The Paleolithic era was the longest period in human history, beginning some two million years ago and concluding around 10,000 BC. During this age our ancestors lived in small nomadic bands of hunter-gatherers and it is believed that they subsisted on vegetables, fruits, nuts, meat, fish, and shellfish.
With the arrival of agricultural revolution, so ended the Old Stone Age. As farming practices were developed, beginning with the cultivation of wheat, maize, and rice, for the first time in history humans were able to stockpile food. No longer needing to hunt, gather, and scavenge daily, early humans were able to enjoy much more leisure time. Leading to art, writing, science, trade, and the building of cities, it was, essentially, the dawn of modern civilization.
Progressing from a diet wholly based on protein, produce and healthy fats to one that includes processed foods, grains, legumes, and dairy was, according to proponents of the Paleo diet, an unnatural transition. Anatomically-speaking, humans are the same now as they were 200,000 years ago and we remain genetically adapted to the foods we ate then. It is thought that the diseases of civilization (cancer, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes – to name a few) are a result of our bodies being maladapted to a western diet. The rise of these present-day ailments can be understood as a mismatch between our genes and the foods we consume.
The Tenets of the Paleo Diet
The connection between modern foods and adverse health effects was first observed in the 1930s but it wasn’t until The Paleo Diet was published in 2002 that the concept of eating like our ancestors really took hold. While it is impossible to truly mimic the diet of Paleolithic humans (the plants and animals they consumed have long since gone extinct), the basic principles of a modernized Paleo diet are as follows:
Don’t Eat: Dairy, added sugars, processed foods, refined oils, grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables like potatoes.
With an emphasis on fiber, vitamins, minerals, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and unsaturated fat, Paleo dieters try to avoid sodium, refined sugars, simple carbohydrates, saturated fat, and anything canned, packaged, or processed.
Although the Paleo diet is quite restrictive (no alcohol and no coffee!), the health benefits of excluding foods that are relatively new to the world are difficult to ignore. Here are 10 good reasons to consider going Paleo:
Eating as the Paleolithic humans did means sourcing food that is local and organically produced. Following the Paleo diet means you won’t be consuming preservatives, additives, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and growth stimulants.
Strengthen Your Immune System
The eating habits of primordial humans included about three times more fruits and vegetables than the typical American consumes today. Rich in fiber, antioxidants, vitamin C and E, eating lots of colorful produce boosts your immune system and can help lower your risk for cancer.
Home Cooked Meals
Since processed food is a big no-no for Paleo, it forces you to get into the kitchen and get cooking. And people who regularly cook at home eat healthier and consume fewer calories than those who opt for take-out.
It Might Help You Lose Weight
One of its biggest selling points is the claim that you can lose weight on the Paleo diet without even trying. Under the Paleo method, there is no calorie-counting, punishing portion control, or intermittent fasts.
Eliminating all processed foods (and this includes junk food of course!) while adding in lots of protein and fresh fruit and vegetables makes the Paleo diet incredibly rich in fiber. Fiber is harder to digest and makes you feel fuller for longer, acting basically as a natural appetite suppressant.
The key to shedding pounds on Paleo is balance: a serving of protein, fat, and produce at each meal. But since individuals will gain and lose weight at different rates, here is a guide on how to tinker with your Paleo diet to get the best results.
Also consider that Paleolithic humans hunted and gathered every day, which is great exercise. So don’t forget to include a daily dose of physical activity to achieve your weight loss goals.
It May Prevent (or Reverse) Metabolic Syndrome
Affecting more than one-third of adults in the US, metabolic syndrome is a group of medical conditions that, when presented together, increase the risk of diabetes, stroke, and coronary heart disease. To be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, at least three of these conditions must be present: abdominal obesity, elevated blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, low HDL (or “good”) cholesterol levels, and raised triglyceride levels.
Current dietary guidelines published by the USDA recommend daily servings of fruit, vegetables, protein, dairy, and grains. To rate how the current nutritional guides compare with the Paleo diet in those with at least one of the five conditions associated with metabolic syndrome, researchers found that Paleolithic nutrition resulted in improvements across all categories: waist circumference, triglycerides, blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, and fasting blood sugar. Another study had similar results, concluding that eating a Paleo diet for just two weeks improved the conditions of metabolic syndrome as compared with the control group who followed conventional dietary guidelines.
Heightens Insulin Sensitivity
When cells in the body stop responding to insulin – the hormone responsible for regulating the metabolism –blood sugar levels rise instead of being absorbed throughout the body and used for energy. Associated with metabolic syndrome, over time insulin resistance, can lead to type 2 diabetes.
In a study performed on diabetes patients, researchers measured metabolic changes between two groups: one on the diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association (which includes eating whole grains, legumes, and low-fat dairy) and the other on a Paleolithic diet. Showing improvements in glucose management and lipid profiles, the Paleo diet proved much more effective than the ADA diet, most significantly for increasing insulin sensitivity.
It Could be a Cure for Acne
Considered a disease of the western world, acne is non-existent among the Kitivan islanders of Papua New Guinea. Virtually uninfluenced by modern lifestyles, Kitavans are also unaffected by obesity, cardiac disease, and hypertension.
In investigating possible reasons why not a single pimple was found in a population of 1,200 Kitavans, researchers noted that the islanders primarily subsisted on fruit, vegetables, fish, coconut and tubers with a low glycemic index while dairy, alcohol, cereal grains, sugar and salt were mostly absent from their daily meals.
It’s More Humane
Along with fresh produce, getting a good amount of protein is another cornerstone of the Paleo diet. Though the hunter-gatherer’s diet consisted of around 30% protein, the average Westerner diet only constitutes about half of that. The Paleo diet encourages mindfulness when it comes to consuming protein and recommends eating only grass-fed, wild game, pastured and free-range meats. By purchasing ethically-raised livestock, you won’t be supporting cruel factory farming practices.
It’s More Eco-Friendly
Another aspect of the Paleo diet philosophy is its commitment to environmental sustainability. While critics of Paleo often point to the fact that eating that much meat is terrible for the planet, there is an important distinct between contemporary factory farming (and the widespread pollution it causes) and sustainable agriculture and livestock farming. The Paleo diet supports organic farming practices which uphold the principles of biodiversity, conservation, and nature-based agricultural techniques.
Less Food Waste
Hunters of the Paleolithic era undoubtedly consumed the entire beast, and so adherents of the Paleo diet promote the use of the whole animal – organs, blood, bones, fats, and all. Frequently cast aside for the choicer muscle cuts, offal is awfully good for you and was traditionally found on dinner plates up until a few generations ago. If the thought of eating organs and entrails squicks you out, see these ideas on how to prepare offal in ways that will trick your brain. Additionally, bones can be boiled into a nutritious broth and animal fat can be rendered into cooking oil.
How to Ease into the Paleo Lifestyle
Completely overhauling the foods you eat doesn’t need to happen overnight. Here are a few tips to help make the transition to the Paleo diet a little easier:
- Focus on the Positive – Instead of thinking “I can’t eat this”, focus instead on what you can eat: more veggies, more fruit, and more protein.
- Go Slow – Begin by incorporating just one Paleo meal into your day. Then two, then three.
- Set Small Goals – Eliminating grains, dairy, and junk food all at once can be overwhelming. Try to exclude one type of food at a time and once you feel you’ve kicked it, move on to the next category.
- It Doesn’t Need to be Perfect – Some people choose to eat Paleo 80% of the time while giving themselves days where they can chow down on anything they want. Although you won’t get the full benefits of the Paleo diet this way, allowing yourself some indulgences here and there may help you stay the course.
- Learn Some Recipes…
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