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Paleo diet: Why is it so popular?

Dieting had gotten well-beyond the fads of the past. Nutritionists are now working with some scientific basis for the kinds of diets we see in the headlines these days. The paleo diet stands out as one of the latter. The paleo diet is based on scientific information rather than popular culture. 

The paleo diet is alleged to mimic the kinds of things people ate in ancient hunter-gatherer societies. The idea behind the paleo diet is that early humans lived off of a fairly simple diet and that this way of eating is quite healthy. 

Since early human societies did not have access to processed foods, they had to have eaten nothing but whole foods. These early humans did not suffer from the kinds of diseases we live with today like diabetes and obesity. Thus, eating in the manner of early humans appears to be healthier than what we eat today. The paleo diet is formed from these ideas. 

Rather than relying on pop culture and myths about dieting in general, and the paleo diet in particular, we should dig into the facts behind that paleo diet. What exactly is the paleo diet? What is the purpose of the paleo diet? What are the benefits of the paleo diet? We will explore all of these questions in this guide and give you the information you need to get started with a paleo diet. 

What is a paleo diet?

A paleo diet is a diet plan that is built from foods believed to make up the diet of humans during the Paleolithic era. This is the prehistoric period from approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. Evidence of what these people ate can be derived from archaeological finds. 

The idea behind the paleo diet is that these early human civilizations have to have lived off of simple whole foods that could not be processed in any way we would understand. Early human societies did not live with contemporary issues like obesity, diabetes, some forms of heart disease, and it is believed that this is due to their diet. 

The paleo diet generally consists of meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, and nuts and seeds. These are all foods that can be obtained in a hunter-gatherer society which is a social arrangement that existed before farming became a feature of human life. 

Since the paleo diet is based on a hunter-gatherer diet it does not include dairy products, for example, which would depend on a farming culture. The paleo diet is designed to help you lose weight, but it is also a diet that can help reduce your risk of some diseases and health conditions. 

Purpose of a paleo diet

The purpose of the paleo diet is to return to the kinds of things humans ate in our earliest forms. The idea is that by eliminating processed foods and foods that contain things that do not occur in nature, we will eat a healthier diet, one that is more in line with our natural tendencies. 

The paleo diet is in part derived from something called the discordance hypothesis: that human evolution ceased 10,000 years ago, and our Stone Age genetics are ill-equipped to cope with our modern diet and lifestyle, leading to the diseases of civilization.

Farming changed the way we eat, the theory states, and our bodies are more properly evolved to eat simple foods that do not include things like dairy, grains, and legumes. This discordance is believed to be one of the reasons we have developed problems like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. 

Benefits of a paleo diet

Balances blood sugar levels

Since one of the key features of the paleo diet is the elimination of refined sugars, you will necessarily even out blood sugar levels. The first effect of this benefit is that you will no longer feel the fatigue that comes with sugar lows. If you have not developed blood sugar problems the paleo diet could help you avoid developing these problems in the first place. 

Leaner muscles

The paleo diet relies heavily on meat. This is by nature a high protein diet and this contributes to the development of lean muscle. The paleo diet can contribute to a leaner physique. If you already do weight training or other strength training, the paleo diet will help build serious muscle. It is believed that the development of elan muscle also helps reduce stress. 

Eliminates wheat and gluten

Bread and just about any wheat or grain product are developments of farming culture. These things were not available to paleolithic people, and they are therefore not part of the paleo diet. The elimination of wheat and gluten is known to have immediate health benefits. Gluten can cause digestive problems even in people who do not suffer from Celiac disease which is a disease that causes damage to the small intestine due to sensitivity to gluten. In fact, one of the principal causes of Celiac disease is the over-reliance on processed wheat gluten that has become so prevalent in the modern diet. By reducing or cutting wheat and gluten products from your diet, this can also have the benefit of helping lose weight, particularly around the waist where many of us tend to hold weight. 

Helps you feel full longer

Dieting is almost synonymous with living in a state of hunger. The simple fact of restricting what we eat leaves us feeling hungry. The paleo diet creates the opposite effect. Because the paleo diet is high in protein and fats it reduces the production of the hormones that make us feel full while simultaneously inhibiting the hormone that makes us feel hungry. The increase in fruits and vegetables easily take the place of carbohydrates and sustain blood sugar levels. If you are considering the paleo for losing weight it may be just about ideal for you. 

No counting calories or carbs

The paleo diet is actually quite simple once you get the idea of what it includes. It is not limiting other than the exclusion of a few types of foods. With this in mind, you will not need to count every calorie or carb gram you eat. There is nothing more to the paleo diet than relying on simple unprocessed foods and eliminating carbs. Once you get this down, the results and benefits come with simply eating in this way. 

May prevent certain diseases

The paleo diet relies on foods that are naturally anti-inflammatory while it cuts foods that are known to cause inflammation. The decrease or elimination of sugar, alcohol, and gluten significantly reduces inflammation. The kinds of inflammation associated with dietary problems that come with sugars and carbs are the primary causes of things like heart disease, arthritis, and other chronic illnesses. The increase in fruits and fresh vegetables also increases the levels of antioxidants and phytonutrients that all fight inflammation and reduce your risk of cancer. 

