Is the Paleo Diet the Key to Optimal Health?

The paleo diet directly contradicts the following common-sense statement: the world is a better place today than it was a few hundred years ago.

Indeed, between penicillin, the internet, and UberEats, life in the modern world is just about as good as it’s ever been for human beings.

But when it comes to nutrition, it’s hard to argue against the paleo diet.

Eating according to the paleo diet is one of those things that seems obvious when you actually take some time and think about it. But being “trapped” as we are in the modern world – inundated with constant advertising from food and beverage companies – it’s easy to forget that the healthiest foods are exclusively ones that existed thousands of years ago.

What is the Paleo Diet?

An Example Palo Diet Meal

In its strictest form, the paleo diet is a the practice whereby people eat only foods that were available in the paleolithic era. The paleolithic era was roughly 2.5 million years ago.

As you can imagine, there was far less food diversity then.

Cavemen did not have supermarkets.

But do you know what else cavemen didn’t have? An obesity epidemic.

A more practical explanation of the paleo diet is to consume the majority of your calories from natural foods.

When most people think of the paleo diet (or “going paleo” as it’s often called), they imagine themselves eating lots of meat.

And while that’s what happens most of the time, being on the paleo diet also implies that you’re able to eat fruits, nuts, seeds and other animal products such as dairy.

In fact, the official “loose guidelines” of Crossfit essentially recommend a paleo diet.

Who is This Diet Good For?

As we mentioned earlier in the article, it’s hard to argue with the paleo diet.

(It would certainly be interesting to hear someone’s argument against consuming most of your calories in the form of nutritious and natural foods that existed thousands of years ago.)

The beauty of the paleo diet is its applicability to both athletes and non-athletes alike.

For people who struggle with their weight, the removal of processed foods is often enough to completely eliminate their cravings and the resulting weight gain that comes from giving in to them.

For athletes, a protein-heavy diet full of lean protein in the form of animal products, nuts, and seeds is great for building muscle. The caloric demands of strenuous physical activity can also be met with a diet heavy in nutrient-dense foods like liver.

Despite the trendiness of the term, all “superfoods” are – without exception – natural foods as well.

There are no modern superfoods that were created in a lab.

In fact, one could even make the case that all humans would do well to shift to the paleo diet. Recent years have shown that the previous food pyramid that recommended five servings of grain per day are an awful prescription for general health, likely influenced by the food lobby.

Aside from elite athletes, one could argue that nobody needs to be eating five servings of grains per day. Which brings us to our next point…

Can You Eat Carbs on the Paleo Diet?

For people who constantly struggle with their weight, the paleo diet can be an excellent way to lose weight.

Some people might balk at the idea of cutting out carbs completely (like on the keto diet), so going paleo might offer a nice middle ground where carbs can still be consumed.

That said, this DOES NOT mean that Oreos and chocolate milk are okay on the Paleo diet.

In fact, one could make the argument that refined sugar should never be consumed, since it has relatively little nutritional value.

As a general rule of thumb, carbs should by scaled up or down depending on the anticipated level of physical activity.

In other words, if you are going for a run in the afternoon, you might want to consider having a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast.

On the other hand, if you’ll be in your office doing office things, then forgoing the sandwich in favor of the salad might be the way to go.

Can you Eat Bread on the Paleo Diet?

While we’re on the topic of bread, it’s important to note that bread did not exist 2.5 million years ago. Furthermore, most of what passes for “bread” in the United States is heavily processed and relatively devoid of nutrients.

Don’t be fooled by labels such as “whole wheat” or “wheat berries” or even the currently trendy “sprouted wheat.” A general rule to follow regarding bread is that if it comes in a plastic bag, don’t eat it.

According to the Weston A Price foundation, wheat is an inflammatory food and should be avoided altogether.

Whether or not you believe Price’s findings is up to you, but regardless of whether or not you believe the evidence, there are sources of complex carbs that are more nutrient-dense than wheat (especially processed wheat bread that you buy in the store) that you might want to consider eating instead.

Worth mentioning are oats and oatmeal.

Perfect for both endurance and explosive athletes alike, oats are a source of complex carbs that offer long-lasting energy and have minimal effect on insulin levels.

Optimally, athletes would cook them with a little bit of water and not much else.

They can be flavored for taste, but try to avoid creating a “healthy snack” that is really just a colorfully-disguised cheat meal.

You may recognize these: a mountain of store-bought yogurt, berries, and muesli with some honey drizzled on top.

The logic seems to be, “It contains oats, therefore it is healthy.”

While there isn’t wrong with any of those foods (they are all natural, of course), if weight loss is the goal, then it’s preferable to choose foods that are more nutrient dense than fruits and store-bought yogurt.

And in the case of athletes, the extra calories from the yogurt and fruit are not only unnecessary but will actually hinder athletic performance and give the athlete a heavy, bloated feeling if consumed too close to a training session.

Can You Eat Legumes on the Paleo Diet?

Also worth mentioning as a preferred source of energy are legumes.

Lentils, chick peas and various types of beans have fairly high amounts of vital nutrients in them that are good for athletes.

Despite the fact that both oats and legumes are considered by the Weston A Price foundation to contain high amounts of anti-nutrients, eating them in moderation on the paleo diet shouldn’t be too much of a big deal.

As mentioned before, be sure to vary your quantity based on your upcoming caloric demands. If you’re going to train hard, eat more. If not, eat less.

How Much Meat Should You Eat While Going Paleo?

paleo diet foods

It seems like every week a new study is released that “proves” how eating too much meat causes cancer, heart attacks, and premature death.

Most notably was the study released by the World Health Organization which claimed that red meat is carcinogenic. When this hit the news, it caused quite the uproar.

However, upon closer examination of the study, it was found that they lumped consumption of processed and cured meats together with healthier cuts of lean meat.

In other words, fast food cheeseburgers and bacon were put in the same category as lean cuts of chicken breast.

Not only that, but if you take a look at the study, you’ll notice that it claims red meat as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Probably? Sounds like some rock solid evidence right there!

You’re welcome to take a closer at the study on your own, but for an organization to say that something as integral to the human diet as meat is “probably carcinogenic” is irresponsible at best.

Furthermore, as we’ve mentioned before, correlation does not equal causation. There are a virtually unlimited number of factors that can affect the overall health of a human being, and to say that the food with the highest nutritional value across the board (meat) causes cancer is mind-bogglingly incorrect.

While this is not medical advice and you should always check with your doctor, if you are athletic and live an active lifestyle, you could make the case for eating most of your calories on the paleo diet in the form of meat and other animal products.

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Written on May 28th, 2019