- Health Benefits of the Paleo Diet
- Health Benefits of Paleo
- What’s Involved?
- Want to Try Paleo for Yourself?
- 5 Studies on The Paleo Diet – Does it Actually Work?
- The Paleo problem: Examining the pros and cons of the Paleo Diet.
- What we’ll cover
- “Paleo” defined
- What’s so special about hunter-gatherers?
- How do “ancestral eaters” fare?
- What Paleo promises
- What’s the evidence?
- Diseases of affluence and industrialization
- But is the Paleo diet really Paleo?
- Evolution of the human GI tract
- Modern Paleo research
- Conclusion & recommendations
- What to do today
- Passionate about nutrition and health?
- Interested? Add your name to the presale list. You’ll save up to 30% and secure your spot 24 hours before everyone else.
- Paleo Diet Benefits
- Improved digestion & Reduced bloating
- SATIATION & HUNGER CONTROL
- Paleo is rich in healthy fats
- KNOWN PALEO DIET BENEFITS
- MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
- Are there any negative effects?
- How long before I see results?
- IS THE PALEO DIET FOR ME?
- The 16 Biggest Benefits of the Paleo Diet
- 1. Squeaky-Clean Eating
- 2. More Movement
- 3. Reduced Inflammation
- 4. Fewer Cravings
- 5. A Healthier Gut
- 6. Better Sleep
- 7. Enjoy Amazing Food
- 8. More Nutrients
- 9. Better Mental Health
- 10. Healthy Disconnection
- 11. Leaner Muscle Tone
- 12. No Calorie Counting
- 13. Fewer Toxins
- 14. More Energy
- 15. Eco-Friendly Living
- 16. More Natural Solutions
Health Benefits of the Paleo Diet
Heralded for its long list of health benefits, the Paleo Diet has made its way into the mainstream over the past few years thanks to numerous best-selling books and TV celebrities such as My Kitchen Rules chef Pete Evans spreading the word about Paleo. Pete’s book Family Food has enjoyed much success, and Paleo based food blogs and programs are springing up all over the internet. Converts are raving about the diet in their social circles and gyms, leaving many of us wondering what exactly is this Paleo diet we keep hearing all about?
Also referred to as the “Primal”, “Caveman” or “Stone Age” diet, the Paleo Diet is based on core principles from our hunter-gatherer, ancestral lifestyle. Although at first glance it may appear to be another new fad diet, Paleo is actually about returning to a simpler, healthier way of eating that supports health and well-being.
Mark Sisson, author of the best-selling book The Primal Blueprint, explains that while the world has changed in innumerable ways in the last 10,000 years, the human genome has changed very little and thus only thrives under similar conditions.
While Paleo followers won’t be found throwing spears or wearing lion furs, the “Paleo way” does go beyond the foods we eat by emphasising healthy lifestyle habits such as getting enough sleep, stress reduction, sun exposure, exercise, and avoiding harmful substances.
Eat Drink Paleo blogger and author, Irena Macri, says that in today’s world we are largely desk-bound, consuming packaged, processed foods, living with chronic stress, and not getting enough sleep, all of which can make us sick, fat and depressed. To achieve optimal health, the Paleo lifestyle draws its core principles from our ancestors who ate whole, unprocessed foods, moved more, slept better and stressed less.
It’s not about re-enacting the Paleolithic era, says Macri, but rather recognising our genetic predisposition and applying current knowledge of how different foods and activities affect our body’s functions like metabolism, digestion, insulin sensitivity, and systemic inflammation.
The diet combines these principles with modern scientific research and good common sense, and is intended as a framework rather than a “one-size-fits-all” approach to eating. Paleo can be tailored to individual needs, goals, body types and sensitivities.
Health Benefits of Paleo
Paleo focuses on real, whole, unprocessed foods. This reduces, and in most cases eliminates, consumption of preservatives, additives, artificial colours and flavours, hidden sugars, artificial sweeteners, sodium and flavour enhancers. As a result, you eliminate toxins and increase nutrient intake.
Paleo is a diet rich in nutrients, placing a huge emphasis on fresh organic vegetables. Instead of filling up on processed carbs such as bread and pasta, Paleo followers get their daily dose of goodness through organic lean meat, veggies, fruit and berries, healthy fats, nuts and seeds, all of which are full of vitamins and minerals.
Most people experience weight loss and muscle growth while eating a Paleo diet and keeping an active lifestyle. Improved metabolic processes and gut health, better sleep, stress management, sufficient Vitamin D and a healthy ratio of Omega-3/6 fatty acids all aid in burning off stored body fat.
The Paleo diet provides lots of fibre, which together with adequate water intake and a smaller intake of sodium help to decrease the bloat many people experience on a Western diet. Plus, the Paleo diet helps to improve the gut flora which is essential in keeping healthy digestion.
“Hangry” is a combination of hungry+angry, which is a common symptom for many people suffering from acute or chronic hyperglycemia. This also happens when the blood sugar drops and the person gets a rapid onset of hunger accompanied by irritability, fatigue, disorientation, and a foggy mind. Meals consisting of protein and fat are very satiating. The energy your body gets from fat, protein and some glucose from low GI carbs is released slowly and evenly throughout the day. As a result, the blood sugar levels stay stable and you rarely experience energy drops; hunger develops gradually without mood swings.
Paleo consists of healthy fats from grass fed meat, poultry, seafood, coconut, olive oil, nuts and seeds. There are no trans fats. A healthy ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids is also promoted. The right types of fat are essential in maintaining healthy arteries, brain function, healthy skin, as well as decreasing systemic inflammation.
People following the Paleo/Primal diet experience many of the below benefits:
- Increased and more stable energy levels
- Improved sleep
- Clearer skin and healthier looking hair
- Mental clarity
- Improved mood and attitude
- Improvements in those suffering depression or anxieties
- Less or no bloating, decreased gas
- Sustained weight loss
- Muscle growth; increased fitness
- Lowered risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer
- Higher immune function and a general feeling of well being
- Improved glucose tolerance; decreased insulin secretion and increased insulin sensitivity
- Improved lipid profiles
- Healthier gut flora
- Better absorption of nutrients from food
- Reduced allergies
- The Paleo diet is anti-inflammatory, and most people experience reduction of pain associated with inflammation
- Improvements in those with respiratory problems such as asthma
The Paleo diet focuses on unprocessed whole foods, lots of healthy fats including saturated fat, grass-fed, free-range meat and eggs, lots of fish and seafood, vegetables, fruit, berries, nuts, seeds and some natural sweeteners. It excludes grains, legumes, processed sugar and most dairy. Some people include healthy dairy foods like kefir, full fat natural yogurt, some aged cheese and butter, but of course it really depends on your sensitivities. Paleo also focuses on local, organic produce and good farming practices.
A common misconception about the Paleo diet is that it’s a low-carb diet with a focus on meat. While a lower amount of carbohydrates may be consumed compared to the standard Australian diet through the exclusion of grains and refined sugars, plenty of carbs are still consumed from vegetables, fruits and nuts.
There are a few hard and fast rules on the Paleo Diet, but as we mention above, Paleo is a framework and a lifestyle which means many people choose to be a little flexible in their approach, taking what works for them and their bodies.
- Meat and poultry (including offal): grass-fed, free range meat is not only a kinder and more ethical way to consume animal products but it is also much higher in nutrients because of the way the cattle was fed and raised.
- Fish and seafood: try to choose sustainable, wild fish and seafood when possible.
- Eggs: free-range, pasture raised whenever possible.
- Vegetables: non-starchy and starchy tubers and root vegetables.
- Fruit and berries: stick to low sugar fruit and berries and keep high sugar fruit like bananas and mangos for days when you need a higher carbohydrate intake or when in season and tasting delicious.
- Nuts and seeds: in moderation. They are nutritious but many nuts and seeds are high in Omega-6 fatty acids which can be pro-inflammatory if consumed in large quantities and when your diet is not balanced by an equal amount of Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish like salmon and sardines, eggs and leafy greens.
- Spices and herbs
- Salt: use good quality sea salt or Celtic salt to get beneficial minerals and be sensible with it.
- Healthy fats: coconut oil, coconut milk and cream, ghee, butter (it’s mostly fat so no big problems with lactose), duck fat, olive oil, avocado oil, macadamia nut oil, fish oil, sesame oil as well as from grass-fed meats, poultry and fish.
- Condiments: mustard, good quality vinegars such as Apple Cider or aged Balsamic, olive oil, mayonnaise, low sugar tomato sauces and paste, anchovies, olives, gherkins, capers, salsas and pestos, are all fine, just make sure no nasty chemicals and preservatives are added. Wheat free soy sauce such as Tamari and naturally derived oyster sauce are ok every now and again.
