What is Paleo? – A Comprehensive Guide To The Paleo Lifestyle
Ok, so you’re here to learn more about a Paleo diet…
But perhaps you already know more about Paleo than you think. So how about we start with a quick quiz to see what you know.
QUIZ – TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE ABOUT PALEO
Question 1 – Paleo foods:
What do people eat on a Paleo diet?
A) Raw meat only
B) Fruits and vegetables only
C) Bacon and eggs only
D) A mix of meats, fish, seafood, fruits, vegetables, nuts.
Question 2 – Paleo cooking:
Are you allowed to cook your food on a Paleo diet?
C) Yes, but only on a fire you built yourself.
Question 3 – Benefits of Paleo:
What are the benefits of a Paleo diet?
A) Weight loss
B) Healing Digestive Issues
C) Healing Blood sugar issues
D) Healing of Autoimmune Conditions
E) All of the above
F) Nothing – it’s just a fad diet
Question 4 – Paleo celebrities:
Which of these celebrities are on a Paleo diet?
A) Jessica Biel
B) Megan Fox
C) Tim Mcgraw
D) Matthew Mcconaughey
E) Kobe Bryant
F) All of the above
G) None of the above
Now, for the actual article. I’ll fill you in on ALL the details about what is a Paleo diet and then at the end of the article, you can check your answers!
PALEO DIET BASICS
For those of you with short attention spans, this section is especially for you.
But don’t worry, there’s a ton more detail (including links to research papers and additional resources to read) if you enjoy delving deep into the Paleo diet.
What is a Paleo or Paleolithic diet?
Paleo is a diet and lifestyle that uses what humans have eaten for millions of years as a guide.
What To Eat and What To Avoid on a Paleo Diet?
Paleo dieters avoid grains (including wheat, rice, oats) as these were introduced much more recently in our human history during the agricultural revolution.
Instead Paleo dieters eat a lot of vegetables, meats, fish, seafood, as well as fruits, nuts, and seeds. These tend to be foods with more nutrients while being low in toxins.
Most Paleo experts (including us) suggest to avoid all legumes and dairy products as well. This is based on more modern knowledgeable about gut issues.
For a complete list of Paleo diet foods, check out our post and the PDF to download here.
Video – Paleo Diet Basics
Prefer watching a video instead? Check out my husband Jeremy’s video on Paleo diet basics here:
Paleo Diet Results/Benefits
Common results and benefits of a Paleo diet include:
- weight loss (and fat loss)
- healing autoimmunity
- regulating blood sugar issues
- getting rid of migraines
- healing acne
- gaining energy
- feeling less moody
- feeling less hungry
- getting rid of sugar cravings
- feeling more motivated
THE PALEO LIFESTYLE
You’ll often hear Paleo called a lifestyle rather than “just a diet.” And that’s because once people clean up their diet, they usually want to work on the rest of their life. From sleeping better, exercising more optimally, to de-stressing.
And the same principles (looking to our Paleolithic ancestors and then adding in modern technology, practicalities, and scientific knowledge) can be applied to all aspects of life.
WANT TO TRY PALEO?
It’s best to give Paleo at least 4 weeks so your body can fully adjust (after all, it’s got to deal with pretty much a lifetime of you eating badly). But if you’re really in a hurry, then give our 28-Day Pure Paleo Reset a try.
You can just commit to trying Paleo for 28 days. And then if you like it, keep going!
Just one word of advice – REALLY COMMIT for those 4 weeks. Don’t just treat it as another diet. Because your mentality does matter!
Still skeptical? Why not read a bit more – I go into my personal story below as well as all the science behind Paleo.
WHY I WENT PALEO:
I’m Louise and I help folks live a practical as well as meaningful life.
What does that have to do with Paleo?
Well, over the years, I’ve found that it’s much much easier to enjoy your life, be happy, and be motivated to do cool stuff if you’re feeding your body with nourishing food that doesn’t cause health issues that prevent you from doing what you love to do.
For example, have you ever had any of these challenges?
- Are you carrying around some extra pounds that you’d like to lose? Perhaps around your belly?
- Do you have digestive issues (IBS, constipation, bloating, heartburn)? Or autoimmunity (rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, skin issues)?
- Or perhaps you’ve been told you’re pre-diabetic or already have type 2 diabetes?
- And do you feel exhausted only a few hours after waking up? And have trouble staying happy and motivated to live the dream life you planned to live?
- And perhaps worst of all, maybe you have all of those problems but just write them off as something you have to live with?
The sad thing is… that was me. Everything I listed above happened to me.
I started Paleo to lose weight
I had gained weight (I always gain weight first around my belly) and gave Paleo a try to see if it might work.
I was pretty skeptical at first. The whole Paleolithic caveman story seemed utterly stupid to me. Our beloved caveman (or “grok” – which is the name Mark Sisson dubs our Paleolithic ancestor) died early, was stupid, and didn’t even cook most of their foods. So, what was there to learn from grok except to be grateful that we’re no longer at that stage in human evolution!
But almost immediately after starting a Paleo diet, my chronic heartburn had vanished.
I was taking Prilosec (a drug similar to Prevacid or Nexium). I also had Costco-sized bottles of Tums antacids stashed around my office and apartment “just in case.”
After going Paleo, that heartburn that used to pain me after dinner every night completely went away. In fact, I didn’t even notice it until my husband (Jeremy) asked me a few weeks later “is your heartburn better? you haven’t been taking any pills for a while.”
