Is Paleo for Me?
It seems that the word “Paleo” is popping up everywhere. You see it all over the media, in restaurants, in supermarkets and in book stores. The cook and TV celebrity Pete Evans has been actively involved in the publicity of the Paleo lifestyle. But what it Paleo and why is it so popular?
The Paleo Lifestyle
Most people think Paleo is just a diet when in actual fact when we talk about Paleo we are actually referring to a lifestyle. This stretches beyond solely what we eat