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What is a Paleo Diet and Why is it Better for You?
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If you’re into healthy eating, you’ve probably heard people mention the paleo diet more than a few times – but what is the paleo diet and what kind of foods does it include (and exclude)?
Like the name suggests, the paleo diet (also called the “Stone Age diet” and the “caveman diet”) is based on foods that our ancestors might’ve eaten thousands of years ago during the paleolithic era. Foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meats, eggs, fish, seeds, and nuts.
Eating these types of natural foods are easier for our bodies to digest so we can have the energy to perform at peak levels. Many people on the paleo diet have also found that it can help reduce inflammation, improve overall health, optimize workouts, and help with weight loss.
Keep reading for an in-depth look at which foods you’d need to eat and which foods to avoid on the paleo diet and why.
What to Eat
The easy way to think about the paleo diet is if our ancestors could gather or hunt it, it's probably allowed.
Eat Plenty of Fruits and Vegetables
Since fruits and vegetables were readily available to our ancestors, including them is a major part of the paleo diet.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, "a diet rich in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect upon blood sugar, which can help keep appetite in check."
Eat Lean Meats, Seafood, and Eggs
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors frequently caught wild animals to include in their diets.
Lean meats are a good source of protein and provide a good source of vitamins B3 and B6, and other vital nutrients so you can maintain peak strength and performance.
Eat Seeds and Nuts
Nuts and seeds are good sources of protein, fiber, essential vitamins and minerals, and healthy fats.
They are frequently loaded with antioxidants and have been linked to lower cholesterol and weight loss.
Eat "Good" Oils
Paleo friendly oils such as olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil may help you absorb vitamins and encourage healthy cholesterol levels.
These are often referred to as 'good fats' because of the antioxidant properties and overall health benefits.
Things to Avoid
Here’s what you’d need to cut out for the paleo diet and why:
1. Avoid Sugar and High-Fructose Corn Syrup
It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that sugary concoctions like soda aren’t part of the paleo diet. In fact, refined sugars are to be avoided on the paleo diet – white sugar, for instance, is highly-processed and not natural.
The same can be said for high-fructose corn syrup, which actually falls into two no-no categories for the paleo diet. Not only is high-fructose corn syrup made with refined sugars, but it’s also made with industrially-processed grains too.
Research shows that too much added sugar intake can lead to health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, weight gain, and inflammation.
Instead of sugar, choose raw honey, raw maple syrup, or agave syrup.
2. Avoid Gluten/Grains
Grains may not seem like an unhealthy food, but our ancestors weren’t eating bread or pasta at dinnertime.
Grains, like rice, crackers, pasta, bread, and even cereal, are all products of modern agriculture that came after the paleolithic era.
Keep in mind that avoiding grain also means avoiding healthier options like whole wheat grains – while whole wheat grains may not spike your blood sugar, they still contain things like gluten, phytates, and lectins, which may prevent other nutrients from getting absorbed by your body.
Studies show that refined grains specifically aren’t a positive either – they have ties to certain metabolic diseases like heart disease and type II diabetes because they build insulin resistance.
3. Avoid Dairy
Following the paleo diet includes cutting dairy out of your daily intake too.
Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers, and they weren’t advanced enough to milk cows – which also means they weren’t making cheese, butter, or milk to consume.
According to the Physician’s Committee, dairy products, like milk, are a huge source of saturated fat, which can contribute to conditions like type II diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer.
However, some paleo dieters may still eat some types of dairy, like grass-fed butter that’s chock-full of omega-3s.
Ghee, or clarified butter, is another form of dairy that many paleo eaters tolerate since it provides them with a great source of fat.
4. Avoid Select Vegetable Oils
You may hear conflicting ideas about whether it’s okay to use vegetable oils on the paleo diet, and the answer depends on the type of oil that you’re using.
Most vegetable oils, like canola oil, soybean oil, peanut oil, and even sunflower oil, aren’t considered paleo. This is because these oils tend to be highly-processed and they don’t have enough healthy omega-3s to match their omega-6s.
The restricted paleo diet makes it especially hard for paleo eaters to get their omega-3s. Not to mention, vegetable oils can contain unsaturated fats, which oxidize when they burn and may trigger inflammation in the body.
Instead, use avocado oil, olive oil, and coconut oil because they are less processed than most vegetable oils, and they have a healthier balance of fatty acids in them as well.
5. Avoid Trans-Fats
Most dietitians will tell you that trans-fats are bad news regardless of what diet you’re following, so it’s not a surprise that paleo eaters aim to avoid them.
Trans-fats may occasionally occur naturally, but they usually pop up in processed foods because they have a longer shelf-life than other types of fat.
You’ll often see trans-fats in:
- Fast food and fried food
- Potato chips, microwave popcorn, and other snacks
- Baked goods
- Food items made from vegetable oils
Trans-fat is particularly bad from a health standpoint – not only is it the most unhealthy fat you can eat, but it raises your “bad” cholesterol levels and lowers “good” cholesterol in the body.
Our ancestors weren’t chomping down on potato chips (or the trans fats in them), and most paleo eaters try to do the same.
6. Avoid Artificial Sweeteners
We already know that refined sugars aren’t good news for paleo eaters, but what about artificial sweeteners?
Unfortunately, your favorite artificial sweeteners aren’t paleo because these are another highly-processed, man-made product.
Many people sing the praises of artificial sweeteners because our bodies can’t break them down into calories – but that doesn’t mean they’re healthy. In fact, some observational studies link artificial sweeteners to an increased risk of weight gain, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar.
However, there are other ways you can sweeten your favorite foods or drinks without going off the paleo diet – many paleo eaters stick to maple syrup, honey, or stevia, which is derived from the stevia plant.
7. Avoid Highly-Processed Foods
The highly-processed foods that you find in your grocery aisle tick a lot of the no-no boxes on the paleo diet: refined sugars, vegetable oils, salt, and artificial sweeteners.
This includes items like breakfast cereals, microwavable meals, and baked goods – highly-processed foods that disrupt the entire notion of the paleo diet. Highly-processed foods pack a lot of health risks with them, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
They’re also calorie-dense, but lack a lot of the same nutritional value you’d find with foods on the paleo diet.
The paleo diet may seem restrictive, but it actually crosses off a lot of items that most diets already ask you to avoid – like high-fructose corn syrup or highly processed snacks.
As long as you can stick to fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and nuts, and 'good oils' you’ll be eating like our ancestors did which could help you perform at optimum levels, have higher energy, and feel better!
Of course, the key to doing well in any diet is to have a variety of delicious alternatives.
Rosemarys Farm to Fork paleo meal prep is made with farm fresh, organic ingredients that will keep you on track with your paleo diet! Check out our menu below!
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