- For baking: nut meals, coconut flour, tapioca and arrowroot flour, sweet potato flour, chestnut flour, use in moderation as these are either still high in carbohydrates or may contain high amounts of Omega-6 fatty acids.
- Grains: especially wheat and anything with gluten.
- Legumes: beans, lentils, chickpeas and so on.
- Refined sugars and carbohydrates: bread, pasta, cookies, white sugar, artificial sugar, high fructose syrup, sodas, fruit juices and so on.
- Dairy: especially milk and low fat dairy and for those with damaged gut or gluten/lactose intolerances.
- Processed vegetable oils and fats such as canola oil (rapeseed), soybean oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil and margarines and spreads made with such oils.
- Products containing Gluten
OK on occasion:
- Dairy should mainly be avoided, especially if you suffer from gut problems and gluten intolerances, but if you’re in good health and have no sensitivities to lactose (sugars in milk) or casein (protein in milk) then a little healthy dairy can go a long way. Avoid cow’s milk as it has a high Glycemic Index unlike cheese or yogurt. Better options are goat’s and sheep’s milk products, A2 cow’s milk and cow’s milk fermented products like kefir, unsweetened yogurt, aged cheeses, full fat cream, butter, and ricotta.
- Natural sweeteners: honey, maple syrup, molasses, dried fruit, dark chocolate, coconut sugar, rice malt syrup for those avoiding fructose.
- Alcohol: dry wines, clean non-grain based spirits.
- Fermented soy such as miso, tempeh in small amounts, wheat free soy sauce.
- Pseudograins like quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat are less harmful but they are still dense sources of carbohydrates and contain similar anti-nutrients to grains. They should be prepared carefully to remove some of the anti-nutrients such as phytic acid. Soak such grains in salted water for 8-12 hours, rinse and then cook well before consuming. Chia seeds also fall in this category. Buckwheat is the safest out of these.
- Fresh corn, green beans and green peas fall into grain/legume category but are fine to use every now and then and especially when in season and local.
Want to Try Paleo for Yourself?
Paleo restaurants are springing up all over Australia. The Paleo Place is a Sunshine Coast cafe dedicated to delicious Paleo foods, open daily for breakfast and lunch from 7:30am – 2:30pm. For more information about The Paleo Place visit www.ThePaleoPlace.com.au
5 Studies on The Paleo Diet – Does it Actually Work?
All of these studies are done in humans and are published in respected, peer-reviewed scientific journals.
1. Lindeberg S, et al. A Palaeolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischaemic heart disease. Diabetologia, 2007.
Details: 29 men with heart disease and elevated blood sugars or type 2 diabetes, were randomized to either a paleolithic diet (n=14) or a Mediterranean-like diet (n=15). Neither group was calorie restricted.
The main outcomes measured were glucose tolerance, insulin levels, weight and waist circumference. This study went on for 12 weeks.
Glucose Tolerance: The glucose tolerance test measures how quickly glucose is cleared from the blood. It is a marker for insulin resistance and diabetes.
This graph shows the difference between groups. The solid dots are the baseline, the open dots are after 12 weeks on the diet. Paleo group is on the left, control group on the right.
As you can clearly see from the graphs, only the paleo diet group saw a significant improvement in glucose tolerance.
Weight Loss: Both groups lost a significant amount of weight, 5 kg (11 lbs) in the paleo group and 3.8 kg (8.4 lbs) in the control group. However, the difference was not statistically significant between groups.
The paleo diet group had a 5.6 cm (2.2 inches) reduction in waist circumference, compared to 2.9 cm (1.1 inches) in the control group. The difference was statistically significant.
A few important points:
- The 2-hour Area Under the Curve (AUC) for blood glucose went down by 36% in the paleo group, compared to 7% in the control group.
- Every patient in the paleo group ended up having normal blood sugars, compared to 7 of 15 patients in the control group.
- The paleo group ended up eating 451 fewer calories per day (1344 compared to 1795) without intentionally restricting calories or portions.
Conclusion: A paleolithic diet lead to greater improvements in waist circumference and glycemic control, compared to a Mediterranean-like diet.
2. Osterdahl M, et al. Effects of a short-term intervention with a paleolithic diet in healthy volunteers. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008.
Details: 14 healthy medical students (5 male, 9 female) were instructed to eat a paleolithic diet for 3 weeks. There was no control group.
Other Markers: Systolic blood pressure went down by 3 mmHg.
Conclusion: The individuals lost weight and had a mild reduction in waist circumference and systolic blood pressure.
3. Jonsson T, et al. Beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: a randomized cross-over pilot study. Cardiovascular Diabetology, 2009.
Details: 13 individuals with type 2 diabetes were placed on either a paleolithic diet or a typical Diabetes diet in a cross-over study. They were on each diet for 3 months at a time.
Weight Loss: On the paleo diet, the participants lost 3 kg (6.6 lbs) more weight and lost 4 cm (1.6 inches) more off of their waistlines, compared to the Diabetes diet.
- HbA1c (a marker for 3-month blood sugar levels) decreased by 0,4% more on the paleo diet.
- HDL increased by 3 mg/dL (0.08 mmol/L) on the paleo diet compared to the Diabetes diet.
- Triglycerides went down by 35 mg/dL (0.4 mmol/L) on the paleo diet compared to the Diabetes diet.
Conclusion: The paleo diet caused more weight loss and several improvements in cardiovascular risk factors, compared to a Diabetes diet.
4. Frassetto, et al. Metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009.
Details: 9 healthy individuals consumed a paleolithic diet for 10 days. Calories were controlled to ensure that they wouldn’t lose weight. There was no control group.
- Total Cholesterol went down by 16%.
- LDL Cholesterol went down by 22%.
- Triglycerides went down by 35%.
- Insulin AUC went down by 39%.
- Diastolic Blood Pressure went down by 3.4 mmHg.
5. Ryberg, et al. A Palaeolithic-type diet causes strong tissue-specific effects on ectopic fat deposition in obese postmenopausal women. Journal of Internal Medicine, 2013.
Details: 10 healthy women with a BMI over 27 consumed a modified paleolithic diet for 5 weeks. There was no control group.
Main outcomes measured were liver fat, muscle cell fat and insulin sensitivity.
Weight Loss: The women lost an average of 4.5 kg (9.9 lbs) and had an 8 cm (3.1 inches) reduction in waist circumference.
Liver and Muscle Fat: The fat content of liver and muscle cells are a risk factor for metabolic disease. In this study, the women had an average reduction in liver fat of 49%, but no significant effect on the fat content of muscle cells.
This graph shows how the fat content in liver cells decreased:
As you can see, the women who had a lot of liver fat (fatty liver) had the most significant decrease.
Other Health Effects:
Conclusion: During the 5 week trial, the women lost weight and had major reductions in liver fat. They also had improvements in several important health markers.
The Paleo problem: Examining the pros and cons of the Paleo Diet.
Unless you’ve been living in an actual cave, you’ve probably heard all about the Paleo – or “caveman” – diet. Maybe you’ve even tried it. A little meat here, some fresh veggies there. Perhaps going grain- or processed-food-free. It’s a cool idea that captures the imagination. But is it healthy? And does it work? That’s what we’ll explore in this article.
What we’ll cover
In this article, we’ll give you a definitive guide to the Paleo diet.
- We’ll define just what “Paleo” refers to.
- We’ll explain what’s so special about hunter-gatherers.
- We’ll review how and what ancestral-style eaters actually do.
Then, we’ll explore the ideas and evidence critically.
- What does Paleo promise?
- What evidence supports ancestral-style eating?
- What might cause our chronic 21st century health problems?
- Is the Paleo diet truly primal?
- What does our GI tract tell us?
Finally, we’ll give you the all-important conclusion:
- What should YOU do with all of this?
The Paleo, or primal, diet is based on two central ideas.
- We adapted to eat particular kinds of foods.
- To stay healthy, strong, and fit — and avoid the chronic diseases of modernity — we need to eat like our ancestors.
A brief history of eating
Our oldest cousins, the earliest primates, lived more than 60 million years ago. And, just like most primates today, they subsisted mainly on fruit, leaves, and insects.
About 2.6 million years ago, at the dawn of the Paleolithic era, things began to change.
Our early human ancestors started rockin’ the opposable thumb and big brain adaptations. They started using stone tools and fire, and, as a result, slowly changed their diet.
By the time truly modern humans came on the scene about 50,000 years ago, our ancestors were eating an omnivorous hunter-gatherer diet.
