A Paleo Diet Primer Paleolithic or Paleo diet is an effort to get back to foods we evolved on as a species. The basic deal is that we spent about 2,000,000 years of our evolution eating meat, vegetables and fruits and very little else. In contrast, the foods of agriculture – grains and dairy – only showed up about 10,000 years ago.
If you do the math, we have been exposed to agri-foods for all of 0.5% of our evolution. Essentially, we’ve had NO time to adapt and evolve with these new foods. Further, within the last 100 years pesticides and chemicals have entered our food supply in high proportions and food has become highly processed. An average diet in America contains virtually NOTHING our bodies would actually recognize as food from our evolution. This is one reason we’re hearing more and more about chronic inflammation and auto-immune diseases.
So, the basic premise is that feeding your body a whole food-based, organic diet like it was programmed by evolution to eat is going to result in the highest health and performance possible. Our bodies are not going to run best on grains and poorly raised meats.
If I’m getting too much into theory here it’s only because Paleo is more of a movement and a lifestyle than it is a “diet.” It involves sleeping and eating patterns that attempt to recreate the patterns we evolved on. This fits very nicely with brief, intense and infrequent anaerobic exercise because that is the pattern of activity we would have had during evolution. Things like sprinting away from a predator, chasing prey, carrying heavy things and fighting. CrossFit anyone?
As a side note, “Paleolithic Diet” is the catchall term. The Paleo Diet is the book by Loren Cordain. Most of the time, we shorten Paleolithic to Paleo and don’t worry about the trademark or the fact that there are different variations of these diets and some of Cordain’s stuff from the original book has fallen a bit out of favor in some circles. But I digress… Paleo Diet Foods
Meat – free-range, organic and fed its appropriate diet (cows fed grass not grain for example)
Fish - Wild caught
Vegetables – as much as you can eat, organic and a high percentage raw
Fruit - organic and often in limited quantities (I don’t limit my fruit and eat a “high” volume compared to a Paleo purist)
Nuts and Seeds – Some are big on these, but guys like Robb Wolf and others have come out against them recently due to high omega-6 fats and some inflammatory factors. If you eat nuts and seeds eat them raw as opposed to roasted in vegetable oil. Also, Peanuts are a legume like beans and are excluded from the diet.
Potatoes – White potatoes are out because they are a “new” food. Some guys like Robb Wolf and CrossFit Endurance (CF with an endurance slant) are into Yams and Sweet Potatoes, particularly after workouts due to the high GI carbs.
Grains – All grains are out with Paleo. This includes wheat, rice, corn, quinoa, etc.
Dairy – This is a grey area. Some strictly oppose it’s inclusion and others are huge advocates of Raw dairy from grassfed cows (Weston A Price and his camp most notably). There are also others that recommend goat dairy rather than cow due to its less allergenic proteins. Jordan Rubin (The Maker’s Diet) is a major advocate. Personally, I eat goat yogurt and kefir daily and do very well on it. In general, cultured dairy (yogurt, kefir) is more digestible and less allergenic than the plain milk product. Obviously, stuff like whey protein is out on two counts: 1) it’s from milk 2) it’s highly processed.
Supplements – Most Paleo guys aren’t big on supplements. I’m in this camp for the most part but I am cool with GOOD supplements that serve a real purpose. The reasoning is that our bodies are hugely powerful and intelligent when given good food, low stress, sleep and a proper lifestyle. A BIG supplement in Paleo is Fish Oil. Robb Wolf recommends 20-30g of EPA/DHA total. I do about 6 Tbsp daily of fish oil and an additional Tbsp or two of Cod Liver Oil. There is a difference because of Vitamins A, D and K which are higher in Cod Liver. Robb did a great post about the difference and the Vit A, D and K thing.
I think that’s about it for the nuts and bolts of Paleo. What I’d like to throw out there is some mention of digestive problems and food allergies or intolerance. I’ve had more than my share of both (that’s how I came to this diet in the first place) and have found that the non-Paleo foods are the offenders. Milk and gluten allergies are the most prevalent in the world and I’d respectfully challenge anyone reading this to take a HARD look at what they’re eating and how they’re feeling in relation to when and how they eat and see if they can find patterns of not feeling well after grains, sugar, conventional dairy, processed food, etc. The rabbit hole goes deep…
Paleo also includes what’s called “Intermittent Fasting.” This will be hard for bodybuilder/powerlifting types to get into mentally. It was for me at the beginning due to the “never be hungry” thinking. But short fasts are very healthy and have some really good metabolic effects. Ori Hofmekler’s Warrior Diet goes into this extensively.