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Paleo Diet Guide: What is it, Meal Plan and Health Risks

Updated: Feb 25, 2022

The Paleo diet or Paleolithic diet is a meal plan composed of foods that our hunter-gatherer ancestors used to eat. It has only those foods which were available to humans during the Stone age. Supporters of the eating pattern say we can avoid health conditions like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease if we retreat to the dietary regimen of cavemen from the Paleolithic age.

Several studies have documented that the diet can lead to significant weight loss with other major health benefits in the short term. This is achieved without counting calories.

But following a Paleo diet can be difficult. What foods should you eat? What foods do you have to avoid? How to sort a well-defined Paleo meal plan? If you are a newbie planning to follow it, you’ve come to the right place. Our exhaustive list of Paleo-approved foods will assist you to formulate a perfect diet. It doesn’t matter if you are new to this or you only want to incorporate good parts of this diet. It has plenty of what you must know.

In this article, we shall understand what constitutes a “Paleo Diet”, its nutritional breakdown, what is allowed, what should be avoided and potential health risks.

What is The Paleolithic or “Paleo” diet?

Proponents of the Paleo diet say that our anatomy and genetics have largely remained the same for the last 2 million years. To avoid modern-day diseases like diabetes, obesity, cancer, and heart ailments, a consistent diet of lean meats and plant foods should be followed.

This along with increased physical activity (mimicking their high level of occupation for intensive hunting) promotes good health. Our predecessors lived a fraction of current life expectancy. The premise is that had they lived long enough, they would encounter lesser 21st-century ills.

Still, it is impossible to precisely follow what human ancestors ate. Different regions offer different food choices (for example, the Arctic vs. tropical). Further, our modern-day fruits and vegetables also differ from their pre-historic versions. Researchers say that the diet of our predecessors largely consisted of whole foods.

The Paleo diet’s popularity hit its peak in 2014. The “healthy food” and “know where your food comes from” trends were up around the same time. The Paleo diet caught the tide.

The whole diet is supposed to strictly resemble what humans ate thousands of years ago. It focuses on the increased intake of whole foods, healthy proteins, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables. It proposes decreasing the consumption of processed foods, sugar, and salt. But this doesn’t stop here. A strict meal plan says no to grains, legumes and dairy products too. This has sparked controversy among scientists and nutritionists. Our body derives necessary nutrients from these foods. They provide a good amount of fiber, minerals and vitamins. Their deficiency can cause serious issues.

What to eat?

  • Fresh fruits (apples, plums, peaches, citrus fruits, bananas, grapes, melon and berries such as blackberries, blueberries and strawberries)

  • Fresh vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, cabbage, spinach, tomatoes, kale, peppers, onions, carrots, low-GI potatoes, yams, turnips)

  • Lean meat and sea-food (chicken, bacon, pork, trout, haddock, shellfish, shrimp, beef, tuna, turkey, cod, salmon)

  • Eggs (recommended as they are rich in minerals, protein, B vitamin and antioxidants)

  • Nuts and seeds (pine-nuts, cashews, brazil nuts, pistachios, pecans, macadamia nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds)

  • Healthy oils (coconut, olive, avocado, flaxseed, walnut, macadamia, mustard)

  • Grass-fed meat (avoiding grain-fed meat as it doesn’t resemble what our ancestors ate)

  • Herbal tea

  • Herbs and spices (garlic, turmeric, rosemary)

What to avoid in a Paleo Diet?

  • Cereal grains (crackers, rice, oats, wheat, spelt, ray, barley bread, pasta, cereal and beer)

  • Legumes (peanuts, beans, lentils, tofu, soy sauce)

  • Processed foods (refined sugar, fruit juices, candy, ice-cream, refined vegetable oils, salt, soda, sweetened beverages, artificial sweeteners, foods labelled ‘diet’, ‘low fat’ or with additives)

  • Dairy products (a strict Paleo meal plan doesn’t allow dairy, especially low-fat but some versions allow full-fat products in moderation which should be complemented with non-dairy products made with cashew milk, coconut milk and almond milk)

  • Some oils ( grapeseed oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, safflower oil)

  • Coffee, alcohol, white potatoes

Where can you indulge?

