The paleo diet, or evolutionary diet, is a lifestyle aiming to optimize human health by focusing on real, whole, unprocessed foods. There are many philosophies and reasons to support the paleo diet, and as a result, there are many variations of the model.
The Paleo “Rules”
The paleo purist rules are typically defined by what you can’t eat:
- grains of any kind (wheat, rice, corn, etc.)
- processed/refined sugars
- legumes (peas, peanuts, beans, soy, lentils, etc.)
potatoes(potatoes are paleo friendly now, depending on your goals – see more below)
But we like to focus on what paleo is:
- real unprocessed foods
- quality meats (ideally grass-fed, ethically raised, etc.)
- quality seasonal fruits and vegetables
- low inflammatory
Often people are under the impression that to be paleo you must eat a lot of meat. While there is an emphasis on consuming quality meats, there is no push for increased quantity of meat. The “caveman diet” is not for carnivores. The truth is that we eat far more fresh vegetables than we did before becoming paleo.
There are some who focus on the argument that because our caveman ancestors ate this way that means we should too. There are many articles, talks, and essays pointing out holes in this theory and how it is nearly impossible for modern man living in the present to eat exactly the same as cavemen did. That’s a fair point: we can’t. But we don’t subscribe to this line of thought as being the reason that the paleo lifestyle is good for you. Elizabeth Kolbert points out in The New Yorker, that “On the timescale of evolutionary history, it’s agriculture that’s the fad”. She also suggests that the diet “is not meant to replicate so much as to translate [what cavemen ate], and… we shouldn’t expect paleo dieters to run down game or dig up and consume grubs”. Though we have eaten insects…
If you’re at all like Raj then you want to know “WHY?!” Why can’t I eat lentils? Why are grains unhealthy? WHY is the paleo diet good for me?
Robb Wolf’s book The Paleo Solution is very informative, enlightening, and convincing. The chapter explaining metabolic pathways is geared towards science-minded readers (which really spoke to that Raj fella), but it makes a lot of sense (many people choose to skip over this “why?” section). The paleo diet is a low-inflammation diet, and Robb goes on to explain how many common (and expensive to treat) health conditions are believed to be a result of, or at least partly contributed to, systemic inflammation. He also speaks to some of the reasons that the paleo lifestyle aids in optimizing body weight. Raj himself saw a very rapid reduction of the unhealthy visceral fat (the stuff around your organs that increases your risk of many health issues) the first time he did a 30-day paleo challenge.
Holley was struggling with unexplained weight gain (despite daily exercise) and hormone irregularities and imbalance prior to adopting the paleo lifestyle. Test after test would come back in the “normal” range or inconclusive. Raj challenged Holley to do a 30 day paleo challenge with him, and even with a “carb flu” she felt much better. The paleo “bible” that got Holley through those first 30 days was Dianne Sanfilipino's book Practical Paleo. Practical Paleo has great glossy recipes and some of the science behind the why and how, including information on nightshades (peppers, chilies and tomatoes), goitrogens (cabbage, brussel sprouts, soy beans, etc.), and the effects they have on the body. You can read more about our personal journeys and experiences in our About section.
The Scale of Evil Foods
There are different, shall we say, “levels of evil” when it comes to food. Grains and sugars are evil-genius bad. After that, it depends on how you respond. Sensitive stomach? You might need to avoid all of the offenders. How do you figure out what works for you? Try strict paleo for a month and if all is good, gradually add things back: can you handle cheese? Maybe primal is your style. Strict paleo still doesn’t feel perfect? Investigate AIP (autoimmune paleo). Check out Seven Shades of Paleo for more info. And depending on your fitness levels and goals, Robb Wolf says potatoes may be ok too. (Read more about spuds here). It’s all about what’s right for you.
Everyone is Different
We believe that everyone and their bodies are unique snowflakes, and as such respond differently to different foods. Some people are well-suited to raw diets, others find raw vegetables hard on their systems; many unfortunate people are unable to eat dairy for various reasons, whereas Holley and Raj do not have issues with dairy, and enjoy cheese on the regular. Most current diets have some theory behind them that can be at least partially backed up by science, but until you see how foods affect your own body and health, you don’t know what is right for you. As a result, we encourage you to see how your body responds to different foods.
With that said, we do believe the paleo diet is a great starting place. If you haven’t tried the paleo diet, give it a 30-day challenge***.
But there is one thing that we feel EVERYONE across the board should try to base their food intake on: REAL FOOD. And we’ve got recipes for everyone eating real food; paleo or not.
***As with any change to your diet, supplementation, or exercise regime, (especially if you are being treated for any medical conditions) it is recommended that you consult your physician(s), dietitian(s), nutritionist(s), pharmacist(s), and/or other healthcare provider(s) before making any changes. Speak to your healthcare provider(s) who are familiar with (or have access to records concerning) your health status.