WHAT EXACTLY IS PALEO?
Well I'm so glad you asked! I'd like to refrain from referring to it as the Paleo Diet, since the term "diet" implies that it is a short-term weight loss program that's nothing more than a fad, which couldn't be further from the truth. The Paleo lifestyle or Paleo nutrition template can be defined as simply just returning to the food that our ancestors ate over the the last few thousand+ years (as in Paleolithic). And that doesn't mean that this isn't about historical reenactment (duh), but rather getting as close as we can to the foods our species has evolved to thrive on during our time here on earth, with what we've got available today. The foods (nutrient ratios, lack of nutrients, and portions) that most people eat every day bear little to no resemblance to the foods we consumed during the develpment of our species, and it's no coincidence that humans didn't experience epidemic porportions of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, cancer, and other chronic inflammatory and metabolic conditions until we started messing with our food. (Mother Nature is a clever little mynx and we would be wise to stop thinking that we can outsmart her in any way whatsoever!).
Paleo is not a trendy diet, but rather the opposite: it's simply about getting back to the very fundamental basics of fueling the human body, and it's one of my favorite place to recommend you start your journey with nutrition. Give it a go for 30 days and see what you learn!
The Paleo lifestyle is a little different for everyone since every body is different, but here are the basic tenants that I suggest you try for at least a little bit:
AVOID GLUTEN AND GRAINS of all kinds, including but not limited to oats, corn (corn is a grain, not a vegetable!), quinoa, barley, rye and yes, even "healthy whole grains". Our bodies are not adapted to digest grains, and any nutrients that they do have are rendered useless, as they inherently carry "anti-nutrients" including lectins and phytic acid that prohibit absorption of vital nutrients, like calcium, magnesium, and zinc. (These anti-nutrents also block nutrient absorbtion from other non-grain foods. Taking a calcium supplement? May as well be popping Tic Tacs if you're eating grains). They greatly contribute to and often are the underlying culprit in most auto-immune diseases, as they cause rampant chronic inflammation. For some more info on this, check here and here.
AVOID SOY AND LEGUMES. (Soy is not a health food)! Beans contain the same anti-nutrients that grains do, causing similar issues with malabsorption, gastrointestinal distress, and leaky gut. Beans are often considered a great vegetarian protein source, but there's a reason that beans get a bad rap for what they do to our gastrointestinal system ("beans, beans, they're good for your heart..." anyone?): they wreak havoc! They also interfere with our body's metabolic processes, triggering rapid rise in blood sugar levels and insulin, since they are mostly just carbohydrate (read: sugar. A cup of beans has 120 grams of carbs!). The damage they cause on our system more than outweighs any redeeming qualtities they may have, period. (Also note that peanuts are actually legumes, not nuts).
AVOID SUGAR. It does nothing for you other than send your blood sugar levels and insulin release into crazytown. These sugar highs and crashes can make you insulin resistant over time and destroy many delicately balanced systems in your body. It also happens to act like a drug in your brain, and the more you eat, the more you want. Sugar is in just about every processed food you pick up off a shelf in one form or another, and it's of our opinion that the combination of excess refined sugar and obscene amount of grains that the average American consumes is the cause for most of our modern day diseases. Here's some more info on this topic.
AVOID PROCESSED DAIRY. Most dairy these days is made from sick cows that are being fed a diet that they never were intended to live on: grains. (Notice a trend here?) They are also injected with hormones, steroids and chemicals, and that's to say nothing of the horrifying conditions most cattle are raised in. And then there's the fact that almost all dairy consumed today is "reduced-fat" in some way, which means that the sick cow's milk is then processed to within an inch of it's life, removing the fat that it's almost entirely made of, and replacing it with "other stuff" to make it taste sort of good. Yum. Most people are sensitive to dairy in some way (though they might not know it without removing it from their diet for a month and then trying to add it back in), but some people can consume dairy with no immune or histamine response at all (like upset stomach, increased mucus production), so in that case, finding grass-fed, full fat, unpasturized dairy is the way to go. Read about dairy's place in the paleo lifestyle here.
AVOID PROCSSED FOODS of all kinds. With a few exceptions here and there, a general rule of thumb is if it comes in a bag or box, it's no bueno. Always read ingredient lists, and if it's got more than a handful of ingredients, or includes things you can't pronounce or define, includes trans/hydrogenated fats or oils, and/or sugar, ditch it. Sneaky processed man-made fats and oils that are rampant in the modern day diets are industrial seed oils. Canola, soybean and other vegetable oils are NOT good for you, despite whatever health claim they may be selling. They only existed until about 50 years ago (some cultures historically have used oil derived from the rapeseed plant for oil lamps, and then more recently it was used to to steam-wash metal surfaces with the advent of steam power, but was never considered an edible substance until it's "rewiring"/invention in the 1970s), they are highly processed, and there's a lot of little known but crazy scary research out there on what they do to us, including systematic inflammation. Read up on this here.
So now that we've covered the stuff you'll want to avoid, let's talk about all the delicious yumminess you get to eat!
VEGETABLES. All of them. From every season, raw, sauteed, roasted, grilled, chilled, red, purple, green, yellow, orange.. just... Vegetables! They are the base of the Paleo food pyramid, and there's more than just kale and tomatoes out there! Try new ones, get creative, just eat your veggies.
MEAT, SEAFOOD AND EGGS. As your budget (and location) allows, opt for ethically and properly raised meat and seafood, which means grass-fed red meat, pastured pork, chickens and eggs, and wild caught (not farmed) fish. For lots more info on why the quality of meat we eat matters, go here and here.
HEALTHY FATS from properly raised animals, and sources like avocados, olives and coconuts. Grassfed butter or clarified butter (ghee) is a great choice if you can tolerate diary.
FRUIT, NUTS AND SEEDS. Snack on these goodies in moderation.
HEALTHY CARBS and starches, like sweet potatoes, white rice, plantains, yuca, etc.
NUTRIENT DENSE FOODS, like bone broth, liver, and fermented vegetables, all play an important role in healing a broken gut and giving your body nutrients that is so badly wants. Play around with new foods!
We highly recommend giving this at least 30 days before you make any conclusions. It can take a few weeks for your body to adjust from what it's been fed it's entire existence and adapt to the new foods. And no, you don't have to eat this way forever ever! But I highly recommend it as a starting point at the very least.