The last few years or so have been a rollercoaster ride for the Paleo Diet! It was fairly non-existent before taking the world by storm just recently and now everyone in the health world has got something to say about it – good and bad! The purpose of this article is not to convert you to or from Paleo, but to inform you of what it’s all about and why it has perhaps received both praise and scrutiny. Why is everyone eating like a caveman?!
What Can I Eat?
Paleo involves consuming only meat, fruit, veggies, nuts and seeds. No grains. No legumes. And certainly no refined or processed foods! Dairy is out of the question too.
The Paleo Diet, or eating the way people did in the Stone Age, has come to be one of most popular nutritional lifestyles in the Western World. The basis behind this way of eating is that for 99.5% of the time humans have inhabited Earth, they have eaten like this, therefore under the Paleo diet it is assumed that our bodies are best adapted to eat this way. Overall the foundation of Paleo is that with a shift back to eating in a way more closely aligned to our ancestors, we are not only removing these newer processed and refined foods that may be detrimental to our health but also increasing intake of important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants from nature’s food sources.
While fruit, veggies, nuts and seeds are almost always accepted as a nourishing addition to your daily intake, grains and legumes are a little more controversial. These two food groups are not recommended under Paleo firstly because they contain phytic acid, a compound that is known to bind to nutrients in the body preventing them from being absorbed and utilised for energy and health. While phytic acid does not steal any of the nutrients already inside your body, it may make the meal you are eating less nourishing if your body cannot absorb all the goodness you have gone to the effort to include. As with all foods, the effects of phytic acid on your body depend on the quantities you are consuming. For some people, eating these food groups in moderation will have great health benefits, while for other people avoiding them altogether may be necessary for optimal digestion and health.
Furthermore, grains and legumes contain lectins, a protein that can be problematic to digestion. Lectin is known to cause disruption to the intestinal wall, contributing to leaky gut. Different people react to different lectins and they may only be problematic for some people. Many lectins can also be destroyed by proper cooking methods, which should be implemented if legumes are a regular feature in your diet.
In addition, legumes are considered ‘FODMAPs’ as they contain a carbohydrate-containing compound that may cause further digestive complaints in some people. This would generally only be a concern for those with pre-existing digestive issues or those that experience bloating, inflammation and other discomfort following consumption of these foods.
The Paleo Diet may seem a little restrictive for people and does not include some food groups that are considered healthful under other nutritional plans. So a lot of the concern around the Paleo Diet seems to have arisen from those being confronted with abstinence from such foods; grains, legumes and dairy in particular. While it is fair to assume that someone who is Paleo can gain all their essential vitamins and minerals from the food groups it allows, it is also important to recognise that foods not included under Paleo may also be beneficial to health.
Avoiding grains in the Paleo Diet is necessary for the reasons discussed above but there are many gluten-free grains available to us nowadays that can be a wonderful addition to your diet and not pose the same potentially harmful effects to health – quinoa, amaranth, millet, buckwheat and sorghum to name a few. These have no known negative effects and should generally not be ruled out of the diet.
Legumes are low in saturated fat and rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein and dietary fibre. They have been shown to promote digestive health, manage blood cholesterol and blood glucose, and support weight management. Legumes are a great choice for those on vegan or vegetarian diets as a protein and fibre source that is satiating and versatile at mealtime. Unless you experience bloating or other digestive complaints after consuming legumes, they may also be considered a healthy inclusion into your diet.
The exclusion of dairy from the Paleo Diet may be confronting for many people too, and is one that is required by a number of other ‘nutritional lifestyles’ nowadays too. Dairy has long been believed to be essential for its calcium and vitamin D content and with particular reference to bone health. However, further research has proven that we can get these important nutrients from other food sources, such as green leafy vegetables, fruit and legumes. Depending on how you consume dairy and in what quantities, trialing dairy-free may be necessary to take note of any changes in your digestion, your respiration and your energy levels.
It is important to remember that sticking to one specific “diet” is not always necessary to reach optimal health. However there are a couple of key points that absolutely everyone can use to become your healthiest self:
1. TRIAL different food groups in your own diet for 4-8 weeks at a time and see how they make you feel. Do they agree with your digestive system? Do they give you energy? Are you getting cravings?2. INCLUDE plenty of vegetables, fruit and other natural food sources. ELIMINATE refined and processed foods. By reducing the toxic load on your body and increasing important nutrients, you are sure to thrive.
Find out what works best for your digestive system, your body and your mind the best. If you want to go Paleo but can’t live without legumes, throw them in a few days a week if they suit your digestive system. If you want to eliminate dairy from your diet but cheese on Saturdays is a must, go with it! It’s all about YOU and what makes you feel your BEST!