What is the Paleo Diet?

paleo-dietOne diet that has come into focus in recent years because of its ability to produce quick results is the Paleolithic (Paleo) Diet. The concept behind the diet is that those following the guidelines should stick to consuming only what was available to people during the Paleolithic era, such as lean meat, fish, vegetables and fruits while excluding grains, dairy and other heavily processed foods that did not exist in past eras. By doing this, those following the diet program cut out some of the major culprits in causing heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses that can be related to lifestyle and diet.

The Rationale Behind the Paleo Diet

The reasoning behind the Paleo Diet is very simple to understand. For hundreds of thousands of years, humans were hunters and gatherers who lived off the land around them. While there’s no way to know exactly what health conditions were prevalent at the time, the diet they consumed is the diet that the human digestive system became optimized for to during its evolution.

The addition of grains, sugars and dairy over the past few thousands years have led to an increased prevalence in heart disease, obesity and other serious issues. Many modern diseases can be avoided outright through adherence to a healthy whole-food diet that excludes grain, sugar and dairy.

The Benefits of the Paleo Diet

Like most diets, one of the intended results of the program is weight loss. Unlike some others, the Paleo Diet also provides a healthy nutrient base that allows the body to gain muscle with regular physical activity.

Many people following the program report an increase in their energy levels, a decrease in feelings of stress and negative emotion, improvement in chronic skin conditions, improved sleep habits, an increase in their tooth and bone strength, fewer digestive difficulties, an increase in fertility, greater resistance to illness and a decrease in symptoms of aging.

Those with chronic illnesses following the program have noted that type 2 diabetes, heart problems and digestive disorders like Celiac, Crohn’s, irritable bowel syndrome and others showed improvement when the program was followed. These benefits are attained through the elimination of unhealthy refined sugars, grains and trans fats that the body was never intended to consume and which can cause inflammation and disease.

The Easiest Paleo Foods

People starting the Paleo Diet are often on the lookout for easy foods to help them make the transition into a healthier diet. Fortunately, a lot of the lean proteins and healthy fruits and vegetables that the program recommends are available at most local grocery stores. Some easy foods to aid in a transition to the Paleo Diet include:

  • Eggs
  • Raw celery
  • Tomato
  • Broccoli
  • Cucumber
  • Avocado
  • Dark greens
  • Sweet potato
  • Carrot
  • Summer, Autumn and Winter squashes
  • Fruits with a low glycemic index
  • Tree nuts and seeds
  • Fungi
  • Lean game, beef, pork, poultry, fish and shellfish cooked by grilling over a flame

Getting Started With Paleo

Kick-starting the Paleo Diet can be a big transition for people used to eating an unhealthy diet. For those who are already eating healthily but still need to cut out a few problem foods, the transition is easier. The key to getting started is being willing to phase out things that aren’t part of the program.

Many people find success by going through their cupboards, pantry and refrigerator, collecting items that aren’t compatible for the diet. Food doesn’t need to be wasted – see if a friend or family member, especially one that might be struggling with providing for themselves or their loved ones, can use the food you’re not planning on eating. This will leave plenty of room for replenishing the food supply with Paleo-friendly products.

Users should gear their Paleo plan around the diet friendly foods that work for them, starting with things they already like in appropriate portion sizes. A grilled chicken breast over a spinach salad made with avocado oil and balsamic vinegar is a great start. Dieters can then build up to trying new foods and experimenting with tastes and cooking methods that work for them and for their lifestyle.

Proven Benefits of Paleo

Anecdotal evidence says Paleo works, but so do a number of studies performed by scientists and nutritionists. One study performed by the University of Lund Department of Medicine determined that the Paleo diet improves glucose tolerance more than another popular diet program, the Mediterranean diet in people suffering from ischaemic heart disease.

The Department of Clinical Sciences at the University of Lund also determined that the Paleo diet produced greater loss of weight and body mass than the the Diabetes diet.

More Studies on the Paleolithic Diet

Frassetto, et al. Metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009.

Details: nine healthy individuals consumed a paleolithic diet for 10 days. Calories were controlled to ensure that they wouldn’t lose weight. There was no control group.

Health Effects:

  • Total Cholesterol went down by 16%
  • LDL Cholesterol went down by 22%
  • Triglycerides went down by 35%
  • Insulin AUC went down by 39%
  • Diastolic Blood Pressure went down by 3.4 mmHg.

Ryberg, et al. A Palaeolithic-type diet causes strong tissue-specific effects on ectopic fat deposition in obese postmenopausal women. Journal of Internal Medicine, 2013.

Details: ten healthy women with a BMI over 27 consumed a modified paleolithic diet for 5 weeks. There was no control group. Main outcomes measured were liver fat, muscle cell fat and insulin sensitivity.

Weight Loss: The women lost an average of 4.5 kg (9.9 lbs) and had an 8 cm (3.1 inches) reduction in waist circumference.

Liver and Muscle Fat: The fat content of liver and muscle cells are a risk factor for metabolic disease. In this study, the women had an average reduction in liver fat of 49%, but no significant effect on the fat content of muscle cells.

  • Blood pressure went down from an average of 125/82 mmHg to 115/75 mmHg, although it was only statistically significant for diastolic blood pressure (the lower number)
  • Fasting blood sugars decreased by 6.35 mg/dL (0.35 mmol/L) and fasting insulin levels decreased by 19%
  • Total cholesterol decreased by 33 mg/dL (0.85 mmol/L)
  • Triglycerides went down by 35 mg/dL (0.39 mmol/L)
  • LDL cholesterol went down by 25 mg/dL (0.65 mmol/L)
  • HDL cholesterol decreased by 7 mg/dL (0.18 mmol/L)
  • ApoB decreased by 129 mg/L (14.3%)

Jonsson T, et al. Beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: a randomized cross-over pilot study. Cardiovascular Diabetology, 2009.

Details: thirteen individuals with type 2 diabetes were placed on either a paleolithic diet or a typical Diabetes diet in a cross-over study. They were on each diet for 3 months at a time.

Weight Loss: On the paleo diet, the participants lost 3 kg (6.6 lbs) more weight and lost 4 cm (1.6 inches) more off of their waistlines, compared to the Diabetes diet.

Other Markers:

  • HbA1c (a marker for 3-month blood sugar levels) decreased by 0,4% more on the paleo diet
  • HDL increased by 3 mg/dL (0.08 mmol/L) on the paleo diet compared to the Diabetes diet
  • Triglycerides went down by 35 mg/dL (0.4 mmol/L) on the paleo diet compared to the Diabetes diet

In summation, the Paleo Diet is backed up not only by word of mouth, but by actual scientific scrutiny.

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