Sugar-cravings, weight loss resistance, depression, chronic immune system dysfunctions, low energy, and lowered athletic performance can be reasons to begin a dietary change. Food can drastically affect all areas of our health! Certain diets, such as the Paleo diet, can help to balance blood sugar, give you more energy, help replenish missing nutrients, improve your mood, and help increase exercise performance and muscle gains. The Paleo diet is relatively easy to follow, rich in vitamins and minerals, and contains a proper balance of macronutrients.
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What is a Paleo Diet?
The Paleo diet is a nutritional plan that is based on the eating habits of our ancestors in the Paleolithic period, between 2.5 million and 10,000 years ago. Proponents of the Paleo diet suggest that our genetics have not evolved much since this time, therefore, the human body is biologically designed to be eating only vegetables, meats and organs, fish and seafood, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Processed foods, along with grains, legumes, and dairy products were not part of our Paleolithic ancestry, and, therefore, are avoided on a Paleo diet. Fossil records show that when humans switched from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle to agrarian societies 10,000 years ago, there was more prevalence of disease, shorter statures, and a decline in dental health and jaw size. Grains and legumes contain "anti-nutrients" that can degrade the digestive system and cause a leaky gut. This can happen more often when the gut microbiome is out of balance, and specific species of gut microbes, which are responsible for breaking down specific "anti-nutrients," are missing from an individual's gut microbiome. Phytic acid is an "anti-nutrient" in grains and beans that can decrease the amount of minerals we can absorb, and lectins—specific proteins that bind to carbohydrates—are also found in grains and beans. These compounds may cause something called leptin resistance, or a consistent increase in appetite and weight gain in certain individuals.
On a Paleo diet, you will naturally avoid all processed and refined foods, and eat a diet rich in healthy, whole foods. In fact, a true Paleo diet would revolve around fresh vegetables and wild game. A Paleo diet lifestyle involves getting plenty of fresh air, exercise, and sunshine, along with the focus on a whole foods Paleo diet. By nature, Paleo diets are entirely and totally gluten-free and dairy-free. Interestingly, the original grains of agrarian societies were primarily gluten-containing grains. Gluten is extremely hard to get out of the diet as cross contamination is everywhere when a person is eating processed grain products. We now know that many people cannot properly digest gluten. True Paleo diets eliminate gluten and dairy, which will completely cease a person’s exposure to two of the most reactive foods. By eliminating processed foods and all grain products, you will assure a complete elimination of gluten.
Foods excluded from a Paleo Diet:
- All grains and grain flours
- All legumes
- Potatoes (sweet potatoes are ok)
- All dairy products (cow and goat milk)
- Refined vegetable oils
- Refined sugar
- Artificial sweeteners
- All processed foods
- Soda and sweetened beverages
- Beer (contains grains)
Foods you can eat on a Paleo Diet:
- Fresh vegetables
- Fresh fruits
- Wild game (elk, antelope, venison)
- Wild seafood (no farmed fish or shellfish)
- Pastured and organic meats and poultry (beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, pork)
- Organ meats (from pastured animals)
- Healthy fats (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, rendered tallow and lard)
- Natural sweeteners (coconut sugar, maple syrup, dates, honey)
- Almond flour, tapioca flour, arrowroot powder, tigernut flour, and cassava flours
- Nuts and seeds (macadamia nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, flax, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds)
- Coconut milk and all unrefined coconut products
- Nut milks
- Hard cider, kombucha beer, red wine, coffee (preferably organic), and tea
What are the Benefits of a Paleo Diet?
A Paleo diet is ideal for anyone wanting to eat healthier and remove all processed foods from their diets. A paleo diet contains a balance of all essential vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients so you don't have to be concerned about missing any specific nutrients on this diet. Eating a plant-rich paleo diet—one that revolves around fresh vegetables and fruits—assures optimal nutrition. Remember to also consider how much animal fat you are consuming—as the levels of certain toxins build up in our world, they will concentrate in animal fat. These toxins can cause an increased risk for diabetes, obesity, and a leaky gut.
A paleo diet is beneficial for:
- Those who have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity
- Healing food and environmental allergies
- Healing autoimmune disorders
- Nourishing a weak, depleted child or adult
- Providing key nutrients for the brain development of a fetus and growing child
- Weight loss
- Reducing inflammation
- Treating acne and other skin conditions
What are the Drawbacks of a Paleo Diet?