The basic Paleo diet
And thus we arrive at a model of a Paleo diet that includes:
- animals (meat, fish, reptiles, insects, etc. — and usually, almost all parts of the animals, including organs, bone marrow, and cartilage)
- animal products (such as eggs or honey)
- roots/tubers, leaves, flowers and stems (in other words, vegetables)
- nuts and seeds that can be eaten raw
Recently, many Paleo proponents have suggested that eaters start with the above, then slowly introduce grass-fed dairy (mostly yogurt and other cultured options), and small amounts of “properly prepared” legumes — meaning legumes that have been soaked overnight.
What’s so special about hunter-gatherers?
About 10,000 years ago, most of the world figured out agriculture. And thus, we moved from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic period.
Planting and farming provided us with a consistent and relatively reliable food supply, without which civilization could never have developed.
Yet the 10,000-year time frame since the dawn of the Neolithic period represents only about 1% of the time that we humans have been on earth.
Many people believe that the change from a hunting and gathering diet (rich in wild fruits and vegetables) to an agricultural diet (rich in cereal grains) gave rise to our modern chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
This is a fundamental tenet of the Paleo Diet, and a big reason why proponents say we should return to the meat and produce-based diet of our past.
How do “ancestral eaters” fare?
Of course, while we have extensive skeletal remains, cooking sites, and other types of evidence, we don’t have detailed medical records of our hunter-gatherer hominid ancestors.
However, we do have real live sample populations that we can look at.
A diverse dietary world
The very few surviving hunter-gatherer populations subsist on a wide variety of diets, from the “nutty and seedy” African !Kung, to the root vegetable-eating Kitavans near Papua, New Guinea, and the meat and fat-loving Inuit of the Arctic.
These foraging diets are diverse and probably reflect the widely varying diets of our prehistoric ancestors, simply because what people ate depended on where they lived: mostly plant-based (in the tropics), mostly animal-based (in the Arctic), and everything in between.
However varied their diets across the globe, most Paleolithic humans likely consumed about three times more produce than the typical American.
And when compared to the average American today, Paleolithic humans ate more fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, unsaturated fat, vitamins and minerals, and much less saturated fat and sodium.
Image source: Jen Christiansen (Scientific American)
A modern example
The residents of Kitava Island, off Papua, New Guinea, are probably the most famously researched modern hunter-gatherer population.
According to Dr. Staffan Lindeberg, who’s extensively studied their habits, Kitavans live exclusively on:
Kitavans are healthy and robust, free of obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, stroke, and acne — despite the fact that most of them smoke!
Things are looking good for eating like a cave dweller.
What Paleo promises
The main idea of a primal diet — as you’ve probably gathered (no pun intended) — is that our ancient human genetic “blueprint” doesn’t match our current 21st century diet and lifestyle.
As a result, our health and wellbeing suffer.
The Paleo diet also makes some key evolutionary assumptions:
- Paleolithic hunter-gatherers were robust and healthy; if they didn’t die young from accident or infectious diseases, they lived about as long as we do now.
- When Paleolithic hunter-gatherers shifted to Neolithic agriculture, they got relatively sicker, shorter, and spindlier.
- Modern hunter-gatherers are healthy, and their health declines when they switch to a modern diet.
What’s the evidence?
While a case can be made for this evolutionary trend, as a matter of fact, hunter-gatherers were not pristine models of health.
To begin with, they certainly harbored various parasites. They were also subject to many infectious diseases.
What’s more, a recent study in The Lancet looked at 137 mummies from societies ranging all over the world — from Egypt, Peru, the American Southwest, and the Aleutian Islands — to search for signs of atherosclerosis.
They noted probable or definite atherosclerosis in 47 of 137 mummies from all four geographical regions, regardless of whether the people had been farmers or hunter-gatherers, peasants or societal elite.
All got hardening of the arteries, no matter what their lifestyle. In fact, the hunter-gatherers of the Aleutian Islands had the highest prevalence, with 60% of their mummies having evidence of atherosclerosis.
Food for thought.
Diseases of affluence and industrialization
Although atherosclerosis may be a common human experience no matter what, “diseases of affluence” (obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases) have certainly gone up dramatically in the past 50 years in industrialized countries like the U.S., especially compared to non-industrialized populations.
Over the last century — a period that is undoubtedly far too short for significant genetic adaptation — industrialization and technology have radically changed the way we eat and live.
Today, the average American subsists on foods that are packaged and commercially prepared. Rich in refined sugars and starches, highly processed fats, and sodium, these foods are designed to be so delicious that they run roughshod over the body’s normal fullness signals, and encourage overeating.
Consider: The top six calorie sources in the U.S. diet today are grain-based desserts (cake, cookies, etc.), yeast breads, chicken-based dishes (and you know that doesn’t mean roast chicken), sweetened beverages, pizza, and alcoholic drinks.
These are not ancestral foods. Nor foods that any nutrition expert, regardless of dietary persuasion, would ever recommend.
So when proponents of the Paleo diet claim that our modern Western diet isn’t healthy for us, they are absolutely correct.
But is the Paleo diet really Paleo?
Remember: There’s no single “Paleo diet”.
Our ancestors lived pretty much all over the world, in incredibly diverse environments, eating incredibly diverse diets.
Still, in most cases, primal diets certainly included more vegetables and fruits than most people eat today. So if we want to be healthier, we should do what our ancestors did and eat a lot of those. Correct?
Maybe so… but not necessarily for the reasons that Paleo proponents recommend.
First of all, most modern fruits and vegetables are not like the ones our ancestors ate.
Early fruits and vegetables were often bitter, much smaller, tougher to harvest, and sometimes even toxic.
Over time, we’ve bred plants with the most preferable and enticing traits — the biggest fruits, prettiest colors, sweetest flesh, fewest natural toxins, and largest yields.
We’ve also diversified plant types — creating new cultivars from common origins (such as hundreds of cultivars of potatoes or tomatoes from a few ancestral varieties).
Likewise, most modern animal foods aren’t the same either.
Beef steak (even if grass-fed) is not the same as bison steak or deer meat. And so on.
This doesn’t make modern produce or modern meat inherently good or bad. It’s just different from nearly anything available in Paleolithic times.
So the claim that we should eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and meats because we are evolved to eat precisely those foods is a little bit suspect. The ones we eat today didn’t even exist in Paleolithic times!
Grains and grasses
Proponents of the Paleo diet argue that our ancestors’ diets could not have included a lot of grains, legumes, or dairy foods. And they contend that the past 10,000 years of agriculture isn’t enough time to adapt to these “new” foods.
This argument is compelling but doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
- To begin with, recent studies in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, using more advanced analytical methods, have discovered that ancient humans may have begun eating grasses and cereals before the Paleolithic era even began — up to three or even four million years ago!
- Further research has revealed granules of grains and cereal grasses on stone stools starting at least 105,000 years ago.
- Meanwhile, grain granules on grinding tools from all over the world suggest that Paleolithic humans made a widespread practice of turning grains into flour as long as 30,000 years ago.
In other words, the idea that Paleolithic humans never ate grains and cereals appears to be a bit of an exaggeration.
Are beans really bad for you?
Grains are not the only plant type that the Paleo diet typically limits. Advocates also recommend that you avoid legumes (beans, peanuts, peas, lentils) — and for a similar reason.
However, the idea that legumes were not widely available or widely consumed in Paleolithic times — like the argument that humans didn’t eat grains in the Paleolithic era — is false.
In fact, a 2009 review revealed that not only did our Paleolithic ancestors eat legumes, these were actually an important part of their diet! (Even our primate cousins, including chimpanzees, got into the bean-eating act.)
Legumes have been found at Paleolithic sites all over the world, and in some cases were determined to be the dominant type of plant food available. In fact, the evidence for wild legume consumption by Paleolithic humans is as strong as it is for any plant food.
What about anti-nutrients?
Okay. Maybe our ancient ancestors did eat a little bit of grain and some legumes — so the argument from history doesn’t really hold.
But Paleo proponents also offer another reason to avoid these foods: Their high concentration of anti-nutrients, which supposedly reduces their nutritional value to zilch.
There’s just one problem with this argument. It’s wrong.
Indeed, research suggests that the benefits of legumes far outweigh their anti-nutrient content, especially in light of the fact that cooking eliminates most anti-nutrient effects.
Lectins and protease inhibitors, in particular, are greatly reduced with cooking. And once cooked, these chemicals may actually be good for us. Lectins may reduce tumor growth, while protease inhibitors become anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic.
But what about phytate?
Grains, nuts, and legumes are rich sources of this anti-nutrient, which can bind to minerals such as zinc and iron and prevent their absorption. Surely that, in itself, is enough reason to avoid grains and legumes?
While phytic acid can be toxic if we eat too much of it, in more reasonable amounts it actually offers benefits.