And the funny thing was, I was so used to complaining about my stomach pains that I refused to believe him!
That heartburn was part of who I was. And for 2 days, I insisted that I still had stomach pains even though I couldn’t recall the last time it happened!
The Paleo benefits didn’t stop there…
I was also diagnosed with autoimmunity around that time. The symptoms (swelling of my lips, forehead, and sometimes joints) had been happening for over a decade and finally a doctor diagnosed it as angioedema.
In some ways, it was a relief that they had “figured it out” finally. But when I went to the specialist in New York City, he told me that there was no cure except to take antihistamines daily.
So that’s what I did. I took antihistamines every night and if I missed it, I’\’d know the next morning by the swelling on my face.
I had to miss work to recover from the swellings and I had to carry an Epi-pen around with me in case the swellings got worse and made my tongue or throat swell.
I wish I could tell you that my autoimmune condition also vanished overnight after starting Paleo, but it’s not a magic portion!
It took a few years of living Paleo (eating well, sleeping more, de-stressing) before my autoimmune condition also went away.
I can’t tell you how great it felt to defy what a New York specialist told me about my condition – that it was permanent.
It showed me just how much I could achieve if I wanted to.
(I’ve wanted to delete the line above several times now because I’m honestly not as woo-woo as I sound!).
I started off life as a physicist – I have a bachelors and masters degree in physics from the University of Cambridge, UK. And a law degree from Columbia Law School. So, believe me, I’m pretty logical and geeky.
But it’s hard to not believe and be super gung-ho about something when it happens to you. And has scientific backing!
So, if you’re on the fence, just give Paleo a try for 28 days. It might really surprise you!
How do you get started? Ok…now we’re talking. Let’s get to some basics about the Paleo diet.
PALEO DIET “RULES”
I’ve called the following Paleo Diet “Rules,” but Paleo is really not that dogmatic. And a lot of Paleo has evolved since Loren Cordain first popularized Paleo in his book, The Paleo Diet.
So, think of these as guidelines. Generally speaking, the more closely you stick to them, the better your results will be. But use your own common sense as well. There’s also a section on How To Start A Paleo Diet down below with some suggested methods of getting started as well as some tips and things to watch out for when you first start Paleo.
1. Eat lots of vegetables (as much as you want).
This might seem surprising as the first rule of a Paleo diet. Most people think Paleo is just meat and eggs with some sweet potatoes added into the mix. But most Paleo experts highly emphasize the importance of vegetables (and also fermented vegetables for their probiotic benefits).
There are several reasons why vegetables are amazing and why you’re most probably not eating enough of them (even if you’re a vegetarian!).
A) Fiber (Gut-Health)
You’ve probably heard the health authorities tell you to eat more fiber, and the science backs them up on this front. Fiber is highly important for your gut health.
You’ve got around 100 trillion bacteria living in your gut and you want to feed those good bacteria because they can actually keep you healthy.
Fiber (because we don’t have the enzymes to digest them) get passed down to your large intestines where those bacteria mostly live. And those bacteria often do have the right enzymes to digest them thereby feeding them. This keeps the balance of bacteria in your gut in check and can prevent or reverse “dysbiosis of the gut microbiota.”
So when you hear the word “prebiotic,” just think lots of vegetable fiber that feed your good bacteria.
And also eat fermented vegetables like kimchi and sauerkraut to make sure you get more probiotics (good bacteria) into your Paleo diet.
B) Vitamins & Minerals
Vegetables are very nutrient-dense. This means they pack in ton of nutrition into very few calories.
For example, 1 cup of raw broccoli (approx. 91g) only has 31 calories and but 135% of your Daily Value of vitamin C, 116% of vitamin K, 10% of manganese, and 3% of selenium. Even when cooked, broccoli still retains much of these vitamins and minerals.
C) Enzymes & carotenoids & potential synergies
There’s a lot we still don’t know about vegetables and their potential benefits. For example, it’s unclear just how much benefit the enzymes, carotenoids, and other parts of the vegetable plays in our health.
And for some reason eating whole foods always seem to be better than just taking vitamin supplements. There are many synergies in whole foods. And when we try to isolate one beneficial aspect of a plant, it seems to lose some of its potency.
One word of caution about vegetables though – for some people who have a lot of digestive issues, you may find increasing your veggie intake causes more gas and intestinal discomfort at first. This could be due to some gut dysbiosis already that needs to be healed first. So, slowly up your veggies and notice how you feel!
2. Eat high quality meats
Juicy steaks, lamb chops, chicken wings, and even those parts of the animal that you probably don’t eat (like liver) are all great for you.
As you might have heard before, meats provide a complete protein source for your body. What that means is that animal protein sources provide all 20 of the essential amino acids your body needs to work properly. Plants however do not provide all 20 essential amino acids (unless you carefully combine ones from different plant sources).
Meats (especially organ meats) are also high in nutrients.
In fact, beef liver is one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can find! Check out Chris Kresser’s comparison of 100 grams of beef liver against apples, carrots, and red meat.
(If you’re thinking “EWWW” when I mention liver, then don’t worry, we’ve thought of many different ways you can sneak nutritious liver into your diet here).
GRASS-FED OR CONVENTIONAL?
Grass-fed beef is healthier than regular grain-fed beef, but if you can’t afford or can’t find grass-fed beef, then regular beef is still better than a bowl of pasta!
