushroom soup
  • Roasted tomatoes with pineapple and ham
  • Greek meatballs
  • Chicken Pad See Ew
  • Pistachio crusted salmon
  • Grilled chickens with vegetables of choice

If you do not have the time, skills or inclination for whipping up paleo friendly meals, there are plenty of snack options for you to consider:

  • Nuts or trail mix
  • Ice-cream made of frozen fruit and coconut milk
  • Avocados and olives
  • Bananas with nut butter
  • Veggie chips
paleo chips

Modified Paleo or Modern Paleo is a more recent adaptation of the original diet. It has taken what is paleo diet friendly and added some foods that are considered healthy or offer significant benefits and has less stringent restrictions.

When it comes to any meal plan the most important thing to remember is to consume a diet that is rich in natural and whole foods. No diet should be followed to an extreme and you should always keep room for flexibility. Stop any diet immediately if it affects your health and always consult your medical practitioner before commencing any new diet.

Recent surveys indicate that as little as 5.5% of Aussies eat enough fruit and vegetables while more than 40% of their daily calorie requirements are met through processed foods which have little to nutritional value. The recommended servings are two servings of fruit or five servings of vegetables a day. While there are many who debate the drawbacks of the paleo diet and there is no denying that it does not comply with the Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADGs), it does emphasize eating the same fresh choices.

If you would like to speak to an expert about your dietary requirements and moving to a fresher, greener diet, Avaana can help you find a nutritionist near you.

Avatar for Mish Khot

Mishana Khot is a fiction author and co-founder of The Great Next, an adventure travel company. She has been featured in National Geographic, Forbes magazine, and other publications, and has over 15 years of experience with health, travel, and lifestyle brands.

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