Monday, September 9, 2013

What is the Paleo diet or Paleolithic diet?

"The Paleo Diet as it has come to be known is simplicity itself. Limit your purchases at the supermarket to the outside aisles (produce, seafood, meat) and you are about 85 percent of the way there." – Dr Loren Cordain, founder of the Paleo Movement.

The popularly used term "Paleo" is an abbreviation of Paleolithic, referring to the Paleolithic Era of around 2.5 million years ago. The Paleo diet is therefore based on eating the foods that would have been available to our Paleolithic or "caveman" ancestors and avoiding all forms of modern foods that would have been unavailable to hunter-gatherers of that time. In a nutshell, it’s a healthy eating diet that focuses on eating good quality natural foods and cutting out unhealthy processed foods that have little or no nutritional value. The foods included in a Paleo diet are the ancient foods our bodies were designed to be able to digest easily while "on the move" and the foods avoided are those that only came into our diet as a result of modern-day farming practices.

However, it’s worth noting that there are many Paleo diet variations and there is no one definitive diet in terms of what should or should not be included. Our "caveman" ancestors survived on the foods that were readily available to them and availability was, of course, determined by location. It’s a common misconception that a Paleo diet is a low-carb diet, but while some hunter-gatherer groups would have lived on a diet of low-carb foods, other groups in different locations would have had easy access to high-carb foods such as coconuts, tubers and fish.

Where you live will inevitably influence your food choices when choosing to live a Paleo lifestyle. Sourcing good quality, locally grown produce is at the heart of any Paleo-based diet and eating the best produce available in your area in terms of both accessibility and affordability is an important element of adhering to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

A Paleo diet is generally higher in daily protein and fat intake and lower in carbohydrate intake than the current figures promoted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in its current healthy eating guidelines. Acccording to the USDA, a balanced daily diet should consist of 60 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent fats, and 10 percent protein, but a Paleo-based diet generally includes a higher percentage of protein and "healthy" fat (including saturated fats considered "unhealthy" by USDA standards) and therefore a lower percentage of carbohydrates. Paleo sources of protein are lean meats, preferably from grass-fed animals, and sources of "healthy" fats in the form of omega-3 essential fatty acids are found in fish. The USDA promotes whole grains and starchy foods such as bread, pasta and potatoes as the main sources of carbohydrates in a balanced diet but the main sources of carbohydrates in a Paleo diet are fruits and vegetables, ensuring you also consume a rich source of health-promoting micro-nutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals.

By avoiding all processed and packaged foods, and by cutting grains and other modern farmed foods from your diet, you create a daily diet of foods that would be instantly recognizable as foods to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, and that’s essentially what going "Primal" is all about. As Dr. Cordain, the founder of the Paleo diet says, it’s all about "eating the foods to which we are genetically adapted."

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