So, please don’t use the “Paleo is expensive” excuse to get out of trying Paleo.
From a logical perspective, cows have traditional eaten grass and to feed them cheap grains is unlikely to result in the same meat. From an ethical standpoint, grass-fed animals tend to be much better treated.
Scientifically speaking, grass-fed beef has a much better fat-profile than grain-fed beef. Grass-fed beef typical contains “significantly higher level of total omega-3” fats and higher levels of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA).
Grass-fed beef also tends to have more vitamins and minerals like vitamin A and K, potassium, and iron.
If you’re in the US and you’re looking for a good source of grass-fed beef, then check out US Wellness Meats and ButcherBox. But again, remember eat the highest quality meat you can afford and find. And don’t stress too much about it!
3. Don’t be afraid of “good” fats
Although many people might believe that low-fat is good to be a fact or “the truth,” this dogma has only been for the past few decades.
As Gary Taubes (author of the highly popular book, Good Calories Bad Calories) points out in this New York Times article, “Until the late 70’s, the accepted wisdom was that fat and protein protected against overeating by making you sated, and that carbohydrates made you fat.”
There’s still a lot we don’t fully understand about obesity and the effect different types of fats can have on our body. But a few things have become clearer:
A. Eating fat does not necessarily make you more fat.
Any excess carbs, protein, and fats can all be stored as fat in your body. So overeating anything is a huge problem.
A lot of calorie-conscious dieters will point to the fact that fat is more calorie dense than carbs or protein (1 gram of fat is 9 calories compared to 4 calories for carbs or protein). While that’s true, it’s also been shown that eating a diet higher in fats and protein and lower in carbs will help you stay full. This also cuts out hyperpalatable foods (like potato chips) which helps you to not overeat.
B. Saturated fat is not the enemy.
As Paleo/Primal expert Mark Sisson points out: “Saturated fats serve critical roles in the human body. They make up 1/2 of cell membrane structure. They enhance calcium absorption and immune function. They aid in body’s synthesis of the essential fatty acids and provide a rich source of fat soluble vitamins.”
Studies are also showing that saturated fat does not raise most people’s cholesterol levels, contrary to popular belief.
Many early Paleo experts (like Dr. Cordain) also believed we should eat lean meats and avoid too much fat, but many of them have changed their views as more scientific evidence has come to light. So if you’re reading the original edition of Loren Cordain’s book, The Paleo Diet, then you’ll notice he recommends “lean” meat throughout.
In a 2014 podcast, Dr. Loren Cordain stated: “Animal fat, per se, probably isn’t the boogeyman that we once thought that it was. We now have some pretty good meta-analyses in which we look at all kinds of studies put together. The meta-analyses are not showing that saturated fat was the evil that we, at one time, thought it would be.”
C. You need to eat at least some fats in order to absorb essential vitamins like A, D, E, and K.
Fat-soluble vitamins (like A, D, E, and K) can’t be absorbed into your body with fats (hence their name). So, if you’re drinking skimmed milk enriched with vitamin D, you’re unfortunately not getting all that vitamin D it shows on the label.
So, next time you’re tempted by a low fat yogurt, please just put it down! It’s filled with sugar and you can’t even absorb into your body what little nutrients there might be in there.
D. Avoid highly processed fats like trans fats and seed oils.
Trans-fats created artificially through the hydrogenation process changes the natural structure of the fat. They’ve been linked to an increased risk of various diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, Alzheimer’s.
Luckily, many companies have stopped using trans-fats in their foods because of these health issues.
However, the “healthy” canola and sunflower oils that are now used instead cause the same problems.
The method that’s used to extract these vegetable and seed oils often involve high heat and harsh chemicals like hexane (a known carcinogen). So, the resulting oil that you buy is usually rancid, contains hexane residuals, and contains some trans-fat.
E. Eat less omega-6 fats.
Omega-6 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fats. And you’ve probably heard that you’re supposed to eat less of the omega-6s and more of the omega-3s.
While the ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is still debated, there is good science showing that reducing our consumption of omega-6s in general is good.
Luckily, if you avoid vegetable and seed oils, you will already avoid a huge source of our current omega-6 fatty acid intake.
F. But there’s also no need to go overboard on fats.
Fats are healthy, but that doesn’t mean you need to guzzle them down! Don’t just buy lean cuts of meat. Enjoy your rib-eye steak. But you don’t need to add butter or oil to everything you eat either!
G. Here’s a handy table of what fats to eat and what fats to avoid.
And if you want to read more about fats, check out our detailed article here.
4. Eat lots of seafood and fish
Seafood and fish are another category of foods with a ton of nutrients. After various green vegetables and different livers, oysters and caviar are pretty high when you compare nutrient density per calorie.
And if you check out the vitamins and minerals you get in just 6 raw oysters, you can see why they’re like nature’s salty vitamin pill.
Another reason why fish and seafood is such a great food choice is their high omega-3 fatty acid content. Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to decreased risks of cardiovascular disease.
While oysters and caviar might sound expensive, you can buy them for fairly cheap canned here. Canned sardines is another delicious and cheap source of seafood.
5. Avoid wheat and other grains.
This topic always causes controversy it seems. And I won’t pretend that in the next 500 words I can even begin to address all the questions you might have. So here are a few thoughts on why you should avoid wheat as well as other grains (including corn, rice, barley, rye). Yep, corn is also a grain!
