Introduction to the Paleo Diet – Eat Like the Cavemen Did!
The Paleo diet comes from the word Paleolithic, referring to the period in our history from 2.6 million years ago, to around 10,000 BP (Before Present era). This is when the Stone Age people lived on a diet consisting mainly of fish, meat, fruits and vegetables. They did not grow crops such as corn and other cereals and they did not keep cattle for milk, cream and cheese. They were hunter gatherers who survived on meat, fish, fruits, seeds, nuts, berries and wild plants.
What is the Paleo Diet?
The Paleo Diet is based upon these foods that our ancient ancestors ate. They survived very well without foods processed using salt and sugars. They had no need of cream, cheese and other products from dairy cattle. In fact, cattle then was a lot different to what it has been bred to look like today. Even today, fruit, seeds, nuts, fish and berries are promoted as the main constituents of a healthy diet. They offer the protein, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that are so essential for good health.
Meat adds bulk to a meal and the raw materials needed for creating muscle tissue: the protein and triglycerides that your body needs to build you up. Energy comes from the fat and the carbohydrate element of the protein found in meat. The natural sugars and carbohydrates provided by fruit, berries and nuts also provide energy.
In other words, the Paleo diet provides all the nutrition you require to stay healthy and to develop the energy and muscles needed by our Paleolithic ancestors. Nobody can say that the cavemen were wimps.
Foods Required for a Healthy Paleo Diet
Lean Proteins: Lean proteins are those without too much fat. Chicken breast, lean steaks and dinosaur meat. Well, perhaps not the dinosaur since they died out well before Paleolithic man (or any type of man) came onto the scene. Any other lean protein source will do. These develop strong muscle tissue and help create a strong immune system. Proteins also keep you feeling full.
Fruits and Vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are rich in the vitamins and minerals needed by your body to remain healthy. They are packed with the antioxidants that help promote a healthy heart and circulation. They provide the vitamins without which your body could not function properly, and also offer other plant chemicals, known as phytochemicals, which help protect you from many degenerative conditions such as diabetes and cancers. They also help you to maintain a healthy brain.
Here are some examples:
The Paleo Diet allows you to eat a variety of meats and vegetables. For example:
Meats: Meat contains protein that consists of long chains of carbohydrates and amino acids. The carbohydrates are broken down into glucose for energy, and the amino acids are used to build muscle tissue. Beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey and other meats are all part of a Paleo diet. Eggs are also part of a Paleo diet, providing protein, healthy fats and other nutrients.
Fish: Oily fish such as mackerel and trout provide you with the carbohydrates that your body metabolizes into energy. Fish also provides protein, so you can eat white fish such as haddock, hake, monkfish and cod. Salmon is between the two, offering both carbohydrates and protein. Shellfish is also part of the Paleo diet, and prawns, lobster, scallops and so on offer protein and other nutrients.
Vegetables: You can eat any vegetables other than those high in bulk and carbohydrates. So do not eat rice, potatoes, pasta or bread – even whole meal bread. Paleolithic man did not bake cakes or bread! The bulk in their diet came from meat and lots of nuts, berries, fruits and leaves. Remnants of olives, plums, grapes, dates, apples and oranges have all been found in Paleolithic settlements.
Foods to Avoid on a Paleo Diet
So what types of food should you not eat? What should you avoid, even if you love them!
Dairy Foods: Dairy foods are out – the Paleos had no concept of dairy foods because they did not farm dairy cattle. All animals were used for food only. So no cream, yoghurt or cheese.
Cultivated Grains: Also, avoid those crops that came well after the Paleolithic period. Avoid cultivated grains, legumes such as peas, beans and lentils. Peas are said to be earliest vegetable, but they do not fit in with the ethos of a Paleo diet since they were not cultivated and not widely available.
Staple Carbohydrates: The staple carbohydrates of modern man include potatoes, bread, rice and pasta. These did not exist during the Paleolithic era. We use them to bulk up our meals – fries, rice or pasta with everything. The Paleolithics had none of these. Also avoid bananas.
No Sugar: Sugar was unknown in Paleolithic times and neither was alcohol. So avoid these if you are serious about using the Palo diet to lose weight and become really healthy. You are permitted a little honey – bees were not uncommon all these years ago. Soft drinks are out, as are almost all drinks provided in boxes – they tend to contain added sugar or artificial sweeteners which are definitely not permitted.