For example, it can:
- have antioxidant activity
- protect DNA from damage
- be prebiotic (i.e. bacteria food)
- have anti-cancer properties
- reduce bioavailability of heavy metals like cadmium and lead.
And, in a mixed diet composed of other nutrient-dense whole foods, phytic acid is unlikely to cause problems.
In fact, nearly all foods contain anti-nutrients as well as nutrients — particularly plant foods.
For example, incredibly healthy foods such as spinach, Swiss chard, many berries, and dark chocolate are also sources of oxalate, an anti-nutrient that inhibits calcium absorption.
Green tea and red wine contain tannins, another anti-nutrient that inhibits zinc and iron absorption.
And so on.
Overall, phytic acid and other so-called anti-nutrients probably have a “sweet spot” (just like most nutrients).
- Eating none or a small amount might be inconsequential.
- Eating a moderate amount might be good.
- Eating too much will hurt you. (See All About Phytates for more.)
Grains and inflammation
Another argument for a Paleo diet is that eating grains can lead to inflammation and related health problems.
While this can be true for people with celiac disease (about 1% of the population) and for those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (estimated to be about 10% of the population, if it even truly exists), on the whole, the research does not support this argument any more than it supports the argument about anti-nutrients.
In fact, observational research has suggested that:
- whole grains may decrease inflammation, but
- refined grains may increase inflammation.
In other words, it appears that processing may cause problems, not the grain itself.
Meanwhile, controlled trials consistently show that eating grains, whether whole or refined, does not affect inflammation at all!
What can we make of that?
At worst, whole grains appear to be neutral when it comes to inflammation. (See All About Grains and A grain of truth for more.)
And overall, a substantial body of evidence from both observational and controlled trial research suggests that eating whole grains and legumes improves our health, including:
- improved blood lipids;
- better blood glucose control;
- less inflammation; and
- lower risk of stroke and coronary heart disease.
Eliminating these important foods from our diet to conform to anybody’s dietary ideology is probably a poor idea.
Evolution of the human GI tract
In Paleo circles, it’s sometimes said that while the world has changed in innumerable ways in the last 10,000 years, our genes have changed very little. And further, that we really only thrive in a world with similar conditions to the Paleolithic era.
Quite frankly, this is not how evolution or genetic expression works.
If humans could thrive only in an environment similar to or the same as the ones their ancestors lived in, our species would not have lasted very long.
Examples of the ways we have evolved in the past 10,000 years abound.
For example, over the past 8,000 years or so, about forty per cent of us have developed the capacity to consume dairy for a lifetime. As a species, we’re evolving a mutation whereby we continue to produce the lactase enzyme to break down lactose for far longer periods than our ancestors ever could. True, not everyone can digest lactose well, but more of us can do so than ever before.
And studies have shown that even people who don’t digest lactose well are capable of consuming moderate amounts of dairy, tolerating an average 12 grams of lactose at a time (the amount of lactose in one cup of milk) with few to no symptoms.
Additionally, the emerging science of epigenetics is showing that a “blueprint” alone isn’t enough — genes can be “switched off” or “on” by a variety of physiological and environmental cues.
Our digestive systems have adapted over millennia to process a low-energy, nutrient-poor, and presumably high-fiber diet. Meanwhile, Western diets have become high-energy, low-fiber, and high-fat.
Our genes produce only the enzymes necessary to break down starch, simple sugars, most proteins, and fats. They aren’t well adapted to cope with a steady influx of chicken nuggets, Tater Tots, and ice cream.
So how is it that we can still digest our food, albeit imperfectly at times?
Thank the trillions of bacteria that live in our gut. These friendly critters interact with our food in many ways, helping us break down tough plant fibers, releasing bound phytonutrients and anti-oxidants, and assisting us to assimilate many important compounds.
Now, we don’t have direct evidence of which bacterial species thrived in Paleolithic intestines, but we can be pretty confident that our ancestors’ microbial communities would not exactly match our own.
That’s because bacteria evolve and adapt at a rate much faster than our slow human genes. And for us, that’s a good thing.
It helps to explain why, even if the ancient human diet didn’t include grains, legumes, dairy, and other relatively modern agricultural products, we still might thrive on such a diet today – at least, with a little help from our bacterial friends.
The magical microbiome
Thanks to the Human Microbiome Project and other massive research projects around the world, we now know that trillions of microorganisms from thousands of different species inhabit the human body.
In fact, the total genetic makeup of these little creatures is at least 100 times greater than our own! (Essentially, we’re only 1% human. Think about that.)
This vast genetic diversity ensures that our GI tracts can adapt rapidly to changes in diet and lifestyle.
A single meal can change the type of bacteria that populate your gut. And as little as several days on a new diet can lead to dramatic changes in the bacterial populations in your GI tract.
The diverse, complex, and dynamic nature of our microbiome helps to explain why some of us seem to do well on one type of diet, while others will feel and perform better with another type of diet — even though, genetically, we’re all 99% the same!
Many of us can break down the more “modern” food compounds that Paleo advocates claim we do not tolerate well — simply because our intestines harbor bacteria that have evolved to do that job.
For instance, some Japanese people host unique bacteria that can help them digest seaweed.
And many people can alleviate symptoms of lactose intolerance by eating yogurt or other probiotic-rich foods that provide lactose-digesting bacteria.
So even if you don’t naturally break down lactose well, it’s possible, through the right combination of foods and/or probiotic supplements, to persuade the bacteria in your gut to do this job on your behalf.
What’s more, the same strategy could also address gluten intolerance. Recent research shows that some bacteria actually produce enzymes that break down gluten — as well as phytic acid — reducing any inflammatory or anti-nutrient effects.
Which, as we know, are two of the main reasons people recommend starting Paleo diets in the first place.
Modern Paleo research
No matter how you slice it, the Paleo proponents’ evolutionary arguments just don’t hold up.
But that doesn’t mean that the diet itself is necessarily bad.
Maybe it’s a good diet for completely different reasons than they say.
To find out if that is so, a number of researchers have been putting Paleo diets to the test with controlled clinical trials. And so far, the results are promising, though incomplete.
Paleo vs. Mediterranean diets
Perhaps the best known of these researchers is Dr. Lindeberg — the one who also studied the Kitavan Islanders. He and his colleagues have conducted two clinical trials testing the efficacy of the Paleo diet.
In the first, they recruited diabetic and pre-diabetic volunteers with heart disease and placed them on one of two diets:
- A “Paleolithic” diet focused on lean meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, starchy root vegetables, eggs, and nuts, or
- A “Mediterranean” diet focused on whole grains, low-fat dairy, vegetables, fruit, fish, oils, and margarine.
After 12 weeks, the Mediterranean group lost body fat and saw an improvement in markers of diabetes. Four of the nine participants with diabetic blood sugar levels at the beginning of the study had normal levels by the end. That’s a very good result and must have made the participants happy.
But those in the Paleo group fared even better.
They lost 70 percent more body fat than the Mediterranean group and also normalized their blood sugars. In fact, all ten participants with diabetic blood sugar levels at the beginning of the study reached non-diabetic levels by the end of the study.
By any estimation, that is an astonishing result.
Now, these volunteers were suffering from mild, early cases of diabetes. But a second study of long-term diabetics showed that a Paleo diet didn’t cure them but it did improve their condition significantly.
Other research has found:
- The Paleo diet is more satiating per calorie than a Mediterranean diet.
- The Paleo diet improves blood pressure, glucose tolerance, and blood lipids.
However, one caveat: Like most low-carb trials, the macronutrients (especially protein) in these studies weren’t matched.
The Paleo group ate a lot more protein, compared to the other diet groups. Plenty of protein helps keep our lean mass dense and strong, stay lean, and feel satisfied by our meals.
So, we’re not just comparing apples to oranges when protein intakes are different; this is more like comparing grains to goat meat. Literally.
The Paleo diet may indeed be the best plan, but it’s hard to know for sure without direct comparisons that match macronutrients and calories.
Conclusion & recommendations
What does the Paleo diet get right?
Despite the faulty evolutionary theory it’s based on, in the end, the Paleo diet likely gets more right than it gets wrong.
- Paleo-style eating emphasizes whole foods, lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and other healthy fats, which is a massive improvement over the average Western diet.
- Paleo-style eating has been extremely effective for improving several chronic diseases. That alone is a huge plus.
- Paleo-style eating has made us more aware of how processed and crappy a lot of our 21st century food is.
However, we need more rigorous (and carefully matched) trials before we can reach any definitive conclusions.
What are the challenges?
Despite its obvious benefits over the typical Western diet, the Paleo diet has some flaws.
