The Paleolithic Diet, or “paleo” diet, is a lifestyle that centers on the supposed eating habits of humanity’s nomadic hunter-gatherer ancestors. Strict adherents to this diet assert that it is not only the best way to lose weight, but that it can free you from the risk of heart disease, diabetes, insomnia/sleep disturbances, migraines, allergies, and other health conditions. They believe the rise of agriculture changed the typical human diet from high protein-low carb to high carb-low protein, eventually adding chemicals, free radicals, empty calories, and other processed, synthetic substances to our diets that cause many modern diseases. Proponents of the paleo diet say the human body evolved to handle the paleolithic diet and many illnesses result from forcing the body to live on unhealthy foods.
Following the paleo diet involves switching to completely organic foods and cutting out everything processed or made from processed ingredients. Grass-fed livestock and wild-caught fish are acceptable, as are organic eggs, vegetables, fruits, and spices. Only oils made from fruit or tree nuts are allowed, such as olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, etc. The diet does not allow salt or sugar, and caffeine only if it comes in the form of organic green tea. The only beverage that is considered true paleo is unflavored water, which means no milk (except coconut and almond milk), juice, coffee, alcohol, or sodas. Products that are made with flour and/or yeast are not allowed.
There is no set-in-stone Paleo food list. Some experts are more lenient on allowable foods than others, and there is often disagreement over whether or not some foods can be considered paleolithic. Little scientific study has been done on the diet itself, but those who follow it can provide anecdotal evidence to support its positive effects on the body. The increased intake omega-3 fatty acids (from fish and game) is linked to lower cholesterol and cardiovascular inflammation (which contributes to symptoms of arthritis). In general, followers of the paleo diet lifestyle believe it is one of the only diets that works to aid weight loss and achieving a greater quality of life in general.
A typical day’s menu on the paleo diet can be quite varied. Breakfast may be a bowl of berries with coconut milk and almonds, while lunch could consist of a vegetable salad topped with olive oil or lemon vinaigrette. Snacks may be macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds, or unsweetened applesauce. Dinner may be smoked salmon or lean roast beef with grilled or roasted vegetables.
There are some drawbacks to the paleo diet, mainly that it involves a significant change in eating habits. An estimated 3/4 of modern foods are restricted on the paleo diet. Because eating paleo means eating sometimes organic and often hard-to-find exotic foods, the cost to switch can be substantial. It may not be viable for all, but the health benefits can outweigh this drawback. On the paleo diet, it is important to eat a variety of foods and not replace carbohydrate intake with too much fatty meat. The diet also does not address genetic or hormonal causes of illness or weight problems, so it is important to give attention to these issues outside of your diet. In general, the paleo diet can benefit people looking to make significant changes in their diets and lifestyles.