Paleo foods are foods that existed before modern agriculture and the domestication of animals. This period of modern agriculture began about 10,000 years ago. Therefore foods that existed before this time are considered "good" to eat by any paleo enthusiast. At least for the most part.
What this also means is that foods like grains, dairy, industrial seed oils, sugar, and of course processed foods are eliminated from the diet. Yes all milk, cheese, bread, pasta, rice, corn, canola oil, soybean oil, just to name a small few are considered unhealthy and should not be eaten if following a paleo diet.
In a more simple sense, a strict paleo diet means eating plants, tubers, animals, nuts, and seeds. Eating these foods while eliminating all else is thought is lead to optimized health. And truth be told I couldn't agree more.
I can talk the talk and walk the walk because I followed a strict paleo diet for about 3 years. I know all the ins and outs of this particular eating regime.
Now this post could turn into a 300 page book. Just ask Lorden Cordain, Chris Kresser, or Mark Sisson! Therefore in I am just going to cover the very basics here.
I have laid the foundation for what it means to follow a strict paleo diet, eating plants and animals. But the theory for avoiding certain types of foods is this...humans have not had enough time to evolve to properly metabolize particular foods (dairy, grains, seed oils, etc.).
That means, eating foods that we cannot efficiently break down and metabolize leads to a whole host of issues. Most notably weight gain, improper hormone function, poor cognitive function, and degenerative disease.
Now turning back to me for a minute, following the paleo diet was one the best things I did for my health, body composition (at least at the time), and paved the way for an entirely new approach to nutrition. I dropped body fat, gained energy, and had a entirely new perspective on what it mean't to eat real whole foods. Foods that not only helped with fat loss but foods that truly improved your health.
That is one of the main principals that I LOVE about the paleo diet. Foods are eaten not just because they won't make you fat but they are eaten because they are actually "healthy" for you. You can digest them. Metabolize them. Use the nutrients properly. And they do not lead to a leaky gut, metabolic syndrome, poor insulin sensitivity, etc.
Now there is one big issue with the paleo diet, and I experienced it first hand. After about 3 years of quite a strict protocol I started to plateau. I could not get any stronger in the gym, I definitely could not get any bigger, and my body fat would not go any lower. I couldn't figure it out. I was doing everything that had been working in the past and everything had come to a halt.
One large principal that is preached in the paleo community is the idea of a low carb diet. This comes about for 2 reasons:
1) Eating a low carb diet enhances insulin sensitivity leading to increased fat loss, increased weight management, and improved health.
2) Due to the fact that most carb sources are not included in this diet (sugar, bread, pasta, rice, etc.) you will naturally eat fewer carbohydrates.
Now I completely agree with reason number 2. I full heartedly agree that most grains, sugar, and processed carbs should not be included into anyones diet. I do however have an issue with reason number 1.After all, eating a low carb diet was exactly my problem.
For anyone that knows me you know that I train A LOT. I love being in the gym. It is one of my greatest passions and pleasures. When you train, whether it is in the weight room or not, you deplete your body of it's glycogen reserves.
This exact scenario happened to me. My system was glycogen depleted and I wasn't eating enough carbs to restore my reserves. Result...I plateaued in basically every area. Once I figured this out, holy shit what a difference!
I started to eat more carbs and incredible things happened. I put on 20 pounds of muscle and went from about 14% body fat to 10% body fat. And let's not even go into my strength gains!
By incorporating certain carbs into my diet I was able to optimize my body composition, my athletic performance, fat loss, and overall health.
The reason I highlight certain carbs is that I do think there are only a handful of carbohydrate sources that are good to eat. And if you were to ask anyone in the paleo community they would for the most part agree. That is with the exception of white rice.
So what types of carbs do I eat. Yams, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and white rice. I have just recently started to experiment with gluten-free oatmeal and so far no complaints. The reason that I only consume these certain carbs is that they do not contain any anti-nutrients (except the oatmeal).
Anti-nutrients are substances in specific foods (most grains and legumes) which inhibit the proper absorption of nutrients as well as harm both your gut bacteria and gut lining. Anti-nutrients are the main reason that "paleo-ers" do not eat grains and legumes, and I totally agree with this theory.
By taking certain principals from the diet and making adjustments to meet my specific needs, I was able to achieve my nutrition, fitness, and performance goals. By sticking with foods that are mostly approved from paleo standards and eating more or of them, I was able to optimize my health.
Now is low carb a bad way to go? Nope. Sedentary individuals should take a low carb approach for their diet. They should eat somewhere in the neighbourhood of 150 grams of carbs per day and those carbs should mainly come from vegetables and fruits. Sounds familiar right...the paleo diet.
But is it for everyone? No. That is why you need to breakdown your lifestyle, your habits, and your body type to truly find where you "fit in" on the nutrition spectrum.
So coming full circle do I think that a strict paleo diet is the way the go? Definitely not for everyone. Do I think it has good principals? Absolutely YES!
We have just scratched the surface in what it means to follow a paleo diet. My approach for both myself and my clients is this...take 90% of the learnings, theory, and principals from the paleo diet and tweak things for certain individuals.
If you train a lot you need more carbs than the paleo diet would recommend. If you are an ectomorph you can tolerate more carbs (and different carbs) than if following a paleo diet.
Everyone is slightly genetically different when it comes to the metabolism of food. This is called genetic polymorphisms. Therefore following a "one diet for all" approach is not the way to go. At least that is what I believe.
So if you ask me should I follow the paleo diet I would say this..."take most of the principals from the diet and make specific adjustments to optimize YOUR body type, activity level, and your goals".
Paleo diet or paleo principals...paleo principals!
Live Your Best Life!