The Paleolithic Diet has been popular for over ten years, and with good reason: it’s simple, it’s healthy, and it works. Maybe you only heard about paleo recently, or maybe you’ve followed it for years. Either way, my hope is for you to learn how to best apply this ancestral perspective to all areas of your life.
In this article, we explain what paleo is. We’ll take a look together at the theory and science behind it, and typical results people achieve following an ancestral/evolutionary diet.
What is Paleo?
The Paleolithic Diet is any diet based on eating like our ancestors. After primates diverged from other mammals 85 million years ago, homo erectus began using stone tools 3.3 million years ago, and fire about a million years ago. Homo sapiens with “modern” behaviors started walking the planet a mere 50-80 thousand years ago.
With the industrial age beginning just 250 years ago, and the information age less half a century ago, it’s hard to dispute that our ancestors evolved and lived in a much different environment than ours. Our ancestors hunted, gathered, foraged, and scavenged for food, while most modern humans get their food prepared for them, whether from a grocery store or restaurant.
This known evolutionary gap in regards to food options, processing and handling, and human adaptation is the primary observation behind the paleo diet philosophy. Our bodies are optimized to exist in the evolutionary environment of our ancestors, not our rapidly changing modern environment. Evidence suggests that this gap is one reason why there is a surge in diabetes, obesity, and cancer rates today.
Eating paleo is a way of addressing this gap to achieve better health.
Here are the biggest strengths of Paleo:
- It’s excellent for health and wellness
- It is far less complicated than most diets
- It’s easy to learn and remember what to eat
- It is somewhat flexible for different goals, needs, and preferences
The reason people stick with paleo is that it makes them feel (and look) amazing.
If you hate keeping up with calories and macronutrients, you’ll love Paleo. If you have tried other ways of eating and had issues with self-control, paleo may be a good fit for you. If you enjoy cooking and exploring new foods, paleo offers a surprising amount of flexibility and variety.
The underlying theory of paleo is simple:
If someone didn’t eat it X years ago, don’t eat it now.
10,000 years ago is a good number for X. Back then, modern agriculture didn’t exist.
Paleo experts and advocates argue that modern agriculture and food production are at the root of modern or neolithic diseases. Here’s what we avoid by turning the clock back 10,000 years:
- Most grains and sugars
- Factory farmed animals
- Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
- Modern pesticides
- Processed foods
- Artificial flavors
The reason paleo works so well is that we avoid what’s “bad,” and focus on what’s healthy. Here’s what you eat instead on a paleo diet:
- Meat and some other animal products
- Vegetables, especially leafy greens
- Oils, nuts, and seeds
- Some fruits, but not all the time
Why Not Paleo?
Before you dive into Paleo, I want you to know it’s not for everyone. No diet is for everyone. Do any of the following apply to you?
- You would never go without bread, sugar, soda, chips, other processed foods, and sugary desserts
- You don’t have control over your food selection (this is true of some jobs – active duty military, for example)
- To feel confident about your diet you need to target exact calories, macronutrients, or meal plans
You can’t eat many carbs or processed foods on Paleo. For some people, that’s a dealbreaker. And if you don’t get to choose what food items to eat, it may be impossible to eat Paleo. Most fixed menus just aren’t “Paleo friendly.”
If you are extremely detail-oriented and prefer to track all your calories and macros, following exact meal plans, you may find paleo too unstructured. Although some people do approach paleo by tracking calories and macros, it’s not true to the underlying philosophy. More on that later.
According to studies and also real-world observation, you can achieve the following results with a paleo diet:
- Lower inflammation
- Improved overall health
- Reduced risk of severe illness and death
- Less body fat
- Increased muscle mass, especially if you exercise regularly
Here’s why it works so well:
- The simplicity helps you overcome analysis paralysis
- Avoiding addictive foods (starches, sugars, processed foods) helps you avoid overeating
- Lower carbohydrate intake means lower blood sugar and less insulin release
- Healthy fats and protein intake build a better body
- Nutrient-dense foods make it easy to get nourishment
- It’s easy to achieve a feeling of fullness on Paleo
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