- The evidence for excluding dairy, legumes, and grains isn’t (yet) strong. So as a nutrition coach, I can’t say it’s a one-size-fits-all prescription. Certainly, some people should avoid dairy and gluten, and keep legume and grain consumption more modest. But most of us can improve the way we look, feel, and perform without completely eliminating these foods.
- The evolutionary arguments don’t hold up. The human species isn’t simply a collection of adaptations to life in the Paleolithic era. We are an ever-evolving accumulation of inherited characteristics (and microorganisms) that have been switched, reconstructed, lost, and reclaimed since the first prokaryotes came to life on Earth. This evolution has continued over the past 10,000 years — and won’t stop any time soon.
- In the broader sense, strictly following a list of “good” and “bad” or “allowed” and “not allowed” foods tends to be problematic for most people. Generally, this approach leads to anxiety and all-or-nothing thinking. Maybe it makes us feel more confident and (falsely) sure of ourselves in the short term. But it’s less effective over the long-term — because ultimately, it decreases our consistency.
This may explain why we are seeing the Paleo diet itself evolve.
It’s evolution, baby
Many Paleo advocates have recently come to appreciate and encourage the addition of moderate amounts of starch (albeit a more limited variety of options than I would prefer), as well as some dark chocolate, red wine and non-grain spirits (such as tequila), and grass-fed dairy.
These additions make life much more pleasant. They make healthy eating more attractive and achievable.
In fact, this new “leniency” may partly explain why the Paleo diet continues to gain traction in mainstream nutrition circles.
Because in the end, moderation, sanity and your personal preferences are more important than any specific food list, anti-nutrient avoidance, or evolutionary theory.
What to do today
Consider the good things about ancestral lifestyles. This includes fresh food, fresh air, lots of movement, good sleep, and a strong social network. How could you get just a little bit of these in your life today?
Think about how you could move along the spectrum — from processed 21st century life and food — to choices that are a little more in tune with what your ancient body needs and loves.
Learn a little more about your ancestors. Evolution is cool. Dig into your roots: Where did your people come from? What were their ancestral diets? (23AndMe will tell you how much of your DNA is Neanderthal.)
Keep it simple and sane. Doing a few good things pretty well (like getting a little extra sleep or fresh veggies) is much better than trying to get a lot of things “perfect”.
Stay critical and informed. Avoid dogmatic or cultish thinking. Be skeptical. Look for evidence. Question everything. Primal eating is a super cool idea and may turn out to be more or less right; just keep your late-evolving prefrontal cortex (aka your thinky brain) in the game as you consider all the options.
Help your old body (and your trillions of little buddies) do their jobs. Our bodies are resilient. We didn’t get to be one of the dominant species on the planet by being fussy, delicate flowers. Nevertheless, think about how you can nourish your body optimally in order to give your body and microbiome the best chance of surviving and thriving.
Passionate about nutrition and health?
If so, and you’d like to learn more about it, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. Our next group kicks off shortly.
What’s it all about?
The Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification is the world’s most respected nutrition education program. It gives you the knowledge, systems, and tools to really understand how food influences a person’s health and fitness. Plus the ability to turn that knowledge into a thriving coaching practice.
Developed over 15 years, and proven with over 100,000 clients, the Level 1 curriculum stands alone as the authority on the science of nutrition and the art of coaching.
Whether you’re already mid-career, or just starting out, the Level 1 Certification is your springboard to a deeper understanding of nutrition, the authority to coach it, and the ability to turn what you know into results.
Interested? Add your name to the presale list. You’ll save up to 30% and secure your spot 24 hours before everyone else.
We’ll be opening up spots in our next Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification on Wednesday, April 8th, 2020.
If you want to find out more, we’ve set up the following presale list, which gives you two advantages.
- Pay less than everyone else. We like to reward people who are eager to boost their credentials and are ready to commit to getting the education they need. So we’re offering a discount of up to 30% off the general price when you sign up for the presale list.
- Sign up 24 hours before the general public and increase your chances of getting a spot. We only open the certification program twice per year. Due to high demand, spots in the program are limited and have historically sold out in a matter of hours. But when you sign up for the presale list, we’ll give you the opportunity to register a full 24 hours before anyone else.
If you’re ready for a deeper understanding of nutrition, the authority to coach it, and the ability to turn what you know into results… this is your chance to see what the world’s top professional nutrition coaching system can do for you.
The benefits of eating Paleo are similar to the benefits of eating healthier foods on any diet plan, with the added feature that it’s generally easy to follow. We’ve determined that the average Paleo follower starts to see initial benefits like more energy in the first few days, and then after a few weeks other benefits like weight loss and a leaner physique. After a month or more greater feelings of wellness, and a feeling like the entire thing is on autopilot and they don’t have to think about it anymore. That’s why we recommend giving it a go for 30 days and then seeing what life is like for you.
1. Balances Blood Glucose Levels
Because you’re avoiding refined sugar it’s easier to avoid spikes in your blood glucose levels, and also helps you avoid feelings of fatigue you get from sugar crashes. If you’re diabetic you will want to check with your doctor to see if they approve of this diet plan. If you’re simply trying to avoid getting diabetes this will be a better diet choice than typical American fare. Also, if you’re not concerned about diabetes and just want to feel better or lose weight, monitoring your blood sugar levels is a great way to do that.
2. Leaner Muscles
Because this diet plan relies heavily on meat you’ll be getting a fair amount of protein to feed your muscles. This helps to promote a leaner physique, and can even help with muscle growth if you engage in weightlifting while on it. When you consider the physique of Stone Age man they didn’t really have a lot of excess baggage in the form of a lot of fat and underdeveloped muscles. They were lean, mean, sabretooth tiger battling machines, and this sort of efficient physique still helps out in our modern world. With a leaner body structure you’ll be able to better handle life’s challenges, including the stresses that occur with a busy 21st century lifestyle.
3. Avoids Wheat and Gluten
You’re automatically cutting out wheat products, which gets rid of the gluten, so in essence you’re following a gluten-free diet at the same time. There is plenty of evidence that suggests that gluten is problematic for the digestive system and for weight gain, even for those that don’t have Celiac disease, or do not have a sensitivity to gluten. But cutting out these food items that have been shown to contribute to larger midsections and sluggish digestion, you immediately improve your body makeup and start to feel better all around.
4. Keeps You Feeling Fuller Longer
Most diets keep you in a constant state of hunger, but with a Paleo diet you’re focused on feeling full and feeling good, which means that it’s easier to follow, and has lower instances of diet crashes and cheating because you’re encouraged to eat when you feel hungry. It also contains a fair amount of healthy fats, helping you keep that full feeling and avoid food cravings. If you’re eating the right mix of proteins from meat, as well as vegetables that help you to feel full, and fruits that give just the right amount of fiber and carbohydrates, you’ll have no problem making it from meal to meal.
5. No Counting Required
Unlike a diet that has you watching points, or counting how many carbs you have in a day, the Paleo diet is intrinsically simple and easy to follow. The lack of rules and limitations on how much you can have each day makes it fun and easy to stick to the plan. By not having to limit yourself you don’t get your brain revolting against you or rejecting the plan resulting in self sabotage. You’re able to simply eat like a human should eat, and how we did eat before things got so complicated.
6. Could Prevent Diseases
By following a Paleo diet you are automatically eating more anti-inflammatory foods and cutting out a lot of foods that are known to cause inflammation. You are also eating more foods that contain antioxidants and phytonutrients which are always making the news because of scientific evidence that points to them helping to ward off or battle back cancer, as well as prevent heart disease. You’re also naturally avoiding a lot of the culprits responsible for disease and illness, like fast food and junk food, so you get a more natural version of yourself and open the doors for healing and well-being.
7. Helps You Sleep Better
By cutting out the chemicals and additives in typical food sources you’ll find that your body naturally gets tired at night. This is because the serotonin that your brain releases as a signal that it’s time to sleep is not overridden by other chemicals from food. When you start to feel sleep you should sleep. You might find that you’re getting tired earlier at night, and that you feel energized and ready to wake up earlier in the morning. This is your body getting in tune with the circadian rhythm, just like prehistoric man was.
8. Avoids Processed Foods
When you cut out processed foods you’re cutting out a lot of synthetic chemicals that have just come about in the last century and that the body just hasn’t adapted to yet. You may be startled by just how many foods get the no-go because of the processing involved, and how much you used to rely on these foods on a day to day basis. You may have a hard time giving up dairy products, or products that come out of boxes. There may be a period of both physical and psychological adjustment as you reach toward a more natural way of living, and you notice just how embedded you’ve become in modern conveniences.