A. Civilizations have been eating grains for millennia, and some of the like the Japanese are super healthy. So, why can’t we be healthy and eat rice too?
While this is all very true, the period since we started eating grains is a minuscule part of the homo sapien timeline. So for most of homo sapien history, we’ve actually done pretty well without grains.
As Yuval Noah Harari argues in his book, Sapiens, “The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud.” While some scholars have often “proclaimed that the agricultural revolution was a great leap forward for humanity,” he argues that “a handful of plant species, including wheat, rice and potatoes…domesticated Homo sapiens, rather than vice versa.”
Whether you believe the Agricultural Revolution was good or not, there is evidence showing that human brain size and our average height shrank after.
Another argument is that while many societies seem to do fine on grains (like rice), they are doing a lot of other things right (like eating lots of nutrient-dense seafood, fermented foods, getting more sun and exercise, and have stronger community ties). So, we can’t just look at the fact that they eat rice as a good reason for us eating the same.
B. Aren’t grains high in fiber and loaded with vitamins and minerals?
While grains are fairly high in fiber and are often enriched with vitamins and minerals, vegetables typically outshine any grain.
As the table in Chapter 10 of It Starts with Food (by Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig) illustrates, there are many fruits and vegetables that contain higher amounts of fiber per serving size than even whole-grain bread and brown rice!
And grains are typically don’t have that many vitamins. And what minerals they do contain is often not absorbed by our bodies because grains also contain phytic acid (also often called anti-nutrients) which grabs onto the mineral compounds and prevents your body from taking them in.
C. What’s so bad about gluten?
Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. But all grains contain similar problematic proteins – these proteins are there especially to prevent them from being eaten by animals. Our bodies can’t digest these proteins (the more accurate term is prolamins) properly and so they travel down to our intestines where they can interact with walls causing gaps between cells. These undigested proteins can then pass through these highly important gates and enter our body.
Our body’s immune system then kicks in as it treats these proteins as foreign invaders.
So when you regularly consume bread, pasta, cakes, those problematic proteins will trigger inflammation in the gut, which can spread and become systemic inflammation. And that’ll occur even if you don’t have celiac disease and are not gluten-sensitive.
For a really in-depth description of this whole process, check out Chapter 6 of Robb Wolf’s excellent book, The Paleo Solution.
And for more information on why gluten and grains are bad for you, check out this article:
7 Proven Ways that Ditching Grains will Change Your Life
6. Avoid legumes.
The reasons for avoiding legumes (including beans, peanuts, and soy) are pretty similar to avoiding grains.
On the plus side, legumes do have fiber and some vitamins and minerals. But so do yummy vegetables.
And on the negative side, legumes contain gut-irritating proteins, phytates (those anti-nutrients I mentioned above) and protease inhibitors (which prevent the already problematic proteins in legumes to be broken down). These can cause digestive and autoimmunity.
For a more detailed article on why it’s good to avoid legumes, check out our post here.
And when it comes to peanuts and soy (yes, peanut is a legume!), they each have additional worries that make them probably worse to eat than even your black beans! There’s good reason why they’re two of the most common allergens.
Peanuts contain the protein (or more technically correct, lectin) called Peanut Agglutinin (PNA), which is one of the most problematic lectins. When consumed, they can cause digestive, inflammatory, and immune issues.
Most peanuts also have a type of toxin called Aflatoxins which has been linked to increased risks of cancer. While it’s unclear just how much is really problematic, it’s a good rule to just skip the peanut butter and use almond or sunflower butter instead.
Soy like other legumes contain problematic proteins. But what makes them worse is that soy contains large amounts of phytoestrogens, which can mimic estrogen in your body. This can create an hormonal imbalance in your body as well as potentially other problems.
We highly recommend avoiding all legumes. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, then I would highly suggest you consider adding in eggs and fish into your diet for nutrition and as a complete protein source. But if that’s not possible, then well soaked and well cooked beans is your next best option for protein (but it’s definitely not optimal).
7. Avoid dairy products.
This Paleo diet rule should really be called “the gray area in Paleo.”
While it’s easy to want strict black and white rules – eat this, don’t eat this – the truth of the matter is that sometimes the answer isn’t super clear cut.
Dairy products fall into this category. Dairy is pretty nutritious and there are definitely some people who seem very adapted to them.
We at Paleo Flourish still believe it’s best to avoid these as much as possible, but certain categories may be OK for certain people. (For more about dairy and why it’s not good for most people, check out our detailed article here.)
If you know you’re lactose or casein sensitive or if you have autoimmune conditions or joint pain or acne, or if you need to lose weight, then definitely skip the dairy! It makes a huge difference to most people.
When I first heard I had to give up milk AND cheese, I was definitely one of those people who resisted. I insisted I wasn’t lactose intolerant despite the fact that 99% of all Asians are. And I insisted that my acne wasn’t dairy-related, despite the fact that it clearly made a difference when I cut it out.
So, if you’re also one of those people who insists that you’re fine with dairy, just do our 28-day reset (it’s a great way to make 2017 an amazing year).
Avoid all dairy products (cheese, milk, yogurt, butter) for at least 4 weeks (28 days). Then try introducing them back in the form of raw cheeses, greek full-fat yogurt, and grass-fed butter and see how you feel. And please be honest with yourself – it’s your health.
8. Eat some nuts, seeds, and fruits
Nuts, seeds, and fruits are paleo foods that you can enjoy but need to careful not to overeat.
