Hi everyone! I bet you are here because you are interested in learning more about the Paleo Diet, and the different health changes that can occur as a result of following this diet/way of eating. Let’s jump right in and learn all about the Paleo diet!
What is the paleo diet?
The Paleo Diet is a way of eating that tries to mimic what our ancestors would have been eating during hunter/gatherer times in history. The term was first coined during the 1970s, but it wasn’t until 2002 when it’s popularity really increased when Loren Cordain’s book “The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy By Eating The Foods You Were Designed To Eat” was released.
The basic premise of the book and diet is to eat foods that are found in nature in their natural form and not processed. Foods that involve a lot of processing to make them, would not have been possible for our ancestors and are excluded from the diet, such as:
- Vegetable oils (which are pressed to extract the oil, and/or treated with high heat and chemical solvents)
- Processed sugars (crushed, heated and crystallized)
- Boxed foods (heavily processed and chemicals are added to make them shelf stable and to add back artificial vitamins and minerals lost during processing)
- Pasteurized (heat processing to kill pathogens) and homogenized (high pressure processing to break down fat molecules) dairy
What foods does the paleo diet include?
The paleo diet is focused on foods in their whole form, which are nutrient-packed and minimally processed. Yes, there are now lots of different paleo-friendly processed foods (you could even eat approved junk food and follow a paleo diet), but generally speaking, the diet tends to focus on fresh meats, fruits and vegetables.
The included foods are as follows:
- Nuts and seeds
- Honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar
- Fats such as coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, ghee and tallow
- Herbs and spices
- Coffee and tea
You would be really surprised with the delicious variety of meals, snacks and desserts you can come up with that are compliant for the paleo diet. I’ve come up with years worth of delicious paleo recipes you can sink your teeth into by clicking here.
What foods does the paleo diet exclude, and why?
The paleo diet may seem like a very restrictive diet, but there are reasons for why certain foods are excluded. An explanation of the reasons for each food being excluded is as follows:
- Grains – which humans did not start consuming in large quantities until after the argicultural revolution. Also, since the start of the argiculutural revolution, through selective breeding, a lot of grains have been dramatically changed and now have much higher amounts of gluten and other common allergens.
- Dairy – humans didn’t start consuming dairy until after the agricultural revolution as well, when farming became very popular. Additionally, the processes of pasteurization and homogenization, as mentioned above, cause some issues for people as the structure of milk has been molecularly altered.
- Legumes (including soy) – this is a point of some debate in the health sphere. Some believe legumes are not that harmful, but the paleo diet excludes them as some people do have significant health issues with them. The basis for this is because legumes include phytic acid, which is a sort of “anti-nutrient”. An anti-nutrient is something that binds to certain nutrients, and prevents your body from absorbing them.
- Processed white sugar – which spikes blood sugar and causes numerous health issues. It is best to consume sugar in it’s whole form (fruit, honey, maple syrup) as it is not processed and stripped of the nutrition that aid digestion.
- Vegetable oils – a modern invention which is only made possible by providing significant amounts of heat, pressure and chemical solvents to seeds and vegetables. These are a significant contributor to health issues like heart disease today. It is better to consume oils in their whole form, or that are minimally processed without high heat (olive oil, butter, tallow or coconut oil).
- Other processed foods – these usually contain at least one (often more than two) of the items from the above list, and often have a lot of fortified vitamins and minerals added, since the processing strips a lot of nutrients from the food. Generally, it is best to avoid processed foods.
Why would I want to try the paleo diet?
If you have ever suffered with any health concerns that are nagging at you, and your doctor says you will always be doomed to suffer with them, there are dietary changes you can make to relieve, or even in some cases, completely resolve certain issues. People have seen improvements with conditions such as:
- autoimmune conditions
- low energy and fatigue
- joint discomfort
- high blood pressure
- mood disorders, depression
- IBS and other digestive issues
This is not an exhaustive list. If you feel there is something off in your body, and that taking medication is not in your best interest, or it may not be helping you, dietary changes may provide you with desirable health benefits.
What kind of health issues did paleo help me with?
I decided to try paleo because of some of the reasons listed above. I was actually introduced to paleo via Whole30 (which I will talk about more below), and found that it really helped to relieve my headaches and some digestive issues that I’ve had for a very long time.
