What is the Paleo Diet?
You can call it the Paleo Diet or the Ancestral Diet. I like to call it Eating Real Food. But “Your Eating Real Food Tribe” just didn’t roll off the tongue. I don’t really like calling this a “diet” because that implies that it’s something that you do for a while, lose some weight, then go back to what you were doing before. I’ve been eating real food for about five years now and I’ll eat real food for the rest of my life.
The idea behind Paleo is that the majority of the foods that you’ll find today in your supermarket do not resemble what our ancestors ate. They’re not even close. They are so different that our bodies respond to them in very negative ways. Some that you might find hard to believe. These manufactured foods that the majority of Americans eat (known as the Standard American Diet, or SAD), cause many health issues for many reasons. Some minor, some major. And some take many years to take their toll. Eating real food changes that because the foods you will eat closely resemble what your ancestors ate. Your body will respond in very positive ways!
In this short primer, I’ll answer some common questions and explain some of the reasons behind the Paleo diet. I’ll also explain why those manufactured substances in SAD foods cause so many problems. In other posts I’ll delve into specifics on many topics.
What do you mean by “Real Food”
I mean food that is as close to its natural form as possible. Fresh vegetables,grass fed beef, pasture raised chickens and pork and a little bit of fresh fruit. Real Food is food that has not been extracted, extruded, broken down into chemical elements and reassembled, genetically modified, rinsed with solvents or scientifically altered to make it more palatable. Real food has been grown and raised in a way that is as close as possible to what’s found in nature. Here’s what’s not natural: Factory farmed meat (grown in feedlots, huge hog barns and huge chicken coops). Nuts that have been soaked in vegetable oil and cooked are not natural. Boxed cereals are not natural. Sodas, vegetable oils, sugars, artificial sweeteners, etc. all are not natural and they are not what your body needs and craves to be healthy.
What should I focus on first?
There are two common approaches to the Paleo diet. Do everything at once, or take baby steps in eliminating some foods, and adding more real food to your diet. Programs like Whole30 and 30/10 are the former. Those work great for some people but I know that for others, those “all-in” approaches are really tough. So if you want to make changes, and do them gradually, focus on these things first:
Cut back and then eliminate vegetable oils.
With just a few exceptions, vegetable oils and seed oils cause many health issues and should be eliminated. Corn Oil, “Vegetable Oil”, Canola Oil, Soybean Oil, Crisco and cooking sprays in a can. The only oils you should use are Organic Coconut Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Avocado Oil.
The next step is to eliminate processed foods with vegetable oils in them. Crackers, cookies, breads, etc. all have vegetable oils in them. This won’t be easy: You’ll be surprised how many of the things you’ve been eating have vegetable oil in the ingredients list.
Cut back and then eliminate sugars.
You need to eliminate white sugar, brown sugar and artificial sweeteners. They're more than just "empty calories" have a very negative effect on your overall health.
Stop drinking sodas and juices and sugary teas (yes, even diet sodas)
Eliminate processed foods with added sugars. As with vegetable oils, you’ll find that most of the packaged, processed foods in your cupboards have sugar in them. And they have many different names: Sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, etc.
Cut back and then eliminate grains. Why? <link to article>
Grains have anti-nutrients in them. That is, they prevent your body from absorbing nutrients from other foods. There are many options to grains that are very nutritious and healthy.
There are tasty alternatives to your morning toast or bagel. Pizza and pastas don't need to be the center of your lunches and dinners. I’ll provide lots of meal ideas so you can eliminate grains easily.
If you look at the “Big Three” above, you’ll notice one thing that’s common to all three. Packaged, processed foods. Eliminate those from your cupboards and shopping basket and you’re 80% there. When you go grocery shopping, unless you’re looking for spices or coffee, stay out of the middle aisles in the store. You’ll find all the real food around the perimeter of the store… produce, meats and eggs.
So I can’t eat bread or cheese or pasta?
What will I eat?
I hear this a lot: “But I love bread! I love cheese! I won’t give those up!”
Among the biggest challenges to eating nothing but real food is realizing that a lot of what you have been eating, and need to stop eating, is not real food.
I know. It’s hard. I made the transition and remember it well. I used to make homemade bread. I’d make homemade pizza… I made the pizza dough and crust myself. I recall sitting in restaurants when the waiters would come by and place that nice, fragrant basket of warm bread on the table. For a while I really wanted that bread. Sometimes I’d have some. Now. I just don’t care. I don’t want it any more. It took a while, maybe a year. It’s hard to remember. But now I just don’t care if I ever have bread again.
But our ancestors ate bread!
Well, okay… some of our more recent ancestors did. Like a few hundred or maybe a few thousand years ago. They ate a little bit every once in awhile. But it was very different from the breads we eat today. And they ate a lot less of it. Think about how bread was made before we had huge fields of wheat, enormous combines to harvest, thresh and winnow the wheat, huge mills to grind the wheat and huge factories to bake the bread. Our ancestors had very small fields to grow the wheat. They harvested that wheat by hand, they dried the wheat in the sun, they would thresh the wheat by beating the crap out of it on the hard ground. Then they’d winnow it but tossing it in the air to separate the wheat from the chaff. Then they’d grind it with a millstone powered by humans or maybe donkeys. I think you get the idea. It was really, really hard to make bread in ancient cultures. They did not have toast and pancakes for breakfast, crackers or bagels for a snack, sandwiches for lunch, pizza or pasta for dinner and cake for dessert. And wheat isn’t just in bread and crackers. It’s used as an additive in many other foods because it’s cheap filler.
Can I just eat gluten free foods instead?
No <more soon>
What our ancestors ate
One of the arguments against the Paleo diet is that it’s impossible to eat what humans ate in the paleolithic era (from about 2.6 million years ago to 10,000 years ago). That’s true. Humans have changed the earth in substantial ways in the last few hundred years. Our soil is different and has been depleted of minerals. The fruit and vegetables are different because hybrids have been grown to improve yields and shelf life and how nice they look. And you can’t go into your local supermarket and buy fresh antelope. But you can find wild fish, grass fed beef, pasture raised pork, pasture raised chicken and eggs, organic vegetables and organic fruits. If you know a hunter, or if you hunt yourself, you can get fresh venison or elk. These foods are much, much closer to what our ancestors ate than something that is made in a factory and put in a box and can sit on a shelf for 2 years before it expires. Think about that last one… a shelf life of 2 years?? Right there is a great way to judge what foods are real. If they spoil in a few days or a week, they’re real.