From a historical perspective, it’s unlikely Paleolithic humans ever found more than a handful of nuts or fruits. And most of the fruits they had available back then were not very sweet and likely to have been unripe (otherwise another animal would have eaten that fruit already).
So enjoy nuts, seeds, and fruits, but definitely don’t go overboard. If you make almond flour Paleo desserts, make sure to do so rarely. Don’t make Paleo junk food a habit just because it’s labeled as “healthy.”
9. Sleep With the Sun
A really crucial point about Paleo is that it’s more than just a diet…it’s a lifestyle.
This and the following 2 paleo diet rules are geared toward helping you live a paleo lifestyle.
For most of human history, we slept when the sun went down and awoke when the sun came up. Our circadian rhythm is still based on this. And having a messed up circadian rhythm can disrupt your metabolic system, lead to increased weight, and make you more hungry.
How can you combat this with a Paleo lifestyle? First, go to bed earlier, sleep at least 7 hours (8 or more hours is better), and get up with the sunrise and go out and get some light first thing in the morning. This helps to reset your internal circadian rhythm.
Wear blue-blocking glasses at night around the house to block out the part of the light spectrum that tells your body it’s still daytime.
Sleep in complete darkness. That means getting blackout blinds, make sure your clocks are covered, and you don’t have tiny lights anywhere in your room.
And keep your bedroom cool – new research suggests that this may be more important than we previously thought.
For many people, getting this rule down is really tough. We’re constantly bombarded with new information, new ideas, new thoughts, and it can be tough to switch off the TV and switch off your mind at night.
So, consider getting 7+ hours per night of quality sleep something to aim for once you have your Paleo diet in order.
10. Exercise Smartly
First, you don’t have to do CrossFit to be Paleo!
CrossFit is great if you have access to a good gym and you’re already in good enough shape to get started without injuring yourself. But whatever your current activity level, adding in more functional exercise is great as this paper by Frank Booth suggests.
From yoga and just walking to rock climbing and interval sprints.
And if you can, add in some weight-lifting to your workout regimen. Lifting weights not only builds muscle but also strengthens your bones and can help prevent future injuries from occuring.
If you haven’t done weight-lifting before, then definitely get a trainer or join a CrossFit where they can teach you how to do it safely. And check out these 6 tips from Harvard Medical School on safe strength training.
I left the toughest one for last.
If I had a miracle solution for de-stressing, I’d share it with you. But I know I still get frantically stressed on some days despite years of trying to de-stress.
If you follow all of the above Paleo diet rules, then you’ll already be doing a great job of de-stressing your body.
And here are a few additional things you can try for de-stressing:
- Meditation – There are many different types of meditation, but it doesn’t need to be religious or mystical. Check out this short guided meditation from Eckhart Tolle on Youtube.
- Walking in nature – A 2015 study a 90-minute walk in nature can help your mind calm down.
- Breathing techniques – deep breathing can invoke the relaxation response. This Harvard Medical School article explains more.
But ultimately, you control your mind and it’s up to you to start seeing events that “happen to you” in a different light.
READY TO BEGIN YOUR PALEO DIET?
Now that you know all the intricacies of the 10 Paleo diet rules, are you ready to get started?
If those rules were a bit too much to take in, then just remember that a Paleo diet seeks to maximize our nutrient intake and minimize toxins both in our food and in our environment.
Get started today by just clearing out your pantry and fridge. Throw away the pasta, the cake mix, your bag of sugar, and all the pre-packaged foods you have in your fridge.
Then go to the store and load up with vegetables, fruits, seafood, and meats.
You know that as with any lifestyle, even if you know it’s the right thing for you to do, life will get in the way tomorrow. And then your health and weight will just sit there. Who knows how long it’ll be again before you’ll do something positive about it.
So, get started today on Paleo, while you’re motivated and excited.
And once you pull the trigger, even if you’re not so excited tomorrow or next week, you’ve already committed and have delicious Paleo foods waiting for you in the fridge daily.
For an easy way to get started right away, jump into our 2017 28-Day Pure Paleo Reset. It’s an amazing way to reset your body – we’ll guide you step-by-step through everything so you don’t get overwhelmed. And yep, there’s a meal plan and recipe book so you won’t be kept wondering what to eat.
You can check it out here: 28-Day Pure Paleo Reset
IS PALEO SAFE?
Much of the original idea behind the Paleo diet originates from studying Paleolithic eaters as well as modern hunter gatherer tribes (like the Kitavans based on Staffan Lindeberg’s research). So, effectively Paleo is a diet that has been eaten by humans for millions of years – we’ve simply modernized it a bit.
The main criticism of Paleo diets (like that put forth by Ferris Jabr in a Scientific American article) is that we modern Paleo dieters clearly do not eat like the hunter gatherer ancestors we’re trying to emulate. While that’s completely true, the fact is I have no intention of living like a hunter gatherer. The modern Paleo diet is an attempt to be practical while using both modern and ancestral knowledge about diet and nutrition. And that’s a point that critics like Jabr often seem confused about.
When you read articles about the safety of a Paleo diet, the main issues non-Paleo dietitians and nutritionists point to is the lack of calcium intake (when no dairy is consumed), the higher saturated fat intake, and it’s silly to eliminate a whole food group. So, let’s examine if there’s any truth to these claims.