9. Avoids Fast Food
The fast food industry is notorious at making headlines for how bad their food is. By going Paleo you instantly cut out all fast food because hey, cavemen didn’t have McDonald’s. The health benefits of not eating fast food have been cited in numerous journals and scholarly research, but for most of us it’s just common sense that these businesses do not have our best interests in mind. It can be liberating to give these places the kibosh and not give them a passing glance the next time you drive by them. Your heart and waistline will thank you.
10. Cuts Out Junk Food
No more maxin and relaxin in front of the TV with a bag of Ruffles. Out goes the junk food when you’re on Paleo, and this alone means that you’re improving your well-being, and only spending your money on food that helps you, not hinders you. This is fast food’s at-home cousin and one item that you will be glad you gave up, if not immediately but down the road when you start looking in the mirror and liking what you see. It’s also great for your food budget, as these items can be pricey to pay for the large ad budgets it takes to get people to buy them. Spend that savings on organic meats and vegetables and you’ll be doing yourself a big service.
11. Cuts Out Empty Carbs and Calories
Sodas and other sugary beverages are out when doing Paleo because there’s nothing prehistoric about them. All Stone Age man had was pure water and maybe some herbal teas so you’re going to have to cut out Pepsi, energy drinks, juices, and other beverages that are sugar laden and full of chemicals. For many just cutting out these empty carb sources results in losing weight, feeling better, and having more sustained energy levels through the day with no crashes. With Paleo every carb and calorie you take in serves a purpose, and serves your body in a positive way.
12. Gives You More Energy
When you combine Paleo-approved foods in the right way, you’re getting a well balanced meal with a protein, carb, and vegetable, and you’re getting it from all-natural sources. This is the way to feel more energized and at the top of your game without having to resort to energy drinks, caffeinated beverages, and other means to get you through the day. And unlike other diets that rely on a reduced amount of calories, the Paleo diet allows you to eat until you feel full, and also to eat whenever you feel hungry, so you don’t run the risk of running low on fuel when you really need it.
13. Provides Detoxing Effects
By stopping the intake of a lot of things that bring you down: trans fats, MSG, caffeine, refined sugar, gluten, and more, you’re giving your body a rest. By getting more antioxidants from the fruit you’ll be eating, and more phytonutrients and fiber from the vegetables you’ll be eating you’ll be purging your body of built-up waste and accumulation. Overall this provides a detoxifying effect to the body, and many Paleo followers report feeling lighter and more clear headed after several weeks. The nice thing about it is that it doesn’t involve going to extremes like fasting or drinking nothing but juice, You get to eat meals like normal so it’s a very lazy detox.
14. Keeps Things Simple
If you’re tired of always wondering what to eat, what to make for a meal, what is good for you and what is not, Paleo can keep things really simple and make it so your whole life doesn’t revolve around food anymore. You’ll be eating to live instead of living to eat, and that can free up a lot of mental effort on your part. You might be surprised by what a burden this takes off of you, and how much time it really frees up. Rather than having to constantly be thinking about your next meal you can have things set up so that you know exactly what you’ll be eating on a daily and weekly basis, and you can start to focus on more important matters.
15. Increases Your Intake of Fruits and Vegetables
If you’re like most Americans you struggle to meet your daily intake of fruits and veggies. This is not surprising since for most these are labeled as “health foods” and make it onto the dinner plate as an obligatory side dish to make a meal healthier. But with Paleo they are given more of a starring role along with meat so you’re going to be relying on them more than you were previously. You’ll be wiping out the bottom layer of the standard food pyramid and replacing it with meats and vegetables and healthy fats as your base layer, sprinkling in some fruits to keep your taste buds in the game.
16. Increases Your Intake of Healthy Fats
It’s hard to get your head around healthy fats actually helping to burn fat, but that’s just what they do, so it’s good to get your fair share of them each day. The Paleo plan makes them a big part of your day so that you don’t have to worry if you’re getting enough. These fats help you feel fuller for a longer time, which reduces food cravings and helps you stick to eating at meal time only. But remember if you feel hungry you can totally eat as long as you’re eating foods that are on the approved foods list.
17. Effortless Weight Loss
By doing nothing else but switching over to a Paleo way of eating many will notice that the weight just starts coming off. This is because in addition to eating a meal that is more natural, you’re cutting out a lot of foods that are unnatural. When you shift your energy from having to lose weight and feeling guilty about the foods you’re eating, you’ll notice that eating becomes fun again. An interesting phenomenon is that the more fun you have and the better you feel, the more you’ll want to stick to a program that makes you feel that way, and the easier it is to lose weight. If you’re constantly resenting your diet plan and craving things you can’t have, it’s a recipe for disaster.
So What is Paleo?
That is a pretty good list of reasons to give Paleo a try and see how your body responds. Remember not to judge too quickly, as it may take your body several weeks to get used to this new way of eating, and to rid itself of its stored up chemicals and other a toxic substances that are built right into many of the foods that are so prevalent in our modern society. Stick it out for a month and then evaluate how you’re feeling. Be as objective as you can, even taking before pictures and recording your weight and Body Fat Percentage before you start.
Paleo Diet Benefits
Paleo diet is naturally lower in carbohydrates and sugar than most traditional Western diets. This helps to regulate metabolism, lowers blood sugar, improves gut health and reduces systemic inflammation. Aided by better sleep and stress management – both key paleo lifestyle goals – these changes help to burn off stored body fat naturally and sustainably.
Most people experience weight loss and muscle growth while eating a paleo diet and keeping an active lifestyle. You can expect to lose 1-2 lb / 0.5 -1kg per week, depending on your starting weight, height and gender. For me personally, paleo has been great for keeping my healthy weight for the past 6-7 years without feeling like I deprive myself (read more about my personal approach below).
Improved digestion & Reduced bloating
Paleo diet avoids many foods that contain compounds known to negatively affect the digestive tract. For many people, the culprits of their digestive issues include excess sugar, dairy, legumes and gluten. These foods are excluded from the paleo diet, resulting in improved symptoms. Plenty of plant fibre from vegetables and fruit ensures the gut flora is kept in tip-top shape and most people report improvements to their toilet habits (if you know what I mean).
For me personally, I know this is the case because my digestion is at its best when I eat as close to the paleo guidelines as possible and whenever I eat pasta, legumes or too much dairy, I notice almost instant bloating followed by a less than desirable toilet experience. Sorry about the details but we’re on the topic!
SATIATION & HUNGER CONTROL
Familiar with the feeling of hangry? It’s the combination of hungry+angry, which is a common symptom for many people suffering from acute or chronic hyperglycemia. This also happens when the blood sugar drops and the person gets a rapid onset of hunger accompanied by irritability, fatigue, disorientation, and a foggy mind.
Paleo meals consist of more protein and fat, which are both very satiating and provide long-lasting energy. Being lower in carbohydrates, the paleo diet teaches the body to use those macronutrients more efficiently instead of relying on glucose from carbohydrates for fuel. I remember the days of eating toast with jam or a muffin and a coffee for breakfast and then feeling ravenous just a couple of hours later, resulting in needless snacking before lunch. When I eat protein and fat-rich paleo breaky of eggs and avocado, I am happily satiated until 1 pm.
In addition, the carbohydrates you do consume, come from fibre-rich vegetables and fruit, meaning that the glucose is utilised more slowly. As a result, the blood sugar levels stay stable and you rarely experience energy drops; hunger develops gradually without the crazy mood swings.
Paleo is rich in healthy fats
For many years, we’ve been told that fat (especially saturated fat) is bad for us. Yet, our body needs fat to thrive. Fat is essential for maintaining healthy arteries, brain function, healthy skin, as well as decreasing systemic inflammation. We are finally starting to understand that dietary fats are in fact very healthy, especially when they come from the right sources.
Paleo diet encourages consumption of good fats: saturated fat from grass-fed meat, wild fish and seafood, ghee, and coconuts; lots of monounsaturated fat from olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds; and, a small number of polyunsaturated fats. A healthier ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s fatty acids is commonly observed in those following the paleo diet (less processed food and hydrogenated, vegetable oils + more fish and leafy greens) and evil trans fats are very rare.
I laugh when I think about how scared I used to be of anything fatty. I only bought low-fat cheese, skim milk and non-fat yoghurt (full of sugar!) and I even remember cooking some ham in water in a frying pan instead of using bacon. I feel like I missed out on so much goodness. Now I embrace oily fish, olive oil, butter and avocados, and full-fat Greek yoghurt.
KNOWN PALEO DIET BENEFITS
Here are the most common benefits based on testimonials and feedback from my readers over the last few years.
