What if you could turn back the clock? Waaay back. To Paleolithic times. Although it’s not quite the same as time travel, Paleo dieters have done their best to take their nutrition back to the Stone Ages.
The theory behind Paleo is that our modern reliance on carbs and processed foods is the cause of our general bad health. Proponents champion this primal, hunter-gatherer way of eating (and sometimes living) as closer to nature and the answer to living a healthier, disease-free life. Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint and Robb Wolf, author of The Paleo Solution, go as far to say that because the human genome hasn’t changed much over the last two million years, we are better genetically adapted to eating an animal protein and plant-based diet like our descendants did in pre-agricultural times. There have been studies backing up the health claims suggesting it may lower cholesterol levels and help promote a healthy weight but research is ongoing.
If there’s one thing the diet gets right that most people agree on, it’s the idea of eating less processed foods and refined sugars. However, limiting entire food groups (grains, dairy, legumes – anything consumed post-agricultural revolution) based on ideas of what humans ate two million years ago has raised controversy. Some researchers feel it’s unnecessarily restrictive and leaves followers devoid of required nutrients. Not to mention, there is no standard hunter-gatherer diet; both Paleolithic and modern modern hunter-gatherers have diets that vary by location – just check out this graph below by Jen Christiansen for Scientific American:
So, what can you eat on this diet? A lot, it turns out, despite the absence of food groups. As per Paleo Diet and Living‘s recommendations, a typical Paleo dieter should aim to follow these guidelines:
Foods you can eat in unlimited amounts:
- Greens: leafy greens like romaine, spinach, arugula, kale, chard, mixed baby greens.
- Fruits and vegetables: beets, squash, rudabega, berries.
- Lean meats: beef, chicken, turkey, pork, lamb, goat, wild game – the closer to nature the better (so, grass-fed over grain-fed beef, for example).
- Seafood: shrimp, oysters, scallops, eel, octopus, crawdads, fish, avoidance of farm-raise seafood.
- Eggs: lots of them.
- Plant and monounsaturated fats and oils: nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, coconut oil.
- Berries: obviously, they’re fruits but a particular emphasis is placed on them in Paleo diets – blueberries, goji berries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, huckleberries.
Foods you can have in moderation:
- Dark chocolate: at least 70% cocoa, 85-90% preferred.
- Alcohol: limit to 1-2 glasses a day.
- Caffeine: a cup or two of coffee or tea is okay.
Foods you can eat sparsely:
- Natural sweeteners: raw honey, real maple syrup.
- Natural grains, starchy carbs: sweet potatoes.
Foods to completely avoid:
- Processed carbs: refined sugars, anything with high fructose corn syrup, bread, tortillas, pasta, muffins, pastries, pancakes, anything with wheat or gluten.
- Natural carbs: potatoes (except for sweet potatoes and yams), rice, beans, peanuts (a legume, not a nut), corn (technically a grain), milk and dairy products.
- Portions: there are no portion size limits.
- Timing: you don’t have to stick to three big or six smaller meals a day, simply eat based on when hunger strikes.
- Cooking: raw favored over cooked.
Practitioners of the Paleo diet and lifestyle vary in intensity. Some advocate complete adherence to the diet in order to reap the health benefits while others suggest an 80/20 approach meaning you can experience the benefits by eating this way 80% of the time while still indulging in other favorite foods 20% of the time. Another intense debate between Paleo proponents is how to eat: some have allowed the use of modern utensils while others espouse a more basic tool, our hands.