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Going Paleo 101 – What is Paleo?

Paleo is Paleolithic

Once upon a time ago there were humans who didn’t have smart phones, didn’t have books, heck – didn’t even have a written language. In fact, these humans were a vague (although genetically equal) version of us. These were our ancestors – the first of our kind – the first to inhabit our genetic makeup. And their genes had been developed for great lengths of time for specific reasons – to enable upright walking and complex thinking, emotion and survival instincts. Genetically, our ancestors were primed for hunting and gathering – survival, and their diets consisted of gathered vegetation and hunted animal meats. Sugar was unknown for the most part – as was bread and pasta. Many days these people would go without eating much at all. A successful hunt would bring back a nice meaty meal that would be quickly devoured before spoiled… It was an “eat to live” mentality. And diseases like we encounter today were nonexistent.

Their existence may have been a long time ago, but in the context of evolution, it was only just a moment ago – a moment in which nothing has changed in our genetic makeup. Cell for cell, we are identical to the humans of our hunter and gatherer past. However, technologically we are light-years away. Our technology has brought about many new things – much of which has enabled the massive success of our civilizations. But when it comes to food, there has been a giant separation between what (and how) humans used to eat and what (and how) humans eat today.

The Paleo Diet

And this is fundamentally what Paleo is all about. Our bodies evolved to consume a hunter-gatherer diet. Yet the modern world consumes a diet based on mass production. Human technology gave way to food processing and subsequently wheat based and sugary products – concentrated high calorie foods that although were particularly viable and useful for an exponentially growing population, were a far cry from the meats and vegetation days.

The Paleo diet is nothing more than ditching today’s processed food habits and switching to high quality (preferably raw) foods that our digestive systems were meant to consume. By doing so, the argument is that our bodies begin to run in a best state. Anecdotally (and scientifically), reports are all saying the same thing about this type of diet – that multitudes of health problems go away, digestion operates efficiently, migraines go away, excess weight is lost, sleep disruption and anxiety problems decline and energy levels become optimum.

And it’s exceptionally simple! Following a Paleo diet involves no measuring or calorie counting (if you aren’t interested in quick weight loss anyway). All you need to do is remember this mantra:

Meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, a little starch and NO SUGAR!

You can get a little more complicated than that by also avoiding legumes and nightshade type foods or consuming everything (including meat) raw, but in a nutshell (pun intended) the simple sentence above is all you need to keep in mind when eating.

The basic theory is that food should only be eaten as they were by our ancestors – as food should be eaten, given how our bodies and organs operate. So some of the things that should not be eaten include dairy products, sugar or sugar substitues and wheat based products or high glycemic veggies such as corn. Animal fat is fine (and actually encouraged).

A Day in the Life (of Paleo)

A nice Paleo friendly day of meals, for example, could look like this:

Breakfast: 2 eggs, an apple and a handful of almonds
Snack 1: homemade beef jerky (low sodium) and some berries
Lunch: Salad with chicken, lettuce, cucumber, snow peas and an oil based dressing
Snack 2: Some trail mix – dried berries (no sugar added) and nuts
Dinner: BBQ’d Salmon filet with a spinach salad (with sesame seeds and strawberries)
Snack 3: Some pistachios and pumpkin seeds or maybe a bit of chicken or some more jerky

Paleo diet friendly foods are low glycemic and have minimal effect on blood glucose levels. As such, those of us with blood sugar related problems (that are generally related to food) often find that episodes of hypoglycemia, for example, are more or less gone while on a paleo diet. Similarly, Paleo diets tend to keep hunger at bay and as such, it is possible to maintain a calorie restricted diet more easily on a Paleo diet.

For liquids, water, tea (unsweetened, no milk), coffee (black) are the basic drinks. Alcohol is unfortunately a no-no (although many Paleo dieters tend to disregard that in a social setting).

Keep in mind that it’s very difficult to maintain a strict Paleo diet along side a social life. When engaging in social situations, don’t feel overly guilty for falling off the bandwagon temporarily. Keep prepared, however, and try to consume protein with drinks and try as much as possible to avoid the sweets.

Remember – No Sugar

If you’re finding that the newest and greatest diet isn’t working for you or if you simply don’t have the time to measure out your portions and count calories, try out the Paleo way. It’s simple – just eat high quality foods as your body is meant to and remember: meats and veggies, nuts and seeds, some fruit, a little starch and NO SUGAR!!