1. A Paleo diet leads to calcium deficiency
Because most versions of a Paleo diet recommends avoiding dairy, nutritionist often complain that Paleo dieters will be deficient in dairy.
The rise in osteoporosis in the US makes many people fear that giving up dairy will have negative impacts on their bones. But, this is simply not true.
While dairy products are a great source of calcium, so are many green-leafy vegetables, bone broth, seeds, nuts, and bone-in fish like canned sardines. As Registered Dietitian Laura Schoenfeld points out: “If you had two cups of leafy greens and a can of bone-in sardines in one day, you’d already have eaten around 840 mg of calcium. Add in some herbs and spices, and 2 ounces of almonds, and you’d be at the 1,000 mg mark easily.”
It’s also important to understand that different things in our body work together – for example, both Vitamin D and the mineral, magnesium, are required for the body to use calcium and without these, calcium won’t be absorbed properly.
However, if you’re drinking skimmed milk fortified with vitamin D, then you’re probably not absorbing the vitamin D or the calcium in the milk. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and requires fat to be absorbed. So fat-free milk won’t help you get vitamin D. And if you don’t have enough vitamin D, then you can’t absorb the calcium in the milk either! And Vitamin K and magnesium are required by your body for it to use calcium properly.
And if you’re taking calcium supplementation, then please be aware that it might not be working as well as you think. And calcium supplementation can also be potentially dangerous. A 2010 study involving more than 12,000 participants found that calcium supplementation (without coadministered vitamin D) increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and death.
So skip the fortified foods, eat real foods, and add in more of the leafy greens and fish that’s I’ve already pointed out is highly nutritious.
2. Saturated fats are dangerous and Paleo dieters eat too much meat
As I’ve already pointed out earlier, saturated fats are not the enemy. Eating food high in saturated fats (like red meat) doesn’t raise most people’s cholesterol levels. And Paleo experts (like Dr. Loren Cordain) who original advocated for lean meat have since reversed their positions after additional research has come to light.
3. You need carbohydrates
Many people think of Paleo as a low carb diet (like Atkins). And if you have blood sugar issues, then you might want to do a lower carb version of Paleo (without the sweet potatoes or raw honey or fruits). But generally, Paleo is not the same as low carb or ketogenic diets. Sweet potatoes, fruits, vegetables all contain carbohydrates (in different forms, including starches, fructose, glucose). But most vegetables including tubers are considered safe starches on Paleo.
However, compared to the Standard American Diet (SAD), in which people probably eat 200-300 grams of net carbohydrates regularly each day, most Paleo dieters probably only eat 50-100 grams of net carbohydrates per day.
And while both protein and fats are necessary for our body to function, carbohydrates are not. As Mark Sisson has pointed out: there is no requirement for any “essential dietary carbohydrates” in human nutrition.
And the carbohydrates that our brains requires daily in the form of glucose can be made from our protein and fat intake.
As Robb Wolf states in The Paleo Solution, “our bodies can make all the carbohydrates it needs from protein and fat.”
However, when you first go Paleo and decrease your regular carbohydrate intake (you’d be surprised by how much carbohydrates are in processed foods like bread and pasta), your body may react as if it was in withdrawal. Many people call this “Carb Flu.” And that’s just your body transitioning from relying on carbohydrates for energy and switching over to burning your fat for energy instead.
Check out my tips at the end of this article for how to get over carb flu.
DOES PALEO WORK?
Apart from all the anecdotal stories you read on forums and blogs about amazing the Paleo diet is (from weight loss to curing diabetes and autoimmune conditions), there have also been a few scientific studies analyzing Paleo in depth.
Here are just some of them:
Paleolithic nutrition for metabolic syndrome: systematic review and meta-analysis (Am J Clin Nutr October 2015, vol. 102 no. 4 922-932)
Conclusion: “The Paleolithic diet resulted in greater pooled improvements than did control diets for our primary outcomes of waist circumference, triglycerides, blood pressure (systolic and diastolic), HDL cholesterol, and fasting blood sugar” compared to diets “based on distinct national nutrition guidelines.”
Metabolic and physiologic effects from consuming a hunter-gatherer (Paleolithic)-type diet in type 2 diabetes (Eur J Clin Nutr 2015 Aug, 69(8):944-8)
Conclusion: “Even short-term consumption of a Paleolithic-type diet improved glucose control and lipid profiles in people with type 2 diabetes compared with a conventional diet containing moderate salt intake, low-fat dairy, whole grains and legumes.”
Effects of a short-term intervention with a paleolithic diet in healthy volunteers (Eur J Clin Nutr 2008, 62(5):682-685)
Conclusion: This was a small study (only 14 people finished the study). But their mean weight, body mass index, waist circumference, systolic blood pressure and plasminogen activator inhibitor-1, intake of calories all decreased by 36%.
Comparison with ancestral diets suggests dense acellular carbohydrates promote an inflammatory microbiota, and may be the primary dietary cause of leptin resistance and obesity (Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes 2012, 5:175-89)
Conclusion: “The foods eaten by hunter-gatherers, non-cereal horticulturalists, and those following a modern Paleolithic or “primal” diet are sharply delineated from modern foods by their lower carbohydrate densities. Consumption of exclusively low-density carbohydrates is suggested to produce a less inflammatory GI microbiota, and may explain the apparent absence of overweight and metabolic disease in two of these groups, and the promising early data from the third.”
