Quite simply, The Paleo Diet® is the only diet to which the human species is genetically adapted. In other words, when you eat a Paleo Diet, you are eating the optimal foods for your body, literally programmed into your DNA [1-4].
This is the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. It comprises the basic foods eaten by every human since our first appearance over a million years ago, until the invention of agriculture a mere 10,000 years ago [2, 3, 5-9]. Of course, many of the foods that ancestral man consumed no longer exist. Therefore, the modern Paleo Diet mimics the foods that we would have consumed in our historic past. It is as close as we can get to a diet unadulterated by modern agricultural methods, animal husbandry, or processed foods, elements that have only existed for a short amount of time relative to the span of human evolution.
While Dr. Loren Cordain may be considered the originator of The Paleo Diet, he likes to emphasize that he didn’t create it . That job belonged to nature. Over the past three decades, Dr. Cordain, along with many of his colleagues from the fields of medicine, nutrition, and anthropology, such as Boyd Eaton and Stefan Lindeberg, simply uncovered the science that stands as the foundation of the diet to this day [2, 3, 9-16].
When we compare The Paleo Diet to a modern Western diet, the differences are stark. A large portion of the foods typical to a Western diet have only been introduced in the past 100 to 200 years. This includes vegetable oils, refined sugar, and processed foods. (Refined flour only appeared after the invention of steel roller mills in the late 1800s.) In fact, 70 percent of the foods in the modern Western diet were only introduced within the past few generations. Because of how recent those changes have taken place, our bodies haven’t had ample time to evolve to properly digest these foods [3, 4, 6, 7, 9-13, 17, 18].
However, on The Paleo Diet, you will eat copious amounts of nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables and fruits, lean meats and seafood, all the while eliminating inflammatory foods such as grains, dairy, refined sugars, refined oils, and processed foods. For a quick and easy guide of what to eat and not eat on a Paleo Diet, click here.
While other fad diets have come and gone, and new ones appear on the marketplace every few months, The Paleo Diet remains. That’s because it is based on decades of scientific research, and its fundamental principles are recognized by medical and health professionals who firmly believe in the supporting data.
A vast and growing body of evidence strongly suggests The Paleo Diet has wide-reaching therapeutic effects on metabolic diseases, autoimmune disorders, mental health, and much more [19-47]. In fact, since the diet is anti-inflammatory in nature, there are very few chronic illnesses or diseases that do not respond favorably to it.
THE PALEO DIET PREMISE
Now, let’s take a closer look at the core principles of The Paleo Diet®:
- Feed your DNA. You will eat the foods humans have evolved to eat.
- Improve nutrient density. You will consume the most nutrient-dense foods, including green leafy vegetables, blueberries, and salmon. (Click here for a complete chart comparing nutrient densities.) By contrast, the bulk of foods found in a typical Western diet—cereal grains, dairy products, and fatty feed-lot meat—lack that depth of nutrition. Eliminating those items from your diet means you’ll need to replace those calories with something else. By the very nature of The Paleo Diet, that means eating more foods densely packed with a variety of essential vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.
- Forget macronutrients; focus on healthy foods. On The Paleo Diet you don’t focus on macronutrient ratios (i.e., how much protein versus carbohydrate you consume). This falls in line with our ancestral habits. Consider the range of foods our ancestors ate: hunter-gatherer societies living near the equator consumed higher levels of carbohydrates, while those farther north consumed higher volumes of protein and fat. Likewise, our ancestral diet changed seasonally, so macronutrient ratios fluctuated throughout the year. The truth of the matter is that focusing on macronutrients runs counter to one of the main tenets of The Paleo Diet: a focus on eating healthy foods, and not how much carbohydrate you eat relative to protein or fat. That said, eating healthy natural foods leads to a diet that is higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than the typical western diet.
- Stop cravings. Eating the foods your body needs will greatly reduce your hunger signals. It does this by stabilizing fluctuations in insulin and, therefore, improving your glycemic control, a tremendous benefit for those with diabetes. Even though simple sugars are high in calories, they actually spike hunger signals, creating a vicious cycle. On a Paleo Diet, you will consume a lower overall calorie count, while getting the nutrients your body needs. You will also eliminate spikes and dips in your energy levels. The benefit is threefold: you will remain more consistently energetic; you’ll eliminate daily cravings; and, finally, by eating foods that are lower in calories and higher in nutrients, you will more readily control weight.
- Reduce dips in energy. You will eat foods with a lower glycemic load. Glycemic load is a measure of how much a meal will impact blood sugar and insulin levels. A Paleo Diet meal almost always has a low glycemic load.
- Eat more natural and plant-based foods. By the very nature of the diet, you will eat more foods in their raw form, and fewer processed foods. That means large amounts of vegetables, fruits, seeds, healthy lean meats, fish, eggs, and a sparing amount of nuts. Contrary to popular belief, The Paleo Diet is not based on the consumption of meat. That is a fallacy. In fact, while a Paleo Diet is not vegetarian, by volume the diet is primarily plant-based.
- Improve key nutrient ratios. There are certain ratios that are extremely important to your health, and The Paleo Diet brings those ratios back into the balance our bodies were designed for. For example, the sodium-potassium ratio, which in a Western diet typically sits at 10:1, should actually be around 1:2 for optimum health. Contrary to current belief, neither added salt nor sea salt are part of a healthy Paleo Diet. In fact, high sodium consumption relative to potassium contributes to a high acid load in the body, which has many negative health conditions. For example, research has shown that the high sodium content in many people’s diets contributes to osteoporosis. Another key ratio is the magnesium-calcium ratio and it likewise has a tremendous impact on your health. The Paleo Diet, by nature, keeps you in balance with regards to these crucial nutrients.
- Eat the right ratios of fatty acids. For years, the USDA and nutritionists have promoted a low-fat diet as healthy. It was believed that consuming fat—any fat—led to elevated cholesterol and, ultimately, heart disease. This belief has been mostly debunked, and we now know that it was even based on bad research. What’s more important is the types of fats you eat. In particular, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. A Paleo Diet, based on fish, fresh lean meats, and healthy fruits and vegetables, naturally provides an optimal ratio.
- Improve your acid-base balance. A typical Western diet is by nature acidic. The high sodium-to-potassium ratio is a contributor to this imbalance. An acidic diet can lead to inflammation and contributes to osteoporosis. This is one of the reasons why there is next to no research showing that calcium supplementation can help osteoporosis. Increasing potassium consumption (with vegetables) can.
- Eliminate anti-nutrients. Grains such as wheat and quinoa contain many anti-nutrients such as saponins and lectins. These tiny molecules are extremely effective at evading your intestinal defense mechanisms, opening the tight junctions in your gut, and making you very sick if you consume them raw. Cooking grains eliminates many but not all of these anti-nutrients, which causes an even bigger concern. Over time, the small quantities of anti-nutrients cause chronic inflammation and lead to inflammatory diseases like autoimmune illness and cancer. A Paleo Diet eliminates foods high in these anti-nutrients.
So, what should you eat on The Paleo Diet? The list is long and filled with incredible choices.
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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