Are organic, gluten-free whole grains really that bad? Is the consumption of these foods behind the pandemic-type increase in chronic diseases we are seeing? Cultures around the world have been consuming plant-based diets rich in whole grains for thousands of years—rice and millet in Asia, teff in Africa, quinoa in South America, and corn in North America—without the diseases we see today. Decades of research have proven that diabetes and obesity can be reversed on a plant-based diet rich in whole grains and beans. Additionally, by eating at least one organic, vegan meal a day, we can create a more sustainable way of living that allows us to still be able to afford healthy food.
Do the lectins found in grains and beans really cause a leaky gut, weight and appetite issues (leptin resistance)? Lectins are mostly broken down by soaking, sprouting, cooking, and by the beneficial bacteria in your digestive system. Those with imbalanced gut microflora are likely to have a harder time breaking down lectins. Is phytic acid responsible for significant reductions in nutrition that would warrant complete elimination of beans and grains from our food supply? Similar to lectins, phytic acid is readily broken down by soaking, cooking, and by the beneficial bacteria in our guts. Interestingly, phytic acid also has shown some beneficial effects on treating cancer. Problems can arise when grains are eaten in excess for a person with intestinal imbalances.
Conventionally grown grains and beans often have elevated levels of herbicides and other agricultural chemicals. Farmers will use glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup and other herbicides) to kill weeds, and as a pre-harvest desiccant on their bean and grain crops. This can lead to high residues on these specific crops. So much so that the EPA recently raised acceptable levels of these chemical residues in order to sell crops often saturated with them. Glyphosate was patented as a potent biocidal shown to knock out beneficial species of bacterium, leaving pathogens to flourish. By avoiding conventionally grown beans and grains, and by purchasing organic options, a person can drastically lower their exposure to glyphosate and protect the microbial balance in their gut.
What Can I Eat on a Paleo Diet?
The Paleo diet is actually quite easy to follow, especially if you are already accustomed to eating a whole foods diet. However, if you are in the habit of eating sugary foods and drinks daily, then you will notice strong cravings for these foods as you cut them out. This is totally normal and will pass with time. Start with a high protein and fat breakfast to help keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day. This will help to reduce the sugar cravings and help to balance your blood sugar. Try a homemade Turkey-Apple Breakfast Sausage and a Green Smoothie for breakfast. This Pork Hash with Sweet Potatoes is another great Paleo breakfast recipe; you can make a big batch on the weekend and then reheat it throughout the week for a quick breakfast. These Carrot Breakfast Muffins and this recipe for Kale, Zucchini, and Egg Scramble make a perfect high-protein Paleo breakfast!
For your evening meals, instead of grains, which are often used as starchy side dishes, use starchy vegetables such as winter squash, sweet potatoes, or carrots in place of grains as a side dish. Try this recipe for Roasted Delicata Squash with Coconut Sugar (see the Paleo modification at the bottom of the recipe), or these Cinnamon-Orange Roasted Fall Vegetables. These Whipped Sweet Potatoes make an excellent starchy side dish and are very easy to make! Try simple main dishes like Herb Roasted Salmon, Roasted Chicken, Coconut Shrimp, Sheet Pan Salmon with Fennel, or this Pomegranate Pulled Pork served with some Cassava Flour Tortillas and shredded cabbage.
Paleo snacks are quite simple. Try munching on raw nuts and seeds, fresh or frozen organic berries, celery sticks dipped in almond butter or sunflower seed butter, or fresh fruit and vegetable smoothies!
Paleo desserts are easy! Try this healthy Gingerbread recipe made with almond butter and sweet potatoes, or this Salted Raw Chocolate Tart made with avocados and coconut butter with a raw nut and date crust! These Paleo Cut-Out "Sugar" Cookies are fun to make during the holidays with your children, without all of the sugar! This recipe for Vanilla Chia Pudding makes a great lunchbox recipe for your children or simple Paleo dessert served with fresh berries.
How do I Start a Paleo Diet?
- If you are not yet a member on this site, you can join now.
- Begin by stocking your kitchen with raw nuts and seeds, organic spices and dried herbs, paleo baking flours, frozen wild seafood, and healthy fats and oils.
- Add some of our sample Paleo meal plans to your user profile or create your own!
- Schedule your meal plans onto your meal plan calendar and create shopping lists.
- Get inspired with new Paleo recipes added to this site weekly! Join our Nourishing Meals Community Facebook Group to get notified with new recipes and more! Everyone is welcome.