Long-term effects of a Palaeolithic-type diet in obese postmenopausal women: a 2-year randomized trial (Eur J Clin Nutr 2014, 68:350-357)
Conclusion: A Paleo diet has greater beneficial effects vs an Nordic Nutrition Recommendations diet regarding fat mass, abdominal obesity and triglyceride levels in obese postmenopausal women at least after 6 months. Measurements results taken after 24 months did not show quite as significant of a difference between the diets.
BENEFITS OF A PALEO DIET
- Weight-Loss – As you can see from the studies I listed above, one of the main benefits of a Paleo diet is weight loss (and in particular, fat loss). This is usually also accompanied by better blood markers and reduce blood sugar levels.
- No Sugar Crashes – most people on a Paleo diet find they gain energy (especially in the mornings) and their energy is sustained throughout the day. Sugar crashes are a thing of the past! This is often the result of eating less sugary foods (like toast, cereal, fruit juices) for breakfast. And avoiding high carb processed foods throughout the day.
- Healing of Digestive Issues like IBS, Bloating, Heartburn – as my personal story shows, eating Paleo can help heal a variety of digestive issues. Heartburn often goes away quickly for people when they start eating Paleo 100%. My heartburn now only returns if I cheat on Paleo. For IBS and bloating, they often take a bit longer to heal. And that’s often because there are deeper gut issues that need to be corrected. Working with a practitioner and doing tests to check for parasites, gut dysbiosis, and vitamin/mineral deficiencies can often help speed up the healing process.
- Better Quality Sleep – your body works in harmony. So when you eat better, you’ll often find that your sleep will also improve. This is often due to better blood sugar regulation. People who start taking care of their health will also start improving their lives in other related areas, and as I mentioned above, sleep is definitely part of the Paleo lifestyle.
- More Productivity and Energy – another consequence of not eating sugary processed foods is that you’ll find you have more energy (both mentally and physically). Many people find energy they never thought they’d have again – to play with their kids, to work on new businesses, to write books, to do what they’ve always wanted to do in life.
- Happier Moods – so much of our moods is caused by our brain chemistry. We have different neurotransmitters and hormones, and a delicate balance of them keeps us “happy.” A variety of different chemical processes in our body regulates these neurotransmitters and hormones, and these process can go out of balance if we’re missing just one essential vitamin or mineral. So if you feel happier on a Paleo diet, the diet didn’t perform any magic…it probably just restored some vitamins you’ve been missing from your diet for a long time!
- Less Joint Pain – most joint pain is caused by inflammation at the joints. And when you cut out inflammatory foods, the inflammation dies down, and the pain goes away. In particular, dairy products is often the culprit. So, if you’ve gone mostly Paleo but still have acne or joint pain, then try diving in 100% for 4 weeks and see if that solves the problem.
- Healing Blood Sugar Problems – many type 2 diabetics (like my dad) find that a lower-carb version of a Paleo diet really helps them control their blood sugar. In fact, many of them are able to go off their insulin after being on Paleo for a while.
- Healing of Autoimmune Conditions – autoimmunity (or autoimmune conditions) affect 50 million Americans. And these numbers are growing. Many people who suffer from autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, crohns, hashimotos, MS, angioedema often find that their symptoms improve on a Paleo diet. For some people, going on a Paleo autoimmune protocol helps them ever more.
This is clearly not a comprehensive list of all the reported benefits of a Paleo diet. But I hope it gives you some ideas as to what to expect when you go Paleo.
PALEO DIET RECIPES
Now we come to the yummy section of this article on What is Paleo!
There’s a huge selection of amazing Paleo recipes on the internet – we’ve complied a list of 215 Paleo Recipes (all freely available on the internet) here.
And if you’re looking for a cookbook, then check out my Essential Paleo Cookbook here (it’s available worldwide in both digital and physical print versions).
CAN YOU CHEAT ON A PALEO DIET?
Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.
– Wayne Dyer
You don’t need to cheat on a Paleo diet, but if you choose to eat a bowl of pasta or get a slice of pizza or chocolate cake, then recognize that you made that choice.
There’s no need to beat yourself up about not sticking to Paleo.
If you find Paleo helps you, then go back to eating well at your next meal. But please torture yourself with guilt.
I actually found cheating on Paleo made me want to stick to Paleo even more!
If I ate a cupcake I’d feel exhausted and get bloated. And it was a really good reminder of why I’ve stuck to Paleo for so long and how grateful I am to feel amazing most days.
What about 80-20 Paleo?
You might have also come across the concept of 80/20 Paleo.
The term “80/20” originated from Vilfredo Pareto, who noticed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by only 20% of the population. He investigated more and found that in general 80% of the effects you get come from 20% of the actions/causes.
Unfortunately, in the Paleo world, this 80-20 concept is misunderstood as eat Paleo 80% of the time and eat what you want 20% of the time.
I’m personally not a fan of this concept as it creates the mentality of depriving yourself 80% of the time and gorging yourself the other 20% of the time.
If the 80-20 concept of Paleo helps you get started with the diet, then great, but please don’t see Paleo as depriving yourself. Paleo is a diet that gives your new life – it gives your body the nutrients it’s been missing for so long and gives you back the energy and joy you deserve in life.
SHOULD YOU TRY PALEO? THE PROS AND CONS
Cons on a Paleo diet:
1. Paleo is hard to stick to
Look, I’m not telling you Paleo is easy in our modern world. You don’t have hours to spend cooking daily. And you want to be able to eat out with friends. I get it!
