The Paleo Diet has been gaining a lot of popularity in recent years and plenty of people have had huge health and weight loss transformations when adopting a Paleo lifestyle.
There are, however people who feel they may be better-served by other types of diets and eating.
That being said, there are some lessons to be learned from the Paleo diet that anyone, no matter their personal nutrition choices or philosophies, can pick and choose to benefit from.
Eat Real Food
The Paleo diet encourages food choices to remain as close to nature as possible. Where ever possible opt for organic, pastured, foraged, seasonal and unprocessed. The Paleo diet emphasizes eating whole, real foods and avoiding man-made toxins in every way possible. This translates into eating more vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, naturally occurring fats and well-raised animal protein. Paying attention to the source of your food, eating minimally processed foods, buying locally sourced and seasonally grown ingredients and supporting local farmers and producers is in everyone’s best interests – for their health and that of the planet!
Eat More Fat.
Fat doesn’t deserve its unhealthy reputation. Consuming real-food based, naturally occurring, healthy fats can actually make you feel full faster (and longer), since it takes longer to digest than other nutrients.
One of the most positive things emerging from the Paleo trend is that it is helping to dispel the wrongful myth that all fats are unhealthy. Allaying fears surrounding naturally occurring fats is helping people understand what types of foods they should be consuming for a more healthful lifestyle.
The Paleo movement is highlighting the fact that these foods will not 'make you fat' as was once believed but will promote health, longevity and satiety. These foods also help stabilize blood sugar and reduce sugar intake, which leads to fewer cravings.
By including fat in every meal, you are more likely to make it to the next one without feeling ravenous.
Avoid ‘Sugar-Free’ And ‘Low Fat’ Foods.
While some foods are naturally fat- and sugar-free, many times foods labelled as such contain ingredients that allow them to be low in fat and sugars. Undoubtedly, however, the additives rendering sugar-free foods to be sugar-free are manmade, non-naturally occurring, and potentially detrimental to your health.
On a similar note, there is no reason to seek out foods that are marketed as low-fat. Whole eggs rather than egg whites, and higher-fat cuts of meat such as dark meat poultry and grass-fed beef are extremely satiating, leading to reduced overall consumption and cravings. Additionally, most 'low-fat' products are highly processed, contain large amounts of sugars and other fillers and are not health promoting. You are almost always better off eating a reasonable portion of the real thing.
Eat More Vegetables
When following a Paleo diet, vegetables form a large part of daily nutrition. Eating abundant amounts of non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, leafy greens, asparagus, peppers, tomatoes, etc.) is important no matter what type of diet you choose to follow. These are the vegetables that grow above the ground. They fill you up by adding volume to your meals and provide large amounts of nutrients and fiber to keep your body functioning optimally. Including starchy. Vegetables for extra energy and nutrients is also encouraged. The Paleo diet is neither a high-carbohydrate nor a low carbohydrate protocol – whichever you choose, including more vegetables in your diet can only have positive benefits!
Pay Closer Attention To Food Choices.
The Paleo diet eschews grains, sugar, dairy and man-made crop oils which are used in the manufacturer and processing of many packaged foods. Most people tend to consume way too many sugar-rich processed foods. While the Paleo diet eliminates some major sources of carbohydrates, everyone can benefit from removing processed foods (like crackers and cookies) while still enjoying plentiful amounts of naturally occurring carbohydrates such as those found in vegetables, both starchy and fibrous as well as fruits.
This means, that when following a Paleo diet (or not), reading nutrition labels and ingredient lists thoroughly is vitally important to ensure what ingredients have been added to a food you are choosing to eat. This is a good habit to get into regardless of your eating style. Look for any type of added sugar (including cane sugar, beet juice, fructose, high corn syrup) and bleached wheat flour. These are in almost all baked goods, many types of bread, cereals, and more.
Reading labels will help you avoid highly refined and processed foods that are unhealthy, whether labelled low-fat, low-carb or even heart-healthy. This includes things such as processed and poor-quality meats from factory farm-raised animals, processed cheeses, farm-raised fish, foods with lots of synthetic additives, and refined vegetable oils.
The Paleo diet eliminates sodas and sports drinks filled with sugars and chemical additives. Instead, one is encouraged to drink clean, filtered water. Although tea, coffee and even a little red wine are permitted, those are categorized as ‘pleasure’ foods and hydration is best obtained from water. Focusing on increasing water intake is a key takeaway that all can derive benefit from. Your muscles and your brain work at optimal levels when properly hydrated. Taking in sugar-free, additive-free water is also a great way to feel fuller longer and help with digestion. It is possibly one of the easiest ways to work on feeling your best.
By eliminating processed foods, which are the major source of sodium in the American diet, Paleo eaters consume a low-sodium diet without even trying. What's more, the plan provides almost twice the recommended amount of potassium that a typical American diet contains. That combination of low sodium and high potassium is a recipe for good vascular health and low blood pressure
Furthermore, when significantly lowering carbohydrate intake, which occurs naturally when grains and sugars are eliminated, ensuring both sodium and potassium intake is adequate is even more important. This is also relevant for other types of eating plans as many people fail to get adequate potassium. Research has shown that high potassium foods like green leafy vegetables help lower blood pressure and most people can benefit from eating foods that contain more potassium. If you have kidney disease, you should check in with your health care providers before you begin.
With so many ready-made or ‘conventional’ foods off-limits, the Paleo diet forces you to eat at home way more often. This is a good thing, because you really have no idea how much poor-quality oil or refined grains and sugar restaurants are using. Hint: It is usually way more than you need to make your food actually taste good.
When you eat at home you have way more control over the ingredients going into your meals. You can play up the vegetables and add extra spices to boost the flavor and tailor your choices to your chosen eating plan.
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Introducing beneficial bacteria into your body helps restores the balance of intestinal flora that used to be standard in people who ate traditional, whole foods diets as they exposed themselves to bacteria on a regular basis. Modern attempts to create a perfect environment has resulted in the world becoming increasingly sterile – and this affects the gut microbiome. Introducing fermented foods into your diet can help normalize things and get our guts in good shape. They act as a probiotic to support healthy bacteria in your gut and keep things moving along. Choices include naturally fermented (not vinegar pickled) kimchi, sauerkraut, or fermented vegetables, fruits and drinks.
Connecting Nutrition And Health
So many proponents of a Paleo lifestyle are astounded by how much better they feel when they remove certain irritants and eat real, nutrient dense, whole food. As their blood sugar stabilizes, many lose weight and report higher energy levels and increasing levels of health and vitality. It is not necessary to follow a Paleo diet notice how your diet is making your body feel. It is always important to try to be cognizant of the effect your food choices are having on your body.
By checking in with yourself after each meal, food journaling, and/or practicing mindful eating, you can feelings of well-being.
Although I am a huge proponent of the Paleo diet and believe it can be modified and adapted for individual needs, goals and concerns, benefitting from better food choices need not be limited to one philosophy or belief. When it comes to food, no matter how you choose to combine it, real food wins every time!