For many years I had heard about the Paleo diet in passing, mostly from friends who were into CrossFit, and I knew the basic idea but didn't really think anything of it other than another "trend diet". However when I started attending school for Nutrition Therapy and really immersing myself in the nutrition community, I quickly came to realize that Paleo was not just a passing fad diet. Rather, it was an amazing set of principles for eating real food and living a healthy lifestyle that you could maintain for a lifetime and see real health benefits from. As of January 2016 I started following a mostly Paleo template and have never looked back. So what is it about the Paleo movement that makes it so enticing and sustainable?
Simply put, a Paleo diet (also called ancestral diet) focuses on eating high quality, nutrient dense, whole foods such as vegetables, meats, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds and fruits. Most processed and refined foods (particularly sugar and vegetable oils) are avoided along with grains, pseudograins (such as buckwheat, quinoa and amaranth), dairy, and legumes (green beans being the exception). To get an idea of what a typical Paleo meal might look like, imagine a plate that is 3/4 or more plant-based foods and about 1/4 animal protein. You are truly eating a plant-based diet that is complemented with grass-fed or pasture raised meats, wild-caught seafood and healthy fats. Eating a variety of different foods, as well as embracing the concept of eating "snout to tail" is essential in the Paleo diet in order to obtain the full-range of nutrients that are so crucial to improving and maintaining the quality of our health.
Some people who practice eating a Paleo diet will still allow some foods that are not technically Paleo such as white rice, ghee, raw milk, grass-fed dairy, or potatoes. These foods are typically reintroduced after several weeks or months of elimination. Initially eliminating these foods allow you to determine any possible food intolerance's as well as provide you with the opportunity to see how you truly feel when eating these foods. One of the many benefits of practicing Paleo is that it is not a black and white diet. The framework aims to educate you so you can make the best decisions possible for your long-term health but leaves room for a personalized gray area. In general, most people try to follow the 80/20 rule. This means that 80% of your diet is healthy Paleo foods while the other 20% is not. Most people find that continuing to avoid processed foods, sugar, wheat, soy and pasteurized (not to be confused with pastured!) dairy products allow them to still feel their best when they're not following the 80%. This is why I love the Paleo diet and why it works so well for me and many others. Flexibility, trial and error allows Paleo to be an achievable and sustainable way of life.
Health benefits of eating a paleo diet
These are just some of the most commonly experienced benefits of following a long term Paleo diet.
- Improves cardiovascular disease risk factors
- Reduces inflammation
- Regulates blood sugar and reduces sugar cravings
- Contributes to weight normalization: overweight people tend to lose weight, while underweight people tend to gain weight.
- Improves autoimmune disease symtpoms and supports normal functioning of the immune system
- Promotes the restoration of a healthy gut microbiome
- Supports liver detoxification
Paleo as a way of life
While food is the main and most important component of a Paleo diet, other elements that factor in to make Paleo more than just a diet but a way of life include:
- Sleep: aim for 8-10 hours of quality sleep per night while also avoiding electronics (blue light) at least 1 hour before bed. Look into getting blue light blocking glasses if this is something you cannot avoid.
- Exercise: walk, hike, run, skip, dance, swim, lift, just move! Try to get out and move for at least 30 minutes everyday
- Water: drink to thirst but not beyond. It is possible to over hydrate! Take things like heat, exercise, coffee and tea consumption into consideration when determining your water needs for the day.
- Community: spend time quality time with friends, family, and pets or get to know people in your neighborhood better. Less time in front of a TV or computer screen and more time interacting with our surroundings.
- Mental Health: shift your mindset to positive thoughts. The energy you create within and expel to the rest of the world is a direct reflection of the energy that will come back to you. Radiate love, positivity and self-worth.
- Sunlight: try to get at least 15 minutes of sunshine a day! Ideally this would be on exposed skin, enough to absorb a little Vitamin D but not enough to burn. Sunlight does amazing things for both our physiological and mental health.