February 25, 2013 by Kimberly Beauchamp, ND
“But what IS Paleo,” Miss Indie keeps asking me.
Since I first posted about going Practically Paleo, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about what it means to eat this way, and not all of them have been from my daughter.
Like, “How on earth do you do it while feeding a family?” and “What do you order when eating out?” and “Aren’t you just starving?!?” and “Don’t you want to cheat, even just a little bit?” and “Isn’t eating all that meat just bad for you?”
Let’s take one thing at a time. First, the Paleo Basics.
The Paleo diet is named for the way that early humans presumably ate during the Paleolithic period which spanned from about 2.6 million to 10,000 years ago. During this time, people probably ate a good amount of meat, fish, leafy greens, nuts, and seeds, although it’s hard to know the exact contribution that each of these foods made to the diet.
With the advent of agriculture, humans gained access to foods they hadn’t eaten before—at least not in any appreciable quantity—including grains and dairy products. Proponents of the Paleo diet say that the introduction of these foods to the diet was the beginning of the unraveling of human health; whereas there was very little chronic disease prior to the Neolithic revolution (10,000 years ago when humans transitioned from a hunter-gatherer to an agricultural lifestyle), diabetes, heart disease, and cancer have been on the rise ever since.
Even our teeth were healthier in Paleolithic times, according to a recent study.
“Two of the greatest dietary shifts in human evolution involved the adoption of carbohydrate-rich Neolithic (farming) diets (beginning ~10,000 years before the present) and the more recent advent of industrially processed flour and sugar (in ~1850),” said the authors of the study published in Nature Genetics. “Here, we show that calcified dental plaque (dental calculus) on ancient teeth preserves a detailed genetic record throughout this period. Data from 34 early European skeletons indicate that the transition from hunter-gatherer to farming shifted the oral microbial community to a disease-associated configuration.”
Of course, there’s a lot we don’t know about our earliest ancestors, including whether they would have developed some of these conditions had they lived long enough to experience them. But then again, maybe they would have lived a lot longer than their present-day descendants, given the same access to healthcare and the basics, like protection from the elements.
The take-home message about the Paleo diet is this: For most of our time on earth, we weren’t eating grains, dairy, or legumes. So while we’re capable of evolving (well, most of us), it’s not likely that we evolved that “quickly” (over the last 10,000 years) to eat a diet so radically different from our ancestors.
Why go Paleo?
You might want to consider following the Paleo diet if you:
- Are overweight
- Want to lower your risk for heart disease
- Are trying to lower your blood pressure
- Have pre-diabetes or diabetes
- Want more energy
- Want to improve your physical endurance
- Have digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, allergies, or an autoimmune disease
But what can I eat?
Sorry, did you just want to know what you can eat on the Paleo diet? Here goes.
I think it’s easier to start with the YES list, because if it’s not there, it’s on the NO list.
Paleo YES list
- Vegetables, all kinds of them, except potatoes. (Sweet potatoes are fine in moderation.) And no, corn is not a vegetable.
- Meat, including beef, bison, chicken, venison, pork, turkey, goat, lamb…you get the idea. Free-range, grass-fed is best.
- Fish and shellfish.
- Nuts and seeds. Peanuts aren’t nuts.
- Oils, including coconut and olive oil, nut oils, and animal fats (like lard).
- Small amounts of natural sweeteners, like honey and maple syrup.
In case you’re dying to find out what you can’t eat, here’s the short version.
Paleo NO list
- Grains. All of them.
- Legumes, including beans, peas, peanuts, soy, and lentils.
- Dairy products. Some say that small amounts of grass-fed butter and cream are OK.
- Refined sugar.
- Any food containing these ingredients, including corn and soybean oil.
What to feed the kids
So, you’ve decided to give this Paleo thing a try. Congrats! Now, what the heck are you going to give your kids to eat?
For starters, go slow. Don’t worry about going all totally Paleo on them, or trust me, they’ll go all ballistic on you.
To get kids interested in this new way of eating, don’t label it at all. No potatoes with your meal tonight? Why, that’s not strange at all.
Seriously, most of the time your kids won’t even notice that something is different at the dinner table. Picture this menu: roasted chicken, baked sweet potato fries, and grilled broccoli. Sound strange? I didn’t think so.
What might surprise them more is the conspicuous absence of ice cream in the freezer. Or the lack of treats in the cookie jar.
The single hardest thing about going Paleo for kids is probably going to be the absolute scarcity of sugar. And there’s a fix for that. Don’t shock them into it. Go slow, give them the occasional treat, and let those couple of grams of sugar in the dark chocolate chips go for the sake of the joy they just had in eating that almond flour cookie. It’s OK. Over time, foods will taste sweeter, so that even an apple seems like a treat. I promise.
Is not a big deal. Really. Everywhere you go these days, someone can’t have gluten or dairy or sugar or peanuts. Most restaurants are totally accomodating.
- A salad with tons of veggies and a plain grilled chicken breast.
- Steamed vegetables with a seared salmon steak.
- Curried mixed vegetables and steak kabobs.
One of the great things about the Paleo diet is that the food is really satisfying. If hunger is an issue, make sure you stock up on nuts and nut butters, and always eat a good amount of protein and fat with each meal. Protein helps keep your blood sugar stable. Fat helps keep you fuller, longer. And it won’t make you fat, unless you eat it with lots of empty carbs (which you aren’t). I promise. (I’m just full of promises, no?)
Cheat on me
When it comes to cheating, we all know that the only person you’re cheating is yourself.
If and when you decide to give the Paleo diet a try, you’ll most likely discover a serious improvement in your health and well-being. If that’s the case, it’s kind of a self-regulating system you’ve set up for yourself. You want to feel better so you eat better so you feel better then you slip up and you eat some crap and you feel worse and you’ll try not to do that again.
But if the diet feels like a deep, depressing deprivation tank, don’t do it! Food is about more than sustenance; it’s a way we express our love, share with family and friends, and comfort ourselves and those close to us. So if your new diet isn’t doing that for you, or it’s become just a “diet” instead of a conscious way to live your life, back off of it for a while. Ask yourself what you’re not getting from the food (chances are it’s more than just calories). You’ll know when you’re ready to give it another go.
The other thing to remember is that you don’t have to do the diet 100% of the time with 100% precision. Just like with exercise, something is better than nothing. Start small if doing the whole diet seems too overwhelming. Try eliminating grains from your diet for a week or two and notice how you feel. Or how about dairy?
And if you do decide to indulge in a Paleo no-no food, for goodness sake, just enjoy it. You only live once (that we know of).
What about all that meat?
Oh, don’t get me started. People have been eating meat and fish pretty much forever. It’s processed foods and a lack of vegetables that lead to poor health. Leave the meat alone, already.
That’s it for now.
Eat happy, folks!
Disclaimer: The information contained in this blog is for educational and/or informational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any condition. If you have any concerns about your own health or that of a family member, you should always consult with a healthcare professional.