The recent surge in its popularity has led many people to ask the question; what is a paleo diet? A paleo or Paleolithic diet is also referred to as a Stone Age diet or caveman diet. This diet consists of foods presumed to have been consumed by early humans (Paleolithic humans).
Although the modern interpretations of this diet are widely variable, it has several key aspects that are common across the board. Basically, it involves the incorporation of all lean meats, fruits, non-starch vegetables (vegetables without complex carbohydrates), nuts and tubers.
All processed foods, dairy products, legumes, cereals and other foods cultivated after the development of agriculture are to be avoided. Walter voegtlin was among the earliest champions of this type of diet in the 1970s but it was largely popularized by the best-selling books written by Loren Cordain. In order to properly understand this diet, you must know about its key aspects.
Key Aspects Of The Paleo Diet
The diet recommends that you consume a relatively high amount of protein compared to that found in the typical American diet. The bulk of these proteins come from lean meats. By definition, nearly all types of meats are Paleolithic.
However, dieters are advised to stay away from highly processed meat and meat that is high in saturated fats. The lean meat in the paleo diet include poultry, pork, turkey, lean beef, lamb, shrimp, rabbit, goat, buffalo, venison, salmon and eggs.
You eat fewer carbohydrates than is recommended by most modern diets. Complex carbohydrates are excluded while simple carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables are preferred. The diet also recommends a high consumption of fiber.
Saturated fats are typically frowned upon while moderate consumption of monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats is encouraged. Dieters should also consume equal amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
The majority of foods are rich in vitamins, antioxidants, plant phytochemicals and trace minerals. The diet favors foods that are high in potassium over those that have high sodium content. It is also important to note that the diet substitutes some food additives.
Salt is replaced with powdered onion, lemon pepper, powdered garlic, black pepper, turmeric, cayenne pepper or cumin. Butter, shortening, lard and margarine is replace with olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, mustard seed oil, walnut oil and flax seed oil. All cereals can be replaced with a nut flour substitute.
4 Main Benefits of a Paleo Diet
Many dietitians and scientists are still divided over the impact of the paleo diet on the health of modern day humans. This is mainly because of the lack of adequate data and research to conclusively account for the effects of this diet.
However, part of the available data suggests that the stone-age diet does have several health benefits to offer. Below is a comprehensive account on some of these benefits.
1. It Improve Cardiovascular Health
High protein diets have been shown to be significantly more effective at lowering low density lipoproteins (LDL) than even low-fat high carbohydrate diets. If there are too many lipids present in your blood in the form of LDL, there is a greater chance the cholesterol will deposit itself in the walls of your arteries, reducing the rate of blood flow to your heart and increasing the coronary heart diseases (CHDs) risk.
The paleo diet increases high density lipoproteins (HDL) which bring cholesterol back from the body tissues to the liver for further degradation. This process is known as reverse cholesterol transport and helps in the reduction of cholesterol in the bloodstream.
This diet is also good for coronary health since it favors potassium over sodium. A diet rich in potassium and low in sodium prevents arterial hypertension, angina, arrhythmia, strokes, heart failure, heart attacks and even cancer.
2. It Aids In Weight Loss
The paleo diet is especially good for weight loss programs due its fruit, vegetable, fiber and tuber content. The fruits recommended in the paleo diet are essential foods for anyone’s weight loss efforts. They help in keeping your appetite at bay while at the same time providing essential nutrients.
Many modern diets today tend to focus on the incorporation of fewer calories and thus people miss out on the beneficial aspect of high fiber fruits. Certain fruits take longer to be digested and leave you feeling satisfied longer. Leafy vegetables also have the same effect.
Pepper is also a favored food item in this diet. Pepper contains a substance called capsaicin. Capsaicin has been proven to aid thermo genesis, which is the rate at which your body burns fats. It achieves this by converting white fats to brown fats.
Brown fats help burn calories faster in order to produce heat. Capsaicin also aids in appetite suppression and reduces cravings. Additionally, it has been shown to considerably lessen the effects of any dietary fats through the inhibition of fat accumulation.
The paleo diet recommends a high intake of tubers such as yams, cassavas and sweet potatoes. These high fiber foods have low glycemic indices. This means that they stay in your digestive tract longer and therefore leave you feeling full for hours. They are also very low in calories.
The lean proteins facilitate the proper development of muscles. Muscles burn calories even when your body is at rest thus helping you lose weight faster. They also provide a constant supply of energy that will enable you to exercise more effectively thus realizing success in weight loss programs.
3. Provides Essential Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are urgently needed by your body in small amounts in order to maintain good health. The paleo diet provides the recommended amount of these fatty acids. They are very important for cell health, hormone production, proper function of the immune system, proper function of the brain and nervous system, eye health, digestive tract health and prevention of CHDs.
4. Combats Inflammation
The paleo diet is rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins and phytochemicals that function to reduce inflammation. Free radicals are known to cause substantial damage to skin cells and induce inflammation.
Anti-oxidant such as vitamin C, beta-carotene, folic acid and flavonoids are very effective against these free radicals. Moreover, omega-6 fatty acids and especially Gamma-Linoleic acid (GLA) are known for their strong anti-inflammatory properties. A paleo diet can therefore help with dermatological and respiratory conditions.
There are numerous other benefits of the paleo diet such as reducing fatigue, improving joint health, normalizing bowel function, improving insulin metabolism and preventing sugar spikes. Incorporating some of its aspects and regular exercise will go a long way in improving your overall health.
What Do You Think?
Think the paleo diet is right for you? Tell us why you think it is (or isn’t!) in the comments below.