What is the Paleo Diet?

The Paleo diet is based upon everyday, modern foods that mimic the food groups of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors. Though there are numerous benefits eating a hunter-gatherer diet, there are seven fundamental characteristics of hunter-gatherer diets that help to optimize your health, minimize your risk of chronic disease, and to lose weight and keep it off.

Our bodies need much more protein than the average person consumes. In fact, protein accounts for only 15 percent of the average person’s daily calories, while 19 to 35 percent of the average hunter-gatherer diet was comprised of protein. This was due to the high consumption of meat, seafood, and other animal products prevalent in contemporary approaches to Paleo eating.

Combining higher protein intake and fresh vegetables leads to another major benefit: blood sugar stabilization. Between 35 and 45 percent of the average Paleo diet is comprised of non-starchy fresh fruits and vegetables that won’t spike blood sugar levels, making it an optimal diet for diabetes prevention. This is because nearly all of these foods have low glycemic indices that are slowly digested and absorbed by the body.

As you might expect from the previous paragraph, eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables naturally leads to higher fiber intake. Dietary fiber is essential for good health, and despite what you’ve probably heard, whole grains aren’t the place to find it. Non-starchy vegetables contain eight times more fiber than whole grains and 31 times more fiber than refined grains. Even fruits contain twice as much fiber as whole grains and seven times more fiber than refined grains!

With carbohydrates and protein intake already accounted for, fat intake comprises the rest of the Paleo diet. We’ve been taught that fat is something to be avoided at all costs, but it’s actually not the total amount of fat in your diet that raises your blood cholesterol levels and increases your risk for heart disease, cancer, and Type 2 diabetes; rather, it’s the type of fat that should concern you. The Paleo diet calls for moderate to higher fat intake dominated by monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats with a better balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats.

When following the Paleo diet, you will cut the trans fats and the omega-6 polyunsaturated fats in your diet and increase the healthful monounsaturated and omega-3 fats that were the mainstays of our ancestors. Recent large population studies, known as meta analyses, show that saturated fats have little or no adverse effects upon cardiovascular disease risk.

We’re in a position to understand more of the benefits of the Paleo diet now that we have a basic understanding of which food sources are emphasized. One major benefit of the Paleo diet is an increased consumption of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and plant phytochemicals. Whole grains are not a good substitute for grass-produced or free-ranging meats, fruits, and veggies, as they contain no vitamin C, vitamin A, or vitamin B12. Many of the minerals and some of the B vitamins whole grains do contain are not absorbed efficiently by the body. The Paleo diet cuts out whole grains and replaces them with unprocessed, fresh foods.

Fresh fruits and vegetables naturally contain between five and 10 times more potassium than sodium, and Stone Age bodies were well-adapted to this ratio. Potassium is necessary for the heart, kidneys, and other organs to work properly. Low potassium is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke — the same problems linked to excessive dietary sodium. Today, the average American consumes about twice as much sodium as potassium! Following a Paleolithic diet helps to remedy this imbalance.

The final benefit we’ll discuss is a balanced dietary alkaline load. While this concept sounds complex, it’s actually quite simple: after digestion, all foods present either a net acid or alkaline load to the kidneys. Meats, fish, grains, legumes, cheese, and salt all produce acids, while Paleo-approved fruits and vegetables yield alkalines. A lifetime of excessive dietary acid may promote bone and muscle loss, high blood pressure, an increased risk for kidney stones, and may aggravate asthma and exercise-induced asthma. The Paleo diet seeks to reduce the risk of chronic disease by emphasising a balanced alkaline load.

The Paleo Diet Premise

The Paleo Diet is based upon everyday, modern foods that mimic the food groups of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors. The following seven fundamental characteristics of hunter-gatherer diets will help to optimize your health, minimize your risk of chronic disease, and lose weight.

  • Higher protein intake – Protein comprises 15 % of the calories in the average western diet, which is considerably lower than the average values of 19-35 % found in hunter-gatherer diets. Meat, seafood, and other animal products represent the staple foods of modern day Paleo diets.
  • Lower carbohydrate intake and lower glycemic index – Non-starchy fresh fruits and vegetables represent the main carbohydrate source and will provide for 35-45 % of your daily calories. Almost all of these foods have low glycemic indices that are slowly digested and absorbed, and won’t spike blood sugar levels.
  • Higher fiber intake – Dietary fiber is essential for good health, and despite what we’re told, whole grains aren’t the place to find it. Non-starchy vegetables contain eight times more fiber than whole grains and 31 times more than refined grains. Even fruits contain twice as much fiber as whole grains and seven times more than refined grains.
  • Moderate to higher fat intake dominated by monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats with balanced Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats – It is not the total amount of fat in your diet that raises your blood cholesterol levels and increases your risk for heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes, but rather the type of fat. Cut the trans fats and the Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats in your diet and increase the healthful monounsaturated and Omega-3 fats that were the mainstays of Stone Age diets. Recent large population studies known as meta analyses show that saturated fats have little or no adverse effects upon cardiovascular disease risk.
  • Higher potassium and lower sodium intake – Unprocessed, fresh foods naturally contain 5 to 10 times more potassium than sodium, and Stone Age bodies were adapted to this ratio. Potassium is necessary for the heart, kidneys, and other organs to work properly. Low potassium is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke – the same problems linked to excessive dietary sodium. Today, the average American consumes about twice as much sodium as potassium.
  • Net dietary alkaline load that balances dietary acid – After digestion, all foods present either a net acid or alkaline load to the kidneys. Acid producers are meats, fish, grains, legumes, cheese, and salt. Alkaline-yielding foods are fruits and veggies. A lifetime of excessive dietary acid may promote bone and muscle loss, high blood pressure, and increased risk for kidney stones, and may aggravate asthma and exercise-induced asthma.
  • Higher intake of, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and plant phytochemicals – Whole grains are not a good substitute for grass produced or free ranging meats, fruits, and veggies, as they contain no vitamin C, vitamin A, or vitamin B12. Many of the minerals and some of the B vitamins whole grains do contain are not well absorbed by the body.

So, what should you eat on The Paleo Diet?


Try these recipes!

Have you heard myths about the Paleo diet? Check here!

We’ve also answered some of our most frequently asked questions on this page.

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