Caveman Eating – The ‘Paleo Diet’
For 2.5 million years, early man foraged and hunted for seafood, meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, roots and seeds. This period of time before the development of agriculture is known as the Palaeolithic era. The Paleo diet is also known as the Stone Age diet, Hunter-Gathering diet and the Caveman diet. Whatever you call it, the basic principle is the same. Man’s digestive systems have altered only the slightest amount in the 10,000 years since farming changed our diets and not enough to keep pace with the dietary changes that we are now faced with. Our minds are modern, but our bodies and brains still need the same food as they did thousands of years ago. Shortened to ‘Paleo’, the modern diet is an approach to nutrition that mimics the early man’s diet for ultimate health.
Gastroenterologist, Walter L. Voegtlin, first popularised the Paleo diet in the 1970’s. He argued in his book, “The Stone Age Diet,” humans, as carnivores, chiefly need fats, proteins and a small amount of carbohydrates for optimum performance. For the last 30 years, obesity has risen at an alarming rate. Our modern diets are laden with preservatives, processed sugars, and fried foods. They are a far cry from that which we have evolved to process. Today’s obesity crisis has led to a renewed interest in Voegtlin’s tested approach to healthy living and it is picking up pace all the time.
Benefits of the Paleo Diet
It never ceases to amaze me how, by changing what we put in our mouths, we can cause dramatic changes in our quality of life. The advantages of the Paleo Diet have been researched and tested in numerous academic journals and I have set out the principal ones, below.
Lose fat: Though the Paleo diet is not designed as a weight loss plan, if you have weight to lose you will naturally start to lose it when following this approach. The foods that make up the Paleo diet are what we call ‘fat burning’ foods. In fact, the Paleo diet allows you to eat large quantities of delicious, nutritious food while simultaneously restricting calories. The result is a lean, fit body.
Fight disease: There is evidence to suggest that the Paleo diet can help in the prevention and control of diabetes, Parkinson’s, cancer, heart disease and strokes.
Improve digestion: The symptoms of many digestive problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease and indigestion can be controlled or avoided by following a Paleo regime.
Combat acne: Eating the Paleo way means avoiding the foods that cause acne. When sebum is overproduced or obstructed, the sebaceous glands enlarge and form pimples. Foods in the Paleo diet do not cause the insulin spikes that result in a sebum boost. As a result, you can expect smoother, more attractive skin.
Feel good: Not only does the Paleo diet help you to be healthier and look more radiant, it also makes you feel better. Paleo supporters swear by the caveman lifestyle because it just “feels” right. The only way to find out the energy and confidence they experience is to try it for yourself.
People assume that the Paleo Diet is complicated and difficult to follow. It is actually quite simple: eat real foods (see ‘What to Eat’ below). For a guideline on portions, keep proteins high at 19-35%, carbohydrates at 22-40% and good fats at 28-58% (or roughly a third of each if you want to make it REALLY simple).
What to Eat
Eating a Paleo Diet is more about experimentation than limitation. Mother Nature provides a huge variety of delicious foods to explore. Instead of settling for a box of processed pasta and sauce, feast on a meal that excites your taste buds and your energy levels. Here is a small list of the many foods to incorporate into your diet.
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Tips for the Paleo Lifestyle
Unfortunately, the ‘convenience’ foods available today are usually pretty rubbish when you look at their nutritional value. Our busy lifestyles have our kids raised on a diet of processed and fast foods. The popular culture even makes eating real foods an odd concept. Even knowing the proven benefits, some people never try the Paleo approach because they believe it to be too difficult. Living a long, healthy, fulfilling life is well worth a few small changes, surely? While not as easy as stopping at a drive-through, maintaining a Paleo lifestyle is pretty straightforward if you take note of a simple few tips. Trust me, I manage it and I never stop for a moment (well only to grab a bit of sleep)! So, to master the Paleo approach:
- Stay organised: the number one tip is to be organised and prepared. The biggest challenge to start with will be to have Paleo foods available at your home and planning your meals to include them. You‘re much more likely to eat healthy food if it is readily available;
- Change how you shop: find the best farmers’ markets, butchers and grocery stores in your area. Before going food shopping have a list of items you plan to pick up. I stick to the outside lanes of the supermarket to avoid the aisles filled with processed foods. I haven’t been down the biscuit isle in years. This may be difficult at first, but after a month or so you will no longer feel the need to hang out with the junk food;
- Clean your pantry: clear your cupboards of all the cereals, pasta and processed foods in your cabinets. Don’t worry, you will replace these foods with much more satisfying, fresh and healthy foods;
- Learn to work the kitchen: unlike a diet based on grains, there so are many foods to eat on the Paleo Diet you should never become bored. The best way to take advantage of everything nature has to offer is to learn how to cook. By combining the diverse flavours, there is an endless amount of tasty dishes to excite your taste buds;
- Dress your food: most of the condiments on the store shelves are filled with preservatives. However, you can enhance the flavour of your foods by making your own condiments at home. Ketchup, mustard, salad dressings and sauces can be made at home, naturally, with delicious results;
- Exercise: just changing your eating habits will cause you to lose weight naturally on the Paleo Diet. Add exercise to the mix and you will be amazed at how quickly you notice a difference. Your true, toned physique will come out as the lbs. drop off. You will also notice the amount of energy you have increases compared to when you ate a traditional diet. Start feeling strong, energetic, mentally sharper and all round younger;
- Join a support system: join in with our Forum and speak with other members to share experiences, recipes and ideas. Participate at a gym where the Paleo diet is the main lifestyle choice. It is nice to share ideas on the best Paleo books and even give advice on keeping true to the diet plan. There are plenty of stories from other people on this website on how switching to a Paleo way of eating has helped them – go and find them!
