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Paleo diet: What is the paleo diet?

Types of food you can eat on a paleo diet
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The paleo diet is a dietary plan that is designed to resemble the way of eating of the Paleolithic period which occurred approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago.

As a dietary concept, the paleo diet was first promoted in the 1970s, and whilst various approaches have now been adopted, they all share a similar core theory. The base principle is that the human body is misaligned with modern, more processed foods and that this puts a strain on the gastrointestinal system. The paleo diet seeks to remedy this by returning to the foods that were eaten before the agricultural revolution.

The paleo diet does not involve counting calories and instead focuses on three meals a day, alongside healthy snacks.

Read on to find out more about the benefits and risks of the paleo diet, as well as the types of foods that can be eaten when implementing this dietary plan.

Benefits of the paleo diet

It is believed that the paleo diet may have the following benefits, although the evidence is unclear:

  • Weight loss
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increased insulin sensitivity
  • Balanced blood glucose levels
  • Feeling fuller for longer
  • Better sleep
  • Increased energy
  • Improved cholesterol balance
  • Reduced inflammation

What can you eat on the paleo diet?

The paleo diet is based on foods that hunter-gatherers were able to find and eat. It is largely plant-based but also includes unprocessed protein sources and healthy fats. Versions of the diet have different restrictions but generally, the foods that you can eat on the paleo diet include:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Eggs
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Lean meats, especially those that come from grass-fed animals or wild game
  • Fish and seafood, particularly varieties rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and mackerel
  • Fats and oils from nuts and fruits such as walnut oil and avocado oil
  • Water
  • Herbal tea

What to avoid on the paleo diet?

When adopting the paleo diet, you should refrain from eating foods that wouldn’t have been accessible to Paleolithic humans, or foods that are now only prominent because of farming or manufacturing.

Whilst some paleo approaches are less strict than others, this generally means no butter, margarine, refined sugar, and dairy. Foods to avoid on the paleo diet include:

  • All dairy products including cheese, yoghurt, milk, and cream
  • Cereal grains such as wheat, barley, and oats
  • Legumes such as chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts
  • Starchy vegetables, especially potatoes
  • Processed and cured meats
  • Refined sugar, honey, and artificial sweetener
  • Salt
  • Highly processed foods
  • Soft drinks

Are there risks associated with the paleo diet?

As the paleo diet limits the consumption of certain food groups, there are some possible risks from a nutritional standpoint.

For example, a low carbohydrate intake can also lead to a reduction in the amount of fibre, iron, magnesium, and selenium that you get from your diet. Grains also help the body control blood sugar (glucose) which is the body's main source of energy. Consistently eating a low amount of carbohydrates can lead the body to enter a state of ketosis in which it uses its fat stores for energy.

Dairy is important for bone health and with the restricted intake required when adopting the paleo diet, there is a risk of calcium and vitamin D deficiency.

The inclusion of a high amount of meat in the paleo diet may also be of concern. Whilst a great source of protein, meat, and especially red meat, is high in saturated fat. Saturated fat is associated with LDL (bad) cholesterol and the increased likelihood of heart and circulatory disease.

Will I lose weight on the paleo diet?

Following a paleo diet may help you lose weight as it promotes foods that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates as well as high-volume, low-calorie fruits and vegetables, it can mean that you feel fuller for longer and reduce your overall calorie intake.

In addition, it eliminates highly processed foods which are often high in sugar and have a lower nutritional value which we often eat more of to feel satiated.

Paleo diet meal plan

A typical day when following a paleo diet should consist of a variety of fruits, vegetables, and protein sources. Ideas for paleo-friendly meals include:

        Breakfast Lunch Dinner Snack
Day one Scrambled eggs and smoked salmon Thai pork lettuce wraps Ratatouille A handful of nuts
Day two Shakshouka Tuna salad Bolognese and courgetti A piece of fruit
Day three Fruit salad Fajita chicken Beef casserole A portion of olives
Day four Sweet potato hash Salmon and asparagus Chinese chicken and broccoli Apple slices with almond butter
Day five Blueberry and spinach smoothie Stuffed bell peppers Curried cod and cauliflower rice Guacamole and carrot sticks

 

Paleo Vs. Keto

The paleo diet and the keto diet are often compared as they have many similarities in terms of their core principles and can both lead to weight loss when followed correctly. They both focus on consuming whole foods and avoiding anything that is highly processed.

Both keto and paleo are low carbohydrate diets as they limit grains and legumes and they both discourage a high intake of sugar. In both approaches, there is also an emphasis on including healthy fats such as those found in olive oil.

The main differences between the keto diet and the paleo diet are that the keto diet includes dairy products such as cheese and cream but limits the intake of fruit due to its high natural sugar content.

Is the paleo diet right for me?

In summary, the paleo diet revolves around eating how it is believed our ancestors did. It promotes healthy eating through the inclusion of whole foods which are high in protein, vitamins, and minerals. The paleo diet encourages you to eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, and healthy snacks without any calorie counting. It can help you lose weight but there are also potential risks associated with adopting this diet long term.

As with all diets, you should speak to your doctor or pharmacist if you are considering adopting the paleo diet to make sure it is suitable for you and won’t affect any medication you might be taking.

Want to learn about alternative diet plans? Discover our guide low carb diets or find out more about Mediterranean diets.

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References

www.diabetes.co.uk/paleo/benefits-of-paleo-diet.html
www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/the-paleo-diet.aspx
www.bbc.co.uk/food/articles/paleo_diet