- Increased and more stable energy levels
- Improved sleep
- Clearer skin and healthier looking hair
- Mental clarity
- Improved mood and attitude
- Improvements in those suffering depression or anxieties
- Less or no bloating, decreased gas
- Sustained weight loss
- Muscle growth; increased fitness
- Lowered risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer
- Higher immune function and a general feeling of well being
- Improved glucose tolerance; decreased insulin secretion and increased insulin sensitivity
- Improved lipid profiles
- Healthier gut flora
- Better absorption of nutrients from food
- Reduced allergies
- Paleo diet is anti-inflammatory, most people experience a reduction of pain associated with inflammation
- Improvements in those with respiratory problems such as asthma
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
One thing I have to note is that while it’s a good idea to try the paleo diet for 30 days as a way to reset and find out how you feel using this dietary approach, you can still experience many of the below benefits if you use Paleo principles as a guide.
Personally, I don’t eat paleo all the time. I do a strict paleo reset from time to time but I mostly follow an 80/20 rule and occasionally eat sourdough bread and ice cream. I realise that not everyone can due to allergies or sensitivities but this works for me.
Ever since I decided to eat this way, I’ve been doing regular health checkups and full blood works and for the past 6-7 years, I’ve always had great results from eating more or less paleo, staying active and spending time outdoors. When I eat well, I have so much energy!!! I wake up feeling good and chirpy, I sleep better and deeper, my skin is clearer, and I have so much more mental clarity. I am almost 40 but I am fitter than I was in my 20s’.
Are there any negative effects?
Many people who start following a paleo diet report that they experience initial detox and readjustment symptoms such as headaches, fatigue and digestive changes. These usually pass within 5-7 days. Some even experience flu-like symptoms (known as the carb-flu) when their body consumes fewer carbohydrates. Staying hydrated and increasing sodium will help to reduce such symptoms.
Some might experience digestive issues due to increased fibre consumption (e.g. eating more vegetables than they used) or from introducing fermented foods. Increased fat consumption might initially affect stool texture and regularity. Most digestion related symptoms tend to level out after a couple of weeks.
Carbohydrate intake is another factor that can vary between individuals. Some women may experience hormonal imbalances if they don’t consume enough carbohydrates, in which case an increase in starchy vegetables and fruit (and even rice) is recommended. Others tend to do better with fewer carbs.
Overall, paleo is a dietary framework that anyone can build upon. It’s not meant to fix every issue and it’s not designed to suit everybody. You have to try it for a few weeks and see how YOU feel.
How long before I see results?
Based on the hundreds of testimonials from the people who have done my paleo plan, most report experiencing increased energy, fewer cravings, and better sleep with the first week. Weight loss is usually reported after 7 days and continues steadily until you hit your ideal, healthy weight. Improvements to digestion, gut health and inflammation can take anywhere between 1-2 weeks to a few months, depending on the base condition.
Some people tend to overindulge in paleo desserts or too many nuts and dried fruit or their caloric intake or portion sizes are way too big for their energy expenditure. These factors can set you back when it comes to weight loss. Others might have severe underlying issues such as autoimmune conditions and microbiome imbalances, which require further dietary and lifestyle fine-tuning.
IS THE PALEO DIET FOR ME?
Well, the only person who can answer that question is you.
What I can tell you is that the paleo diet has done amazing things for a lot of people and it is a great way to eat more nutrient-dense foods. I think that the paleo label can deter some people from trying this way of eating, but I seriously don’t see any downsides in giving it a go.
While I no longer eat paleo all the time, I am extremely grateful for what it has taught me about nutrition and about my own body. I want more people to learn what I have and that’s why I made my paleo program completely free!
And, if you don’t want to commit to paleo 100%, why not use some of its principles as starting points: cutting out junk food, eating more veggies, avoiding refined sugar and hydrogenated oils/margarine. Even these small changes will make a big difference in how you feel.
- What is the paleo diet?
- Paleo Diet Food List
- Paleo Resources
- Wired To Eat and The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf
- This study looked at the base (usual) diet vs Paleolithic diet
- Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
- Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes
- The Weston A. Price Foundation website has lots of fantastic info
- Wheat Belly
- Grass-fed meat health benefits
Paleo Diet testimonials from Robb Wolf’s website can be found here and success stories of living the Primal life can be found on Mark Sisson’s website here.
The 16 Biggest Benefits of the Paleo Diet
Going Paleo is all about returning to our ancestors’ way of eating: wild vegetables, grass-fed meat and in-season fruits. Here are some of our favorite Paleo diet benefits.
The modern diet is loaded with preservatives and other obscure chemicals, so it’s not surprising that diseases like type 2 diabetes, obesity and hyperthyroidism are on the rise.
When you “go Paleo” you not only cut out all the toxic, processed foods that are making us sick, but you start eating real meals packed with nutrients.
Want to learn more about Paleo and how it can help you?
Grab our FREE “What Is Paleo?” Guide by Clicking Here!
After the first few weeks Paleo, many experience weight loss, big surges in energy, and many other benefits that come with eating real, nourishing food. Here are 16 of the biggest Paleo diet benefits, and why they matter.
1. Squeaky-Clean Eating
The Paleo diet emphasizes clean eating, removing processed, unnatural foods and replacing them with whole ones. You won’t have to compromise flavor for health – in fact, the more whole, nourishing foods you eat, the less you’ll crave the bad stuff. This is not to say you can’t indulge, you’ll just do so with better-for-you options, like natural sweeteners low on the glycemic index, or higher-quality dark chocolate.
2. More Movement
There’s no one-size-fits-all fitness regimen particular to the Paleo lifestyle, but we highly recommend incorporating movement into your everyday life. Don’t isolate your exercise to an hour at the gym each day, just move! Take a walk, bike, hike, swim, dance – bonus points for getting outside.
3. Reduced Inflammation
Inflammation, caused by damage to the lining of your digestive system, can cause increased sensitivity in your immune system. This triggers allergies, asthma, and more. The Paleo diet eliminates four major inflammation culprits: dairy, gluten, sugar, and alcohol and suggests eating these 10 anti-inflammatory foods instead.
4. Fewer Cravings
You don’t have to worry about feeling deprived on the Paleo diet. You’ll eat more protein and healthy fats compared to the typical Western diet, leaving you satisfied for longer. No more blood sugar spikes that wind up making you hangry later!
If you still find yourself hankering for something in between meals, try reaching for any of these 6 Paleo snacks that will stop cravings in its tracks.
5. A Healthier Gut
Your gut is your second brain: it houses the trillions of microbes, or gut flora, that help digest food, synthesize vitamins, boost your immune system and regulate metabolism. By removing foods that irritate this system and restoring it with foods that promote its health, the Paleo diet can contribute to a healthier gut.
Your gut is more important than you thought. A healthy microbiome is the foundation of good health!
6. Better Sleep
Going Paleo gives you a holistic approach to health, treating your mind, body and soul. Your diet is important, but equally so is your fitness activity and self-care, including adequate sleep hygiene. With proper sleep, your body is able to function at it’s best.
If sleep still doesn’t come easier when you make the switch to Paleo, try turning your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary for a calming oasis you’ll look forward to all day!
7. Enjoy Amazing Food
If you think you have to eat plain old fruits and veggies all the time when you go Paleo, think again. Our healthy community is full of enterprising kitchen dwellers that cook up new Paleo-friendly ideas all the time. Think Spicy chicken fajitas, crispy sweet potato tater tots and even doughy cinnamon rolls! There’s always something new and exciting to try, so you’ll never get bored with your meals.
8. More Nutrients
By eliminating filler foods like grains and legumes (which slow the absorption of nutrients due to the presence of anti-nutrients), you’ll naturally get more of the foods your body needs, like vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.
9. Better Mental Health
A healthy, balanced diet can do tremendous things for your mental health and wellness. Better nutrition breeds more energy and mental clarity. Coupled with better sleep, self-care and regular exercise, the Paleo diet can truly help you to cultivate a healthy headspace.
If you’re struggling with depression, here’s how inflammation might be making things worse, and how certain dietary changes might help.
10. Healthy Disconnection
Living primal means channeling our ancestors, who never had a smartphone, iPad or laptop. The Paleo lifestyle encourages disconnecting from the bustle of the digital world whenever you can, and taking some time for you. Here are some suggestions on doing a digital detox.
11. Leaner Muscle Tone
The Paleo diet’s relatively high consumption of protein fuels muscle mass. Coupled with weight lifting, the diet can target underdeveloped muscles and fat, cultivating a leaner, muscle-toned physique.
12. No Calorie Counting
Unlike other diets, the Paleo diet recognizes a person’s individuality. There’s no strict calorie-in, calorie-out figure that suits every individual, so why eat according to a metric? Rather than count calories, going Paleo encourages eating as many whole, natural foods you feel that you need at any given time.
