What is Paleo?
There are many different versions of eating paleo, but they all seem to agree on a diet that consists of eating whole, unprocessed foods. Modern eating habits have changed quite a bit from our more primal ancestors, which is why this way of eating references the Paleolithic era. The thinking behind returning to our hunting and gathering roots initially came from the belief that farming practices initiated somewhere around 10,000 years ago haven’t allowed humans enough time to fully adapt to the change in diet.
That may have been the start of the trend, but not everyone agrees on the initial science behind it these days. For example, the idea that humans have not evolved rapidly enough to digest starches, which some versions of diet restrict, has been debated due to genetic changes that occurred after humans began farming. In addition, claims that people weren’t eating grains until 10,000 years ago have also been argued, as archeologists say there is evidence of consumption going back more than 30,000 years.
However, you don’t have to go back that far to see a dramatic change in our diets. The last 100 years have introduced many changes and resulted in a significant increase of new health-related issues. Industrial farming, processed foods, animals fed growth hormones and antibiotics, preservatives and additives - all of these are implicated in those concerns.
Is Eating Paleo Healthy For You?
Studies show that eating less processed foods can lead to better health. Eating paleo means consuming primarily vegetables, fruits, proteins, some nuts and seeds, and healthy oils. This leads to a drastic reduction in the consumption of refined sugars right off the bat. Refined sugars have been linked to numerous health issues, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, an increased risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, liver disease, and even depression.
Most paleo diets also recommend avoiding dairy, soy, legumes, grains, and certain vegetable oils, like corn and sunflower. There are some conflicting reports on whether or not vegetable oils are good or bad for you. Avoiding saturated fat was once believed to lower heart disease risk, but researchers find that this may not be entirely accurate. The ones recommended to avoid when eating paleo are generally linked to chronic inflammation. Paleo makes it simple in this aspect; it’s just not something people consumed until recently.
Some versions of paleo may focus more on meat, while others promote a more plant-based diet. Not all meats are considered equal in paleo, as some included unnatural preservatives or added sugars. Pederson’s makes no sugar added, uncured bacon and sausage, and never uses growth hormones or antibiotics, making them paleo-friendly and Whole30 approved.
Dairy, legumes, and whole grains are often touted as part of a healthy diet, but these things are not generally included on the list of paleo foods. Dairy wasn’t a part of the human diet before farming. The consumption of dairy has changed drastically in the last century, as people started to eat more cheese, indulge in ice cream, and overload on butter.
One argument proponents of eating dairy lean on is that dairy products are a good source of calcium, but friends of paleo eating point to the many issues it can also cause in terms of digestion, inflammation, and intolerance. It is possible to get sufficient calcium from plant sources like nutrient-dense leafy greens, however.
Legumes and whole grains are often touted as good sources of fiber but also tend to cause digestive upset and inflammation. They also weren’t staples in human nutrition before farming, at least not in their current form, so they aren’t considered part of paleo. There are some grain-free flours that can be used to make paleo bread, like Legit Bread, which Pederson’s includes in its Paleo Bundle.
Why Eat Paleo?
The way a person eats depends on many factors: how much they can afford, food allergies, existing health issues, and more. No one diet can meet the needs of every single person on the planet. Eating paleo encourages consuming foods that are nutrient and protein-rich. This varies significantly from what is usually included in the Standard American Diet (SAD). Unfortunately, SAD is probably an appropriate moniker considering that most Americans do not consume nearly enough fruits or vegetables, drink way too much soda, and generally eat food high in calories but low in nutrients.
Whether or not to eat paleo, and in what form, is a personal choice. It has a track record of making people with multiple digestive, inflammatory, auto-immune, or allergy issues feel better. It is linked to weight loss and is relatively easy to follow. There’s so much more to paleo than we can cover in just one blog post, but if any of the above strikes a chord within you, it’s probably worth checking out.