Processed Food: Food processing was unknown in Paleolithic times. All food was natural, although fire was being used widely to cook some foods during the Paleolithic era. Processed meats are not substitutes for beef and lamb. So no Spam, kebabs or burgers!
Other Foods to Consider
Saturated Fats: Most of the meat eaten back then also contained a proportion of fat – animal fat is largely saturated fat. This enabled Paleolithic people to store energy in the form of fat in their bodies. The body’s metabolism would break this fat down into sugars/energy during the winter months.
That is how people over 10,000 years ago managed to survive winter, when crops and animals were scarce. If you eat a true Paleolithic diet, then saturated animal fats would be in there somewhere. Don’t overdo the fat though, because we are not as active as our Paleolithic ancestors were.
We have no such problems in winter today. We import all kinds of foodstuffs when they are in season elsewhere. The West’s winter is the Orient’s summer. We also have freezers. We can therefore pick and choose the best aspects of Paleolithic man’s diet and leave out the worst – the saturated fats. However, don’t worry about eating some animal fats along with your beef, lamb, pork and chicken. Their pork came from wild boar.
Effect of Exercise During the Paleolithic Diet
Many diets also require a vigorous exercise regime. Not so with the Paleo Diet. There is no need to exercise too much. Short, intense, training sessions a few times weekly should be sufficient. Because you are not eating refined sugars and your diet is fairly low in carbohydrates, there is no need to exercise as hard as you would with a regular modern diet.
Extensive cardio sessions are not necessary. You will get good results with short sprinting sessions rather than half marathons. Short periods of circuit training are also good when you are on this diet. Our ancestors remained fit while living a normal (to them) life.
Paleolithic Diet Supplements
Stone Age people had no supplements as we know them. They got all the antioxidants, vitamins and minerals they required from their diet. However, they did spend long periods outdoors, they got much more sunlight than most people today. A Vitamin D supplement might therefore be useful. This is the ‘sunshine vitamin’ that is generated in your skin by sunlight.
Probiotics may also help, particularly immediately after a course of antibiotics. Probiotics help to maintain a healthy population of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Other supplements that may help during the Paleo Diet include iodine (obtain from seaweed back then) and magnesium (from spinach, nuts and fish).
Probiotics and other supplements are not cheating – merely bringing a balance between modern living and the Paleolithic age when man got their immunity from the land. Most children in today’s developed countries have little acquired immunity due to the focus on cleanliness. There also tends to be a lack of outdoor play and natural childish exploration. You need to be exposed to dirt to develop immunity to it.
You don’t usually need multivitamins on a Paleolithic diet. However, in addition to Vitamin D, some take a Vitamin K2 supplement, naturally available from chicken and dark green vegetables. This promotes blood clotting and heart health.
Human Dietary Changes
There have been many changes in the human diet over the past 10,000 years. We have shifted from natural meats, fish, eggs, nuts, fruits and vegetables to largely carbohydrate-based foods (potatoes, pasta, rice) and processed foods, mostly lacking in fiber. This has led to us lacking many of the nutrients needed for good health and eating more carbohydrates that leads to an increase in obesity and many chronic diseases. Refined sugar tends to be overused – this was not present in the Paleolithic diet.
Some sites claim that you should eat butter and other saturated fats. Take that with a pinch of salt! Sure, saturated animal fats were included in Paleolithic diets, but not butter. Cattle husbandry was not known during the Paleolithic era. All fats were natural. On top of that, animals in the Stone Age tended to have less fat because they were not bred to become plump. They were wild and consequently fitter with less fat in their meat.
Why Do We Live Longer than Stone Age People?
Some claim that we live longer than the average Paleolithic population. There are two points to make here: a) How do they know this? Where is the evidence, and b) even so, this is a different age.
It is largely due to modern health services, medicine and pharmaceuticals that death is not a natural consequence of a broken leg, disease or even a bad cut that would go gangrenous without medical intervention. What is an inconvenience to us now may have led to our death 10,000 years ago or more.
Paleo Diet and its Benefits – Summary
The Paleo Diet enables you to eat much as your Paleolithic ancestors did. They did not die early of heart problems or excess cholesterol because they ate natural, healthy foods. Meat and vegetables without the starchy rice, potatoes, bread, pasta and other processed foods. Try the Paleo Diet and find out for yourself: there are few rules other than to eat only those foodstuffs that were consumed in these prehistoric times. If Paleolithic man thrived on his/her diet then so can you!