Paleo Diet 101
If you’re new to the blog, we encourage you to check out our first post introducing the blog (Katie's Plates Begins Blogging) and last week’s post with some New Year’s resolutions fun (New Year, New Skills).
This week, as promised, we are diving into the Paleo Diet- demystifying what it is and what it isn’t. At Katie’s Plates, most, if not all, of our meals follow the Paleo Diet format. Before we explain why we subscribe to this way of eating, let’s lay the foundation. Its a little history, a little science, and a little common sense.
What is the Paleo Diet?
The Paleo Diet first gained popularity in 2011 before becoming a trend in 2013, however its conception was much earlier. It was in 2002 that Loren Cordain, PhD wrote the groundbreaking book “The Paleo Diet” in response to earlier inquiries into the Paleolithic Era diet. In a narrative style, he drew together nutrition research and the natural environment.
Today, most everyone has at least heard of it, if not knowing what it is exactly. The Paleo Diet (named from the Paleolithic Era) is based on the premise that the human race originally survived on animal proteins, fat, and vegetable-based carbohydrates. Following the agricultural revolution, grains and legumes were introduced and humans transitioned from hunter-gatherers to farmers. The Paleo Diet believes that our bodies haven’t evolved to thrive off the grain-based diet that was introduced, and instead would still do well to maintain the hunter-gatherer diet of our ancestors. Further, it was noted that these Paleolithic, or Stone Age, people did not consume dairy products as domesticating cattle did not exist yet.
With this in mind, the modern day Paleo Diet was born (oxymoron intended). The Paleo Diet is similar to a low carb or high protein diet in that there is a focus on lean proteins to provide satiety. The Paleo Diet also recommends avoiding processed foods and reducing sugar intake, consistent with most mainstream diet advice. Here’s a quick chart of the do’s and don’ts for following the Paleo Diet:
Note that legumes in the “no” column include beans as well as peanuts and soy beans. This is surprising to many because these foods aren’t traditionally considered “bad for you”. The reasoning behind this decision is due to something called phytic acid. Phytic acid will bind to nutrients in food and make them unable to be absorbed by the body. Many foods contain phytic acid, and in small amounts it is beneficial to the body, but legumes carry a higher amount of phytic acid and are often eaten in larger amounts. Additionally, foods like grains, legumes, and dairy contain lectins. Lectins are resistant to digestion (a trait created as a defense mechanism in plants) and can produce less than desirable symptoms (bloating, flatulence, GI distress). With these considerations in mind, the Paleo Diet suggests the removal of grains, legumes, and dairy from ones diet.
For the sake of brevity, other guidelines for the diet include:
- Eat generous amounts of saturated fats, such as coconut oil, avocado oil, butter, ghee, lard
- Consume plenty of animal proteins, including red meat, eggs, poultry, pork, organ meats, wild caught fish and shellfish
- Eat generous amounts of vegetables
- Eat low to moderate amounts of fruits and nuts, emphasizing berries due to their low sugar content and high amounts of anti-oxidants. Nuts high in omega-3’s and low in omega-6’s are recommended.
- Remove all vegetable, hydrogenated, and partially-hydrogenated oils from your diet (corn, canola, soybean, safflower, sunflower and peanut oils, as well as margarine).
- Eliminate added sugar (junk food, soft drinks, juices, etc.)
Overall, the Paleo Diet concept encourages eating only foods that would be available to Paleolithic humans (though even this has created some controversy over what exactly these foods would be).
Most health claims for the Paleo Diet come from anecdotal reports. Of the research that is out there, the Paleo diet pattern has shown improvements in cardiovascular and metabolic health, as well as fat mass loss, when compared to the Standard American Diet (aka the SAD diet). Today, there is a wider acceptance of the diet within the health and wellness community, with many well respected health professionals standing behind it. There are now hundreds of blogs, recipes, and meal plan resources for following the Paleo Diet. And, of course, you have a meal delivery business like Katie’s Plates that can provide you with delicious Paleo approved meals! Eating Paleo is easier than ever!
The Counter Argument
In all fairness, I feel it is important to note some criticisms of this particular diet. It’s easy to stand behind a belief and ignore the counter arguments to it, but without considering the other side we lose the ability to engage in productive conversation and get closer to the truth. This type of exploration allows us to grow and develop our own personal beliefs, rather than simply believing what is fed to us (pun intended).
- The pillar of the Paleo Diet defense is that humans have not evolved to consume much of the modernized foods we have in great abundance today. This includes processed foods, grains, and dairy. So while lactose intolerance is still a problem for many people, there are plenty of people who can tolerate dairy just fine.
- Additionally, it is known that humans from around the world eat a wide variety of diet patterns, thus suggesting that there is not one ideal diet for all peoples- compare the cuisines of Nordic countries vs South American food traditions vs authentic Chinese food, for example.
- Another criticism is that the good health of the Paleo Era humans may be attributed to the fact that they did not live long enough to contract many of the degenerative diseases we have today.
- While we can craft what we feel is an accurate depiction of the Paleo Diet from what research we have, it may be very well impossible to replicate this diet due to insufficient data.
- Though the Paleo Diet claims humans have not evolved to tolerate post-agricultural revolution foods, consider that foods themselves may have evolved. Negative traits have been bred out (ex: high levels of cyanide in wild almonds) and some varieties of vegetables as we know today did not exist in the Paleo era.
- Many Paleo enthusiasts follow the rule of consuming no more than 300 grams of carbohydrates per day. Regardless of whether or not this holds merit for achieving good health, it is unwise to suggest that all people should be held to eating the exact same macronutrient level- this does not account for daily activity levels, differences in metabolism, or stages of life.
While I’ve just laid out a number of criticisms for this diet, there is much to appreciate about this eating pattern, and here’s why:
The Paleo Diet supports eating minimally processed whole foods and reducing sugar intake. Its simple- we are talking about eating real food here, people! Common sense will tell us that increasing our intake of nutrient packed foods and decreasing our intake of “empty” foods (foods that provide minimal to no nutritional benefit) will support healthy bodies. Call it Paleo, call it healthy, call it whatever you want. Eating real food is where it’s at. The purpose of adopting a “diet” helps give us a guide, of which the Paleo Diet does nicely. There are some pitfalls when you align yourself to following a “diet”, however, rather than creating a lifestyle. I will explore this topic further in a future post. Adopting the Paleo Diet will encourage you to trade out microwave meals and boxed snacks, and instead choose real food protein sources, healthy fats, and nutrient dense vegetables- now that’s something I can get behind.
While I’ve tried to be as comprehensive as possible, the more I wrote the more I realized there was to say! Things like soaking and sprouting to increase digestibility of grains and legumes, the phytoestrogen debate in regards to soy, impact of carbohydrates from fruit vs vegetables vs sugar, and more! Alas, these are posts for another day. Please let me know if there is anything in particular you would like to learn more about and I will write a future post about it!
Katie’s Plates Take: We love providing you with REAL food- nutrient dense food that nourishes the body and supports healthy lifestyles. Mostly, this aligns with the Paleo Diet, and so we feel that is the best way to serve YOU. But we also include rice, corn, dairy, and beans from time to time, because we believe life is about balance. We will always make sure to label our meals as paleo-friendly if they are so that you have full knowledge of what you are eating.
Remember- Eat with intention!