After completing Whole30, I decided to stick with a paleo diet, and found that it was very beneficial in reducing the amount of inflammation I experienced. I already knew I was very sensitive to gluten, but it also helped me to determine that I had negative health effects from consuming pretty much everything on the list of excluded foods. Reintroducing any of them gave me headaches, digestive issues, or mood swings.
Can I lose weight on the paleo diet?
Yes, a lot of people have reported weight loss on a paleo diet.. I was not seeking to lose any weight, although I have experienced a small amount of it as well. It is also possible to gain weight on a paleo diet though, if sweet treats are overconsumed (there are lots of absolutely delicious paleo treats available!).
What are some downsides to the paleo diet?
While so far, you might be thinking that the diet seems like a homerun, there are certain things you may want to know before switching over to it 100% of the time.
- It can be difficult to eat this way around others who are not. You may need to cook multiple meals, if your spouse or children do not want to eat this way (although there are so many delicious options, they may be willing to give it a try!)
- It can be more expensive (but it doesn’t have to be). Premade paleo treats are often very expensive in the store. If you can afford them, then by all means, go for it. Making meals and desserts at home will always be more affordable, if you have the time to do so. If you skip the fancy, time-consuming recipes, eating paleo usually doesn’t take much more time or money than other ways of eating. Plus, you will potentially save lots of money in the long run, when it comes to healthcare.
- Almost all meals eaten out will not be compliant. Even if you find a salad on the menu that looks to be paleo, there is usually something hidden in it that actually makes it no so (salad dressing oils, the oil used to cook your meat, etc). This may not be a problem for some people, but it could have negative effects for those who are doing paleo for serious health issues such as autoimmune conditions.
- It is quite restrictive, and some people may not be prepared for the cravings that do crop up in the early days and weeks on a paleo diet. I suggest creating a list of reasons (your “why”) for following a paleo diet, so that when a craving hits, or you veer off track, that it will help you remember why you want to eat this way.
Where can I find delicious, easy paleo recipes?
These days, there are so many incredible resources out there for different recipes, including everything imaginable. If you are having a craving, I suggest simply searching for “paleo pizza” or “paleo donuts”. I promise you will find lots and lots of options.
If you are looking for really simple and delicious paleo recipes, I have quite a few here that I think you will really enjoy.
I also put together this 5 day easy paleo meal plan which is great for those who need a good kick start.
Is primal the same as paleo?
They are very similar, except that primal includes dairy (preferably raw) in addition to all of the paleo foods. It also includes some legumes, if you tolerate them, and nightshades (potatoes, eggplants, tomatoes) are also included.
I recommend starting with paleo, and if you feel it is too restrictive, then introducing some dairy and other foods back in, may be a better balance, and provide more variety for you.
How is Whole30 different from paleo?
Whole30 is a subset of paleo, which is meant as a 30 day reset of sorts. It includes the following foods:
- Non-dairy fats such as coconut oil, olive oil and ghee
- Unsweetened coffee and tea
- Herbs and spices
It eliminates all processed foods, dairy, soy and other legumes, grains, refined sugars, alcohol, and seed oils.
If you’re interested in giving it a try, I recommend reading the book, “The Whole30: The Official Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom” by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig.
If you do well on Whole30, then paleo is a good stepping stone afterwards. The main difference is that paleo allows some processed foods and natural sweeteners, and Whole30 does not.
Looking for more detailed information about the paleo and the science behind it?
Loren Cordain’s book, The Paleo Diet, is a fantastic deep dive into the science of why the diet is successful. It’s the book that really popularized the diet to begin with, and a really great place to begin, if you’re someone who wants a compelling and in depth primer on the diet.
Loren Cordain also runs the website ThePaleoDiet.com, if you want additional resources and recipe ideas straight from the source.
A couple of closing remarks: Please note that I am not a doctor and none of this information is meant to be health advice. If you are concerned about health issues, please be sure to discuss them with your doctor.
Some links in this post may contain affiliate links. I receive a small commission if you purchase something after clicking the link. I appreciate the support!
Have you tried the paleo diet? What did you think? Do you have any questions? Be sure to leave them in the comments below!