PALEO... This trendy word regularly seems to pop up in conversation.
The Paleo diet adopts its name from the Paleolithic era of our evolution, commonly referred to as the Stone Age when primitive stone tools were engineered to enable a hunter-gatherer lifestyle rather than that of a scavenger. On a successful day of hunting and gathering the Paleo man could be found to have eaten lean wild meat, fish, nuts, seeds, eggs, honey, fruit and vegetables. It wasn’t until 10,000 years ago, during the agricultural period that dairy and grains featured on the menu.
Fast forward to today where proponents of the diet are attempting to mimic the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, with the belief that in doing so the incidence many ‘modern-day’ diseases such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease will be lessened.
While making small talk with my coffee barrista this morning the all too familiar topic emerged, which was closely followed with the question, “should I follow the Paleo diet?”
Such a question always makes me ponder. Can we really eat as the Paleo did in today’s world?
The Palaeolithic man would have eaten according to where they were geographically situated and the season, and both of these factors would have determined what food was available. For this reason there were many varieties of the Paleo diet and with today’s global market it just isn’t feasible to truly eat as the Paleolithic man did.
Today we drive to the local supermarket to ‘hunt’ our food. From where we source food from all over the world; dried apricots from Turkey, berries from Chile, and heavily rely on domesticated animals for meat. Such meat is quite different to that of lean wild animals. Both the diet and activity of wild animals enables the meat to contain less saturated fat and greater amount of omega-3 fats. The Paleo man would have also eaten the animals various organs and intestinal contents, increasing the array of nutrients consumed. Furthermore, the range of animals eaten would have spanned from the beasts of the plains to creepy crawlies from the forest floor (am I rousing your appetite yet?). Without asking you to forage around your garden for such delights, the next best meat which resembles that eaten by the Paleo man is game, and unsurprisingly this is not always to everyone’s liking.
Along with meat, many of our other Paleo friendly foods just aren’t the same as they were before the agricultural period. Since this time humans have selectively grown fruits and vegetables to become more tasty, economical, attractive and disease resistant. You only need to see compare a wild carrot or corn cob to those that are beautifully displayed in supermarkets to know what I mean.
Now before you go and hunt the neighbour’s cat for dinner, consider the following the pros and cons of going Paleo.
- Increased intake of fruit and vegetables which is excellent!
- Considerable reduction in your intake of processed foods.
- Significant reduction, or perhaps complete elimination, of alcohol.
- Eating foods that are closer to nature and if you’re dedicated, you may even eat more locally grown foods from farmers markets and alike.
- Weight reduction through avoidance of processed foods and beverages.
- Healthy snacks based on fruit and nuts.
- An attractive eating style for many men, strength trainers and meat lovers.
- Due to the need to plan and prepare in advance it is a great way to get people back into the kitchen and play around with food.
- Animal foods are often more expensive than plant food and most of us are not willing to eat the cheaper parts of an animal such as offal.
- Due to the expense of animal food it is quite tempting to opt for cheaper processed meats which often contain high levels of saturated fat, salt and preservatives – meats such as these are not technically ‘Paleo’.
- Cooking meats at high temperatures (charring on the BBQ) can produce carcinogenic properties.
- You will need to become calcium savvy with knowing how to get enough calcium from non-dairy sources.
- It is both environmentally and economically unsustainable to feed the world’s population with a diet high in animal food.
- Will require preparation and forward planning for meals. Tricky to eat on the go e.g. a wrap from a sandwich bar + latte.
- Can be difficult to consume a suitable amount of wholesome carbohydrates.
- There are a number of versions of the diet. Some permit starchy veg (potato, corn, peas) whereas others do not. How will you decide which to follow?
- No wholegrains and legumes are permitted which provide an excellent source of fibre, among other nutrients, which is beneficial to good health.
- It can set the path for becoming over focused in regards to behaviour with food and ‘dieting’.
- No alcohol!....oh yes I did already mention this under pros.
With an ever increasing body of evidence to support an intake of plant food (including wholegrains and legumes) and dairy to maintain good health, I believe it is possible to take on board many of the excellent messages depicted in the Paleo diet and incorporate modern healthy eating advice. Most notably, the emphasise on whole foods and avoidance of processed foods most certainly receives my praise.
Apart from trying to eat like a Paleolithic man, try also moving like one! Training should include a mix of different strength and cardiovascular activities. Our muscle groups and aerobic capacity quickly adapt to the same activity at the same level of endurance. Mix it up and where possible undergo some training in the great outdoors.