13. Fewer Toxins
Cutting out food additives helps reduce your exposure to toxins. So does the increased consumption of antioxidant-rich vegetables, fruits and spices. This natural form of detoxification boosts your immune system, promoting healing from within.
14. More Energy
The Paleo diet encourages eating to live, not living to eat. Generally, you’re eating foods that fuel your body rather than plummet your energy levels, like starting your day with eggs and spinach or bacon and avocado instead of a blood sugar spiking donut, leaving you with more energy to help face the day.
15. Eco-Friendly Living
The Paleo diet encourages organic, local and seasonal eating as much as possible. Not only is it better for your health, but the environment and the farmers benefit as well. Be sure that your meat is sourced from animals that are grass-fed and pasture-raised, giving the animal a better quality of life – and your food more nutrient dense and flavorful.
16. More Natural Solutions
If you can make the shift to eating Paleo, you’ll likely want to explore more ways you can incorporate Paleo principles into other facets of your life. You might pursue a more natural approach in cosmetics, cleaning products, or even making your home thyroid-friendly!
For more healthy inspo, check out The 14 Biggest Paleo Challenges and How to Conquer Them
Save time with 100% Paleo Meal Plans – complete with recipes and shopping lists – delivered to your inbox every week
Eliminate the “5 o’clock
scramble” and save time &
energy, by having us plan out
your meals for the week for you.
Eliminate the “5 o’clock
scramble” and save time
& energy, by having us
plan out your meals for
the week for you.
It’s one thing to study individual parts of your diet – does cholesterol cause heart disease? (No.) What about fat? (No.) What about salt? (No.) But eventually you start realizing that it’s not so much individual foods that cause the big-picture effects. It’s really your entire dietary pattern. Are you eating that delicious bacon in the context of a highly inflammatory diet full of junk food? Or are you eating it in the context of an anti-inflammatory diet rich in fruits and vegetables? The health effects of the bacon will depend on the answer, because context matters.
That’s why it’s useful to have overall studies that look at Paleo as a big-picture dietary pattern. So here’s a look at some of the studies measuring exactly that – with explanations of exactly what kind of “Paleo” was used in the studies and their strengths and weaknesses, because “Paleo” can mean so many things that at this point that it really does need some specifying.
As it turns out, several studies have been done on Paleo-type diets, with very encouraging results.
Studies on Weight Loss
This study on a Paleo diet for weight loss is great because it’s relatively long-term. You can get study subjects to adhere to just about any random bizarre diet for a week (especially if they’re being paid to do it) and if they lose enough water weight, you’ll get some impressive numbers even if your diet is completely unsustainable. But this study is was relatively long-term (2 years), so it gives a good idea of how Paleo works in the long run.
The study compared the effects of a Paleo diet to the effects of a standard low-fat diet on 70 obese postmenopausal women. Paleo was a high-protein, moderate-carb, low-ish-fat version of Paleo, “based on lean meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, berries, and nuts. Dairy products, cereals, added salt, and refined fats and sugar were excluded.” The diet was not very low-carb: the researchers didn’t include daily food logs, but given the reported amounts of carbohydrates eaten, it could have easily allowed for a few servings of starchy vegetables every day.
Unfortunately, dietary adherence was pretty lousy in the Paleo group, which makes it hard to tell whether or not the diet as written would have worked. Specifically, none of the women ate the recommended amount of protein. But the results are still encouraging.
Weight changes (in pounds) of the study subjects
The subjects in the Paleo group also had lower triglycerides. They didn’t show a significant increase in insulin sensitivity, but that was because they had normal insulin sensitivity at baseline.
Other studies on Paleo and weight loss:
- Paleo is more satiating per calorie than a standard “diabetes diet” or a Mediterranean diet. People eating a Paleo diet naturally reduce their calorie intake without actually counting calories.
- This study wasn’t actually focused on weight loss at all, but it includes this gem: “Despite efforts to keep bodyweight stable, it decreased in the Palaeolithic group compared to reference.” In other words, the researchers did everything they could to prevent their Paleo subjects from losing weight (including extra snacks), but they couldn’t do it: the Paleo group kept losing anyway. How’s that for effective?
Studies on Diabetes, Metabolic, and Cardiovascular Health
Paleo isn’t just good for dropping pounds; it’s also effective for health problems associated with obesity, like diabetes and metabolic
“Eat me! Your blood lipids will thank you!”
syndrome. It’s funny how actually addressing the problems causing weight gain instead of just treating the symptom of excess fat tends to treat these diseases as well!
This study found that a Paleo diet was much better than a diet full of “heart-healthy whole grains” for improving cholesterol profiles in men and women (lower LDL and triglycerides; higher HDL). The subjects were 20 men and women with high cholesterol. First, they ate a heart-healthy diet for 4 months; then they ate a Paleo diet (“vegetables, lean animal protein, eggs, nuts, and fruit” with no calorie limit) for 4 months.
Paleo included up to ½ cup of potatoes, 1 ounce of dried fruit, and 4 ounces of wine per day, but strict avoidance of all grains, legumes, and dairy. Despite having no calorie limits on Paleo, all the subjects spontaneously ate less, and lost significantly more weight (in fact, the women lost no weight at all on the AHA diet but an average of 8 kilograms (17.6 pounds) on Paleo.)
The researchers measured their blood lipids at several points throughout the study.
- LDL cholesterol: LDL dropped very slightly during the AHA phase, but dramatically during the Paleo phase.
- Triglycerides: The AHA diet had no effect on triglycerides, but Paleo reduced them by almost half.
- HDL cholesterol: The AHA diet lowered HDL cholesterol, but Paleo raised it. (As far as we can tell from what we know about cholesterol, this is actually good).
This study is interesting because it confirms what we already knew from shorter studies. It’s nice to see that Paleo is promising when subjects eat that way for 10 days, but it’s even better to see it working in a long-term study.
This study lasted for only two weeks, but it did find that Paleo was more effective than a “healthy reference diet” (think whole grains and lots of low-fat dairy) for lowering blood pressure, total cholesterol, and triglycerides, while raising HDL cholesterol. Paleo was “based on lean meat, fish, fruit, leafy and cruciferous vegetables, root vegetables, eggs and nuts. Dairy products, cereal grains, legumes, refined fats, extra salt and sugar were not part of it.” The study subjects were 36 men and women, age 54 on average. (This was the same study where the Paleo subjects lost weight even though the researchers tried to prevent it).
Other studies on Paleo for diabetes, cardiovascular, and metabolic health:
- This study that a Paleo-style diet improved markers of Type 2 diabetes in 13 patients compared to a standard diabetes diet.
- This one isn’t technically Paleo (it’s called the Spanish Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet), but it was a ketogenic diet based on olive oil, green vegetables, salads, and fish, with moderate red wine consumption – Paleo in everything but the name. And it had impressive effects on body weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar in 31 obese subjects.
Summing it Up
The studies we have are mostly done on a higher-protein, moderate-carb version of Paleo, but studies on a Paleo-style ketogenic diet show similar benefits. In all the studies that have been done so far, Paleo has either matched or outperformed the typical “healthy” carb-based, whole-grains type of dietary pattern; it’s especially well-studied for diabetes, cardiovascular health, and weight loss.
In other words, it’s absolutely not true that there’s no evidence supporting a Paleo style of eating. It would be great to also get some evidence on a high-fat version of Paleo with lots of red meat: hopefully with the recent moves towards accepting saturated fat and cholesterol as perfectly healthy parts of the diet, those studies will be coming soon!
Emphasizing daily consumptions of fibrous vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds is consistent with public health nutrition recommendations. Adding fish (when affordable, and when sustainable) can also be a good choice. Think twice about meat unless, of course, you’re obtaining it through bow hunting in the wild like our Paleo ancestors.
If you’re going to cheat: The diet would be just as healthy, but potentially more rewarding, if you include modest amounts of dairy (a good source of needed calcium) as well as a variety of whole grains and legumes.
Conclusion: The paleo diet is a potentially healthy diet based on a valid premise about the harms associated with modern, processed foods. But overindulgence in fatty meats (especially processed meats) can immediately turn this potentially promising diet into a health disaster.
This is the second post in a series called A Skeptical Look at Popular Diets. The series will review the eight currently most prominent diets in America. The next blog post will discuss vegetarian or plant-based diets.
Randall Stafford, MD, PhD, is a professor of medicine at Stanford. He practices primary care internal medicine and studies strategies for preventing chronic disease. Stanford professor and nutrition scientist Christopher Gardner, PhD, examines the impact of diet on health and disease. Min Joo Kim provided research assistance.
Photo by moreharmony