Interested in Trying the Paleo Diet? 3 Things You Should Know

If you’re like many adults, your interest in the Paleo Diet probably stems from witnessing its results. Perhaps you have a friend who used the method to lose a substantial amount of weight or a colleague who raves about how clear-headed and energized they feel after “going paleo.” But what exactly is the Paleo Diet, and what makes it so remarkable?

The Paleo Diet, alternatively known as the caveman or Stone Age diet, is based on the straightforward premise that if your paleolithic ancestors didn’t eat a certain type of food, you shouldn’t either.

Or to view it from the other side of the coin: The modern western way of eating is what’s largely responsible for a host of serious and common diet-related illnesses, ranging from chronic high blood pressure and obesity to cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Human beings have subsisted on meat, fish, seeds, nuts, fruits, and vegetables — or whatever they could hunt, fish, or gather — for the vast majority of their existence.

The agricultural revolution marked a radical shift in the human diet, as people added grains, legumes, and dairy products to their plates. The industrial revolution, which is what made it possible for your local grocery store to supply an endless array of highly processed foods, marks an even more extreme transition in the human diet.

The Paleo Diet seeks to restore optimal health and well-being by making a simple shift back to a way of eating that’s more closely aligned with how humans ate for most of their existence. If you’re interested in making that shift, here’s what you need to know.

1. Paleo isn’t about counting calories

Many major diet plans are founded on the basic notion that learning how to control your caloric intake — or balance your energy intake against your energy needs — is really all it takes to achieve a healthier body weight.

While it’s true that restricting your calories and limiting your portions can certainly go a long way in helping you slim down, this traditional weight control technique seems to emphasize quantity over quality — that is, it emphasizes calorie reduction over calorie content, or the nutritional value of the calories you consume.

The Paleo approach asserts that weight loss, overall wellness, and long-term health are best attained and sustained by focusing on the type and quality of food you eat, rather than how many calories you consume each day. In fact, you don’t have to count calories at all on the Paleo Diet, you just have to choose paleo-friendly foods. It’s that simple.

So what can you eat on the Paleo Diet? Meat, pork, poultry, eggs, fish, and seafood are all fair game, as are all fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and oils from fruits (olive, avocado, or coconut oil) and nuts (walnut, almond, or hazelnut oil).

What’s not on the list? Grains, legumes (including peanuts), dairy products, potatoes, refined sugar, alcohol, and processed food of any kind.

2. Paleo is a “template,” not a plan

Critics of the Paleo Diet like to point out that there was tremendous variation in what our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate, depending on what was available both geographically and seasonally. And that’s exactly why there is no fixed plan with clearly defined parameters that all followers should adhere to.

Instead of thinking of the Paleo Diet as a concrete plan, it’s best to think of it as an adjustable template that you can customize to fit your own life and health needs.

If you have an autoimmune illness or other inflammatory condition, for example, your personal Paleo plan may require you to avoid eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, and other vegetables in the nightshade family. If you have an underactive thyroid, you may need to limit or avoid kale, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and other cruciferous veggies.

At the end of the day, there’s no single Paleo approach that works well for everyone. Some people find it easy to stick to the guidelines in their purest form, while others find they feel better when they can incorporate a small amount of whole grains, legumes, or dairy products in their daily diet.

3. Paleo is more of a lifestyle than a diet

The main goal of the Paleo Diet may be to return to a way of eating that’s more closely aligned with how early humans ate, but food is only one part of its recipe for improved health. To get the full benefits of going Paleo, you also have to get off the couch.  

A major part of the premise behind the Paleo lifestyle is that our hunter-gatherer ancestors were healthier not only because of their diet, but also because they were active. Eating the right foods may help you lose weight and feel great, but you can’t attain optimum wellness or protect your long-term health if you don’t exercise or stay active most days of the week.

To learn more about the Paleo lifestyle and how it can benefit you, call our Family Practice Associates office in Broomfield, Colorado, or use the convenient online tool to schedule a consultation with Dr. Abrams.

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