Paleo Friendly Desserts
One of the biggest stumbling blocks with the Paleo Diet plan is desserts. Most desserts contain unnatural sweeteners and starchy carbs that spike insulin levels. These sweet treats are a recipe for disaster. However, with kids, special celebrations and birthdays, sometimes a sweet treat is in order (I’m all heart aren’t I?). There are some very tasty Paleo desserts that can help your transition fully into the Paleo lifestyle without indulging in bad choices or having a gluten stomachache. While it is not a good idea to eat desserts after every meal, Paleo friendly desserts can stop hard-core cravings from your pre-Paleo days.
Here is a list of whole food substitutions you can use to whip delicious Paleo friendly desserts together:
- Almond flour – grinding almonds create nutritious, high protein flour perfect for making muffins breads and of course, traditional macaroons.
- Raw honey – because honey can be eaten straight from the tree, it is considered a true Paleo sweetener. Though it is a whole food, honey is highly calorific and does spike the insulin level, so use sparingly. However, honey is a great sugar substitute.
- Cocoa – unsweetened dark chocolate has nutritious antioxidants and magnesium and sticks to the limited dairy rules. Opt for the natural cocoa over the Dutch processed version that loses its benefits during processing.
- Pure vanilla extract – pure vanilla extract is a staple in any baker’s cupboard. Just make sure to buy the pure stuff not the cheap flavouring.
- Coconut oil – coconut oil is a medium chain fatty acid, which means it transfers directly to the liver where it is used for energy instead of being stored directly as fat. It also stimulates the thyroid gland, helping to speed up metabolism. Coconut oil adds a subtle sweetness to cobblers, pancakes and other baked recipes.
- Coconut milk – a great dairy substitute, coconut milk contains lauric acid. Lauric acid is thought to be beneficial in fighting influenza and herpes, as well as improving the immune system. Use coconut oil to make ice cream, hot cocoa, puddings, and even egg nog.
- Nuts – nuts are loaded with good fats the body needs. Hazelnuts, pecans, macadamias and almonds are lifesavers in the kitchen. Use nuts for pie crusts, candies or even as simple spiced nut blend.
- Frozen fruit – freeze berries to make easy desserts. Use them to make rich frothy smoothies or sorbet. Frozen grapes and cherries taste delicious straight from the freezer. Try frozen bananas on a stick or blended down for a creamy ice cream experience.
Drinks can also be a stumbling block for many people. In terms of what to drink, you should be going for naturally calorie-free drinks (and I don’t mean those that are packed with artificial sweeteners) such as water and herbal teas. You should cut out fizzy drinks and also energy drinks like Lucozade and Powerade. Unless you’re training to run for 90 minutes plus, you don’t need energy drinks. Your energy should come from your fat stores – use your fat as energy and burn it off!
The Paleo Diet will help you to shed pounds and to generally lead a healthier life. Add exercise into the mix and you too can achieve the lean, sexy bodies seen on fitness models, should you so wish. Despite popular belief, I hope I have shown you that the Paleo (or rather ‘healthy eating’) lifestyle is not restrictive and can actually open your palette to a whole new world of culinary experiences. There are a variety of high quality cookbooks and websites that will help you along the way. Once you experience the transformation you will wonder how you ever functioned beforehand.