Cuts out fast foods

Our modern consumption and even reliance on fast food are known to be one of the leading causes of obesity. Obesity is a cause of everything from heart disease and diabetes to cancer and high blood pressure. By completely cutting out fast food you significantly lower your chances of falling into the problems of obesity and the serious health issues that result. The paleo diet and the complete elimination of fast food will also just help you feel better. 

Nutrition on a paleo diet

If you stick to the requirements of the paleo diet without relying too heavily on one group of foods or another, you will consume a full daily allowance of nutrition. The paleo diet is nutritious since it provides foods from a variety of sources that covers the entire spectrum of necessary nutrients.   

The downside of the paleo diet concerning nutrition is that it does require some planning. Since you are not getting nutrients from things like cheese and legumes, you need to make sure you are eating enough from other foods groups to compensate for the loss of things like vitamin D and calcium. You can make up for these kinds of things with simple vitamin supplements. 

Here is a list of the foods you can eat on the paleo diet:

  • Meat: Beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, pork, and others.
  • Fish and seafood: Salmon, trout, haddock, shrimp, shellfish, etc. Choose wild-caught if you can.
  • Eggs: Choose free-range, pastured, or omega-3 enriched eggs.
  • Vegetables: Broccoli, kale, peppers, onions, carrots, tomatoes, etc.
  • Fruits: Apples, bananas, oranges, pears, avocados, strawberries, blueberries, and more.
  • Tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, turnips, etc.
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and more.
  • Healthy fats and oils: Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, and others.
  • Salt and spices: Sea salt, garlic, turmeric, rosemary, etc.

As you can see, the paleo diet is pretty forgiving. There is a wide range of foods you can eat and still maintain the paleo diet. 

The kinds of things to avoid are below:

  • Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup: Soft drinks, fruit juices, table sugar, candy, pastries, ice cream, and many others.
  • Grains: Includes breads and pastas, wheat, spelt, rye, barley, etc.
  • Legumes: Beans, lentils, etc.
  • Dairy: Avoid most dairy, especially low-fat (some versions of paleo do include full-fat dairies like butter and cheese).
  • Some vegetable oils: Soybean oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, grapeseed oil, safflower oil.
  • Trans fats: Found in margarine and various processed foods. Usually referred to as "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" oils.
  • Artificial sweeteners: Aspartame, sucralose, cyclamates, saccharin, acesulfame potassium. Use natural sweeteners instead.
  • Highly processed foods: Everything labeled "diet" or "low-fat" or that has many additives. Includes artificial meal replacements.

Nearly everything on this list is considered unhealthy in any diet. These things are strictly off-limits on the paleo diet. 

Paleo diet and weight loss

There is abundant evidence that the paleo diet can help you lose weight. It is well-known that a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates and processed foods will help you lose weight. The paleo diet consists entirely of this balance of foods. 

An initial study of young adults on the paleo diet revealed that participants lost an average of 5.1 pounds and reduced their waist circumference by more than half an inch in less than three weeks. 

What is more effective? Studies show that the paleo diet is more effective for weight loss than other traditional low-calorie diets. A study of obese women over the age of 60 found that participants on the paleo diet lost an average of 2.5 times more weight than others who adhered to a traditional low-calorie diet. 

All available evidence proves that the paleo diet is not only effective in helping you lose weight, but it is also more effective than most other diets designed for the same purpose. 

Side effects of a paleo diet

The paleo diet generally has no side effects because it does not present a significant change from what our bodies naturally require. However, the reduction in sugars and carbs can lead to issues for some people. Also, high protein diets can present problems for certain people. The only known side effects of the paleo diet consist of:

  • Low blood sugar in people who already take medications for lowering glucose levels. 
  • Low-carb flu. This is the feeling of being run-down that comes with the elimination of carbs. 
  • Food cravings
  • Lack of energy. This is usually only in the early days of being on the paleo diet. 
  • Change in bowel habits. 

Beyond these effects, the paleo diet is considered safe. 

Paleo diet FAQs 

What is the paleo diet? 

The paleo diet generally consists of meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, and nuts and seeds. These are all foods that can be obtained in a hunter-gatherer society which is a social arrangement that existed before farming became a feature of human life. 

What is the purpose of the paleo diet?

The purpose of the paleo diet is to return to the kinds of things humans ate in our earliest forms. The idea is that by eliminating processed foods and foods that contain things that do not occur in nature, we will eat a healthier diet, one that is more in line with our natural tendencies. 

Are there health benefits to the paleo diet?

The paleo diet reduces carbs and sugars while increasing proteins. The paleo diet can help reduce your risk of obesity, heart disease, and cancer. 

Can the paleo diet help you lose weight?

The paleo diet is scientifically proven to help you lose weight. 

Are there any side effects of the paleo diet? 

The paleo diet is generally regarded as safe. As with any major change in your diet, it can cause some alterations in your energy levels and bowel habits. 

Conclusion

The paleo diet has been around for some time. It has seen an ever-growing rise in popularity because it is extremely effective for helping people lose weight and it is relatively easy to maintain. 

The main benefits of the paleo diet are that it is derived from a way of eating that is considered by many to be more in tune with our body's natural ways of processing foods. Since the human body evolved at a time in which the only foods available were unprocessed foods that were not tied to farming culture, it is believed that we are naturally disposed to live off of these kinds of foods. 

Evidence now shows that the paleo diet is healthy and is effective for helping you lose weight. By eliminating processed foods, sugars, and carbs you can get your body back in rhythm with its natural state. This will help you feel better and look better. 

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