The Paleo Diet can conjure an array of images. Popular media paints images from “hardcore” chiseled athletes sweating through an intense work capacity session to modern day hunter-gathers. But is Paleo really an extreme diet that sends us hunting our own meat with crossbows and digging for dandelion greens in an urban jungle? What is the community really saying?
The Paleo Diet derived from the idea that 21st Century humans should eat what their ancestors ate. If it wasn’t around 10,000 years ago, don’t eat it. Clearly, a lot has changed in 10,000 years, from the way we interact with food, to the way we receive it, even the molecular state of it has changed. Food is simply different. It’s not simply a means-to-weight-loss diet either. It’s a lifestyle. While many will lose weight by eliminating grains, sugar, legumes, and diary, the ultimate goal is better health. Changing what you put in your body is a major component, it is only the first step. The goal is to reset our modern, chronically ill bodies with more, high-quality sleep, playing outside in the sunlight (hello vitamin-D!), and de-stressing our lives. While you don’t have to eat perfectly 100% of the time, the closer you come to this goal, the better you will feel.
Which is why I think it is more important to focus on health, instead of history. It’s easy to get caught in the “would a caveman have eaten this?” when holding a can of tuna. Ingredients: tuna, water. Clearly, it’s a minimally processed food, but a caveman would not have had canned tuna lying around the forest. Nor would he have encountered a jar of almond butter on his hunt for breakfast. We live in a different world today, which means, we need different rules. But also better guidelines for choosing nutrient dense foods that make you healthier and give you energy.
Some foods are clearly off limits on a Neanderthal diet. Foods containing grains (wheat, barley, couscous, quinoa, rice, etc.), sugar, legumes (black, navy, garbanzo, etc.), alcohol, and dairy contribute little nutrients and can cause hormonal imbalances, insulin resistance, internal inflammation, as well as many other common ailments and illnesses. Therefore they should be either eliminated or eaten rarely. You can eat meat, fish, fowl, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. These foods cannot only help you lose weight and reverse decades of unhealthy eating, but they can make you stronger, faster, more alert, and energetic. It’s as if they were a magic pill to make you feel better. It is your diet; a clean, healthy, processed foods-free diet.
How do you make Paleo part of your lifestyle? Engage with your food; go to the farmers market and meet the farmers growing your vegetables, fruit, and raising the cattle, lambs, goats, and chickens. Discover new spices, styles, and cooking techniques, make food about nourishment and enjoyment, not an afterthought to your busy day. Your body is what you put in it. Love it. Play outside, even if you only have 15 minutes. Go to sleep when it’s dark out, rise when the sun comes up. Take a deep breath and put your iPhone away. The world won’t end if you don’t answer that email right this second. You need time to disconnect, enjoy your food, the outdoors, and your life. Your body will thank you for it.