You’ve most likely heard about the paleo diet and might be wondering if it’s all it’s cracked up to be. Just like any diet trend, we hear stories of amazing and even life changing results but it’s always important to consider - is this the right way of eating for me? We are all unique and there is no “one diet fits all”. So, let’s break down the Paleo diet and discuss some of the pros and cons with our Brookfarm nutritionists Leah & Danae!
So, what exactly is the Paleo Diet and where did it come from?
The aim of the paleo diet is to return to a way of eating that is like the “hunter gatherer”
diets of our ancient ancestors. Paleo refers to the Palaeolithic era which dates from approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 BC. The rationale behind the diet is that the human body has not genetically evolved to cope with the dramatic dietary and lifestyle changes that came about with the beginning of the agricultural era. It is suggested that these departures from the nutrition and physical activity patterns of ancestral humans has greatly contributed to the development of many chronic diseases we see today - obesity, diabetes, heart disease etc.
The Paleo Diet would typically include lean meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, nuts and seeds - basically foods that could be obtained by hunting and gathering. The diet excludes or limits foods that became common when we began farming i.e. dairy, grains, pseudo-grains such as quinoa and buckwheat, legumes, potatoes and more obviously, refined sugars and processed oils.
So why no legumes and grains, aren’t these healthy?
The modern hybridised and genetically engineered grains that we consume in abundance today are high in carbohydrates and contain less protein and fibre than ancient grains. Particularly when processed into flour, it is easy to consume carbs in excess, this can cause elevated insulin, blood sugar spikes and weight gain.
All grains and legumes contain anti-nutrients such as lectins, phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors. When lectins are consumed frequently in great quantities, the intestinal lining may become permeable or “leaky” which can lead to a broader immune system response with symptoms ranging from skin rashes, joint pain and general inflammation. Phytic acid binds to and impairs absorption of minerals such as zinc, iron and calcium, while enzyme inhibitors bind to our digestive enzymes and can reduce our ability to digest the food.
Spoiler alert! Properly preparing grains and legumes by soaking, sprouting, cooking or fermenting can remove a good deal of these “anti-nutrients” so they are not nearly as sinister as they sound!
The Benefits of going Paleo
Paleo promotes variety! By cutting out grains and eating more fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds as your carbohydrate source, you’ll get an array of different vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals in your daily diet.
Cutting out processed foods means we are not consuming “empty” calories. Nutritionally dense whole foods tend to make you feel full more quickly and for longer, so you might be less likely to overeat. No refined carbs and naturally low GI foods means a reduced risk of developing insulin resistance.
A paleo diet provides plenty of Vitamin B12. B12 is an exceptionally important nutrient for the nervous system and is the only vitamin that is not reliably sourced from a plant based diet. Lots of oily fish, grass fed meat and no highly refined vegetable oils means a much higher ratio of omega-3 to omega-6. This may help to ease the pain of inflammatory conditions or even prevent their development.
Digesting dairy can be difficult for a lot of people so finding alternative sources of calcium can be a great benefit of the paleo diet. Leafy greens are a fantastic source of calcium, as are sardines, almonds, sesame and chia AND they come without the unpleasant side effects of lactose intolerance!
The negatives and where it can go wrong
There is a potential to over emphasise meat. Over consumption of red meat is said to increase the risk of heart disease, so it’s important to eat small amounts of grass fed meat and not consume it every day. Mix it up with eggs, fish and nuts and seeds for protein.
Excluding legumes and grains makes the Paleo diet very challenging for non-meat eaters. While vegetarians can eat eggs as a complete protein source, it is near impossible for vegans to consume the right balance of essential amino acids on this strict diet.
Don’t forget the carbohydrates! It’s not all about protein and fat. Complex carbohydrates like whole grains and legumes are a great source of energy as well as fibre - which is essential for a healthy digestive system. When following a Paleo diet, consuming a wide variety of fruit, vegetables and nuts is vital for energy levels and a healthy, happy gut.
It can be low in calcium! it’s important to familiarise yourself with alternative sources of calcium!
So…. to Paleo or not Paleo?
Understanding where certain nutrients come from is imperative when making any drastic dietary change. It’s easy to get caught up on strict rules and the latest trends but eating “real” food with minimal intervention is where it’s at. This may mean Paleo for some and Vegan for others but we can probably all agree that the western diet tends to have an over emphasis on processed carbohydrates and the focus on real, unprocessed food is a big positive of the paleo diet.
Ultimately, a balanced whole food diet, with a good variety of delicious and nutritious food, is always best!
Check out a fabulous and super quick recipe from the Brookfarm Kitchen!