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I know how emotionally-charged discussions about diet can get. So, with that in mind, (as well as the fact that for over a decade I was a vegetarian), I’ll be treading cautiously on this topic of the Paleo diet. Not only do I not want to add to the polarization that already exists in the “which is the perfect diet” debate, but because I’ve been around the health and nutrition block for over three decades, I’ve been witness to the latest, greatest diets come-(and then I’ve seen them go) far too many times to think there’s a “one size fits all” approach to this subject.  As a matter of fact, if you’ve attended one of my regular talks on health you’ve probably heard me recite my favorite quote: “Follow those who seek the truth.  But, flee from those who say they’ve found it!”   

Now that we’ve established, no one has all the answers and there’s always more to learn, let’s explore some of the pearls from the diet of our Paleolithic ancestors as well as examine a few of its potential pitfalls.    

What is the Paleo Diet? 

During the Paleolithic period (approximately 2 million years ago) our “hunter-gatherer” ancestors consumed a diet that consisted of vegetables, fruit, nuts, roots, meat and seafood.  This type of sustenance continued until approximately 10,000 years ago when we began cultivating legumes and grains.  Proponents of the Paleo diet say that our bodies have not evolved fast enough to handle these relatively new foods and they propose we will be healthier if we adhere to a diet similar to that of our prehistoric ancestors.   

Fast forward from 10,000 years ago to just after World War ll, (when exhausted from the war efforts we began making choices based on convenience rather than common sense), and we see even more drastic changes to our diet.  It was during this post-war era when the bulk of the US population began creating and consuming processed foods in the form of: boxed cereals, frozen dinners, white bread and various sugar-laden beverages and nutrient depleted white flour products.    

Although during this same time period we developed a better understanding of how to prevent the spread of infectious diseases (and so our lifespan increased), chronic illnesses began to escalate.   Currently 60% of adults and 54% of children suffer from one or more of these conditions (Diabetes, Obesity, Asthma, Heart Disease, Cancer, Autism, Allergies, MS, Dementia etc.).  There is no longer any doubt regarding the influence switching from a wholesome plant and animal based diet to one containing high levels of processed carbohydrates, sugar & low nutrient foods had on the increase in these chronic conditions.       

Why Go Paleo? Individuals are embarking on the Paleo diet (which focuses on stabilizing blood sugar levels, reducing toxic load and increasing the intake of nutrient dense foods) in an effort to improve their health with many reporting significant weight loss and improved energy.

Dr Loren Cordain, the author of the Paleo Diet and a leading expert in the study of Paleolithic nutrition states: “ Normalizing your system is the true strength of the so-called caveman diet.  By eating foods that are concordant with your genetic ancestry, you can avoid many of the diseases associated with our modern diet. …This genetic discordance ultimately manifests itself as various chronic illnesses, which have been dubbed “diseases of civilization.” By severely reducing or eliminating these foods and replacing them with a more healthful cuisine, possessing nutrient qualities more in line with the foods our ancestors consumed, it is possible to improve health and reduce the risk of chronic disease.”

Although there are some variations (as different “experts” weigh in on the plan) generally speaking this is what the Paleo diet looks like:

Allowed foods: Vegetables, Meat, Fruits, Seafood, Eggs, Nuts, Seeds, Animal Fat, Avocado oil, coconut oil, olive oil, unrefined nut and seed oil, unrefined honey, maple syrup

Foods to Avoid:   Dairy, Grains, Corn, Legumes, white potatoes, refined sugar, refined oils, processed food, alcohol

There are a plethora of websites advocating certain percentages of macronutrients on the Paleo diet but on average it is recommended one consumes around 23% carbs (from non- starchy vegetables) , 26% -50% healthy fat (big span I know) and 38% protein. 

The Pearls of Paleo:  

Balancing Blood Sugar Levels:  Currently, 28 million people in the US have Type 2 Diabetes and a relatively new and startling caveat to that statistic is the fact that 12 million of them are children! Additionally, 36% of adults and 17% of children are obese.  One of the main advantages of the Paleo diet is that by eating a “protein-healthy fats-vegetable based” diet and avoiding sugar, chemically-laden processed food, starchy vegetables (such as potatoes), legumes and grains, blood sugar levels stabilize.  As the neurologist David Perlmutter, MD in his NY Times bestselling book: Grain Brain as well as cardiologist William Davis MD, in his popular book: Wheat Belly, clearly convey: if one stays on the sugar, insulin roller coaster ride induced by breads, pastas, grains and sugar laden foods it leads to fat storage, insulin resistance, inflammation, obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and Dementia. Coming off those foods which is a requirement of the Paleo plan is a major factor in optimizing one’s health.   [click to continue…]

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