You may have heard of the "Paleo Diet." It was the world's most popular diet in 2013 and it is still going strong. That Whole 30 craze? It's Paleo.
But what exactly is it? Is it a fad? Is it right for you? And how is it different from Keto?
The name “paleo” is from the “paleolithic” time when earlier humans (thousands of years ago) were hunters and gatherers. It is thought to represent the era of nutrition before agriculture.
Scientist and "Paleo Mom" Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D. defines it as:
“The Paleo diet is a nutrient-dense whole foods diet based on eating a variety of quality meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. It improves health by providing balanced and complete nutrition while avoiding most processed and refined foods and empty calories.”
I was first introduced to Paleo when I underwent treatment for candida. That was 12 years ago. I did it and moved on, loosely applying what I wanted to follow in my own dietary regime. However, it wasn’t until my daughter was diagnosed with an auto-inflammatory disease that I went back to Paleo, digging deeper into my understanding and re-applying the principles at home. The impact on my daughter’s health (in combination with gut healing protocol) was amazing.
It can be for you too.
What you can (and can’t) eat on the Paleo Diet
Like any nutritional program, Paleo has food guidelines. The “Paleo Diet” was created to increase the amount of whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods while reducing the number of gut-disrupting, hormone-disrupting inflammatory foods.
There is a pretty wide variety of food to choose from on Paleo. You can include fruit, vegetables, eggs, nuts, seeds, meat (including organ meats), seafood, healthy fats, fermented foods, herbs and spices.
Paleo excludes processed and refined foods (e.g. sugar, vegetable oils, artificial sweeteners, etc.), grains (e.g. wheat, oats, rice, etc.), dairy and most legumes (e.g. beans, lentils, peanuts, etc.). It does so strategically because these foods are known to cause inflammation in the gut, increase intestinal permeability and over stimulate the immune system. These three side effects can negatively impact your overall health.
If this sounds overwhelming, think of Paleo as a "template," rather than a strict set of rules. It’s a nutrition program that is easy to maintain, and with little to no negative side effects. There is no measuring or counting of calories or carbs. And there are plenty of delicious and nutritious foods to choose from.
Meal ideas are endless - fresh, stewed, souped, eggs, smoothies, grilled, sautéed. You can even bake with almond or coconut flours. You name it, you can create it.
Before jumping into Paleo, I often ask clients to do an anti-inflammatory nutritional cleanse so that the liver gets a bit of a break from processed foods and they can ease into change. I find the compliance for sticking with paleo is higher when you make slow change. Giving up breads and grains overnight is not realistic for most people.
Paleo differs from Keto because it allows for MORE carbohydrates - plant foods. There is no restriction on carb intake, like there is with a true Keto program. The emphasis is also on high quality fats vs bacon, chicken skin or pork rinds.
Many proponents of Paleo even encourage experimentation by adding in a few of the healthy whole foods on the exclusion list from time to time. High-quality dairy, brown rice or potatoes in moderation can be considered with less restrictive forms of a Paleo regime. This is the path my daughter now takes - having reset her gut health and dramatically reduced inflammation.
How does the Paleo Diet affect health?
Here's my position. If you're going to stay away from certain foods, you should have a really good reason why, and not just because it's trendy.
Several clinical studies have been done to determine the health benefits of Paleo. The benefits are numerous:
It can improve the risk factors for heart disease.
It has been shown to reduce inflammation, improve glucose tolerance and even reduce symptoms of autoimmune disease.
It’s thought to be “gut-friendly” because it includes a lot of high-fiber foods (i.e. fruits, vegetables, nuts & seeds), fermented foods (which contain gut-friendly probiotics), as well as being full of nutritious natural foods.
Research shows Paleo can help with weight loss and belly fat. Belly fat is a risk factor for heart disease.
Who should consider the Paleo Diet?
I recommend Paleo for:
Food sensitivities, allergies, overactive immune system (that’s me)
Eczema or other skin issues
High risk for heart disease
The paleo diet is based on what hunters and gatherers ate thousands of years ago. It is a whole-food based, nutrient-dense diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, eggs, nuts, seeds, meat, seafood, and fermented foods.
Science has shown that it can help some people to lose weight, reduce risks of heart disease, improve glucose tolerance, and reduce inflammation.
At the very least, eliminating added sugars, processed, and refined foods are a great goal, even if you decide not to “go Paleo.”