That’s why at Paleo Flourish we try to take a practical approach to Paleo.
We provide you with easy and quick to prepare meals that make use of simple cooking techniques and common ingredients. We also give you tips on cooking faster and more delicious Paleo meals.
And when you fall off the wagon, we don’t judge you. And neither should you!
Just because Paleo isn’t easy doesn’t mean it’s not worth it!
As Henry David Thoreau puts it: “What is called genius is the abundance of life and health.”
Or as Buddha puts it: “Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.”
Or as the Christian author and speaker Joyce Meyer puts it: “I believe that the greatest gift you can give your family and the world is a healthy you.”
You probably get the gist…your health is worth it…so putting in a bit of extra work to get healthy shouldn’t put you off Paleo.
2. Paleo is expensive
This is another common excuse people use. Yes, organic fruits and veg and grass-fed beef is definitely more costly than the conventional meats and produce. But even if you just buy regular fruits and vegetables and conventional meats, you’ll still be better off than eating processed foods!
And you’ll be surprised by how cheap vegetables can be – try to buy in season and buy in bulk. Buying frozen is another great trick for saving money – and frozen vegetables and meats are often just as nutritious or even more nutritious than fresh produce.
For lots more tips on how to eat Paleo without spending a fortune, check out our free Kindle ebook, 31 Proven Ways To Spend Way Less Money On A Paleo Diet.
3. You can’t eat out
When you first start a Paleo diet, eating out seems seriously tough. You’ll be tempted by the pasta and the pizza and the burgers, and don’t even get started on the beer and dessert that you have to miss out on.
In fact, you often spend the meal debating whether you should cave in and just get that brownie.
But believe me, it gets much easier pretty fast as long as you bear a few things in mind.
- First, pick a restaurant where you know you can find something Paleo – you’d be surprised at how easy it is to find Paleo foods at steakhouses, diners, and even Chinese restaurants. Occasionally, you’ll have to compromise on eating some seed oils (but why not try asking if they have olive oil they can cook your food in).
- Look at the menu before you eat out. That way you know in advance what you’ll be ordering so you won’t be tempted by the pasta or the sandwich options.
- Let your friends and dining companions know that you’re doing Paleo and ask for their support on your new journey. Who knows – you might even influence them to get a salad for dinner instead of a pizza!
- And if your dietary restrictions are really strict (e.g., you’re on the Paleo autoimmune protocol (AIP)), then try joining your friends at the end of the meal so you can still hang out with them without eating and drinking foods that will make you sick.
For more tips on eating out on a Paleo diet, check out our post, 18 Tips for Eating Out Like a Paleo Pro.
Pros of a Paleo diet:
- You lose weight, feel more alive, look better, and heal many long-term health problems
- You learn to cook
- You learn to read food labels
- You learn about your body and your mind
- You de-stress and relax more
6 TIPS FOR GETTING STARTED ON PALEO
I get emails from a lot of people who get started on Paleo and then get stuck on different issues, so these last tips will hopefully help you through your Paleo diet with as few hiccups as possible. That way, you can just enjoy the results of Paleo!
- Drink plenty of water. Many headaches or feelings of tiredness or hunger can be quickly cured just by drinking more water!
- Don’t be afraid of salt. Most processed foods are filled with sodium. But unprocessed foods contain way less. It’s why humans in the past loved salt mines! We actually need salts and when you first switch to a real food diet, you might not eat enough salt because we’ve been told to fear it so much. So, add enough salt to your meat and veggies so that you can enjoy their taste.
- Watch out for Carb/Paleo flu. When people first cut out so many high carbohydrate foods (like bread, pasta, sugar), they often find themselves in carb withdrawal (also known as carb flu). This usually only lasts for a week or so. So if you’re tired, you have trouble focusing your mind, or if you feel really hungry, then check out this article on carb flu and how to cure it.
- Don’t be afraid to eat more initially – many people cut out all the bread, pasta, desserts they used to eat but don’t add any new Paleo foods into their diet. So what happens is that they go really hungry and wonder why Paleo is so hard to stick to.
- Start slowly. Know yourself and what triggers you. If you always need a sweet after dinner, then maybe you want to create a new routine of going for a walk right after dinner and then treating yourself with an epsom bath to break the habit.
- If you have questions or are unsure about anything, just email us. I’ll try my best to answer! Don’t forget to sign up for our Paleo diet food list – I’ll also email you helpful tips and useful knowledge so that you can enjoy and stick to Paleo as painlessly as possible.
The 5 Pillars of A Paleo Diet – Infographic
ADDITIONAL PALEO RESOURCES
Food and Western Disease: Health and Nutrition from an Evolutionary Perspective – book by Staffan Lindeberg
Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human – book by Richard Wrangham
Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live – book by Marlene Zuk
The Paleolithic Prescription: A Program of Diet and Exercise and a Design for Living – book by S. Boyd, M.D. Eaton, Marjorie Shostak, Melvin Konner
Evolution’s Bite: A Story of Teeth, Diet, and Human Origins – book by Peter Ungar
Answers To Paleo Quiz:
(1) D (2) A (3) E (4) F
Clever, quick, clear and easy explanation for the Paleo-curious. Love the graphics. Thanks for providing scientific references. Good work!
Just one comment: I’m all grown up and I don’t refer to myself as a cavegirl. I’m a cavewoman all the way. ; -)