  • Tea (high in antioxidants and offer various health benefits)

  • Dark chocolate (quality dark chocolate with more than 70% cocoa content is nutritious and healthy)

  • Red wine (like tea, it is also rich in antioxidants and provides necessary nutrients to the body)

What is the nutritional breakdown of a Paleo Diet?

The Paleo meal plan comprises primarily low-glycemic fruits and vegetables. The variations in the diet are plenty. Some of them allow dairy, grass-fed butter. Few even include gluten-free grains like rice. The notion behind these differences is simple. Modern foods that are healthy should be covered in the meal.

For instance, the presence of white potatoes during the Stone age has been recorded. But they are not usually not included in a Paleo meal plan as their glycemic index value is high. Consequently, other foods which are at the top of the index should be excluded too.

A caveman diet, as it is alternatively known, advocates high protein and fiber intake. It must be moderate on unsaturated fats and carbohydrates. The consumption of refined sugars and sodium should be negligible.

Nuts, seeds, seafood, olive oil and avocado provide the necessary monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. They include the indispensable and heavily marketed omega-3 fats EPA and DHA.

Grass-fed cattle are often promoted in a Paleo diet over the usual grain-fed cattle. This closely resembles the food intake of the animals from the prehistoric era. It is stated to have comparatively more omega-3 fats. They contain ALA or alpha-linolenic acid which gets converted to EPA and DHA in our body. However, the process happens on a very low scale. The influence may be even lower because of the variations in feed and fat metabolism themselves arising from a matrix of differences across breeds, time and regions. Therefore, fish should be ideally preferred if increased consumption of omega-3 fats is being targeted.

What are health risks?

The benefits of a short duration (one to six months) Paleo diet have been clinically supported. Controlled experiments have proved it results in weight loss, balanced blood pressure, decreased waist circumference, and increased insulin count. A well-followed plan provides good cholesterol to our body.

However, the critics point to the flawed sample sizes (less than 100) of these trials. The findings for the long-term period are mixed. Further, very few people are able to follow a strict Paleo meal plan. Following the eating plan becomes boring after a while as most foods are eaten plain. Over it, the approach is costly and cumbersome to maintain. A good amount of time is spent reading food labels and sourcing necessary foods. The plan prepared should be such that none of the important nutrients our body needs are left behind.

In contrast to its popularity, many nutritionists and scientists do not support it for a variety of reasons.

A very strict plan for a long duration may risk deficiencies of B vitamins, vitamin D and calcium. These have to be supplemented as foods allowed in a Paleo diet have these nutrients in small amounts. One alternative is to consistently consume calcium-heavy items such as collard and turnip greens. Consumption of some greens like spinach to supplement it is not advised because they contain oxalates and phytates which leads to lesser calcium absorption by the body, despite their high calcium content.

Multiple studies have demonstrated serious conditions arising from increased meat intake. Significant health risks highlighted are a higher risk of death, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Reduced whole grains intake leads to lower fiber levels than is usually required by our body. We may experience constipation, blood sugar fluctuations, irregular bowel movement, increased cholesterol or a lack of satiety after eating if we don’t take enough fiber in our diet.

How to include the Paleo Diet in your lifestyle?

What has been presented here is a brief guide. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be so restrictive. You don’t have to be constrained if you are genuinely interested in the Paleo Diet but don’t want to be very strict.

You may take on only those eating patterns which appeal to you. The ones which don’t sound right as per your research can be skipped altogether or reduced to some degree. For example, just consume more fruits and vegetables and decrease the intake of processed foods. What we understand is the diet is not meant for everyone. You must understand your body and the diet before joining the bandwagon.

If you’ve made up your mind and don’t want to be confused anymore, you should start by planning your meal. The Paleo being a comprehensive plan needs to be diligently followed. When we are busy, we can end up missing on our thoughtfully planned regimen. Sortizy app helps to plan your meal schedules with its auto-generated grocery list, ingredients for your meals and step by step cooking guides. It also assists you to avoid unhealthy eating options by keeping track of your calorie levels with the nutrition value tracker in the application. A personalized recommendation helps you to streamline your fitness regime and consume food that benefits your health and daily routine. It encourages you to manage your fats, carbohydrates, protein and calorie intake while also recommending you the most optimal meals as per your health requirements.

Image Source: Pexels

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