What is Paleo Anyway?
In this day and age, a lot of fad diets and “superfood” names are thrown around, all promising to be the next big thing in weight loss. Most of these so-called diets, however, are not healthy, depriving you of some essential vitamins or food groups. In an age where these diets are tossed around so haphazardly, it’s hard to tell a good diet from a bad one. One of the diet names that has been mentioned a lot lately is Paleo. Is it a fad or is there some real science behind it? Paleo is a diet consisting mostly of high-protein and low-carb options. The name “Paleo” comes from the “Paleolithic Era,” a time period in human history where we were hunter-gatherers.
About 20,000 years ago, humans didn’t have agriculture or domesticated farm animals. They ate what they could gather or hunt, such as seeds, fruits, vegetables, fish, and meat. Their diet was varied and healthy. About 15,000 years ago, however, humans discovered farming, and it changed everything. Our diets became more carb-heavy and food became more plentiful, allowing our ancestors to eat more, and more frequently. Not only this, but domesticated animals brought milk and cheese to our dinner tables. Before this, humans only got milk from their mothers while they were infants. According to the tenets of the Paleo system, these changes were not beneficial for the human race.
So what exactly is okay in Paleo anyway? One of the main truisms of Paleo is “Does it have a face?” If so, it’s okay to eat. Additionally some nuts, fruits, and non-starchy vegetables are all allowed. The Paleo diet excludes flour, wheat, milk, milk products, sugar, legumes, and other agricultural and processed items. Paleo can sometimes be confused with gluten-free or Atkins diets, but they don’t always see eye-to-eye. Since Atkins can exclude many fruits and veggies, and gluten-free only removes wheat products from the diet, Paleo is a much broader diet change and still has the variety needed to be considered a well-rounded diet.
Kim Hill, a professor of Anthropology at ASU, completed a landmark research study of the Hiwi, a nomadic group of hunter-gatherers living in South America. People of this lifestyle live longer, healthier lives, because of the gathering-centric lifestyle. They rely on meats and nuts for healthy fats, and fruits and vegetables for vitamins and minerals. Also, the gatherer lifestyle is one of movement; their daily intake of exercise far exceeds the limits of the average American.
However, as modern society and modern food encroach on the Hiwi’s lifestyle, their virility begins to fade. The hunter-gatherers still move at the same rate, but are taking in more processed foods and sugars, which has greatly shortened their lifespans and made them more and more like their unhealthy, “civilized” counterparts.The reasoning above is evidence as to why the Paleo diet seeks to remove processed foods, and get back to basics. Back to the meats and fish, back to the hand-picked, unprocessed goodness of raw fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Some variations of the Paleo diet allow for raw, unprocessed versions of honey, some grains, and even chocolate.
Although you may not be ready to go full Paleo, there are a few things you can do to make healthy adjustments in your life to get closer to our original diet. Try replacing processed sugar with unprocessed sugars or honey. Try replacing carbs with veggie versions, such as cauliflower pizza dough. Bake sweet potato fries in coconut oil, instead of making deep fried potatoes in over-processed vegetable oil. Switch out your peanut butter for almond butter. Find unprocessed and raw versions of your favorite foods, or make them from scratch with real ingredients. Look up Paleo cookbooks and recipes online. However, the most important thing you can do to incorporate Paleo into your everyday life is to move. Exercise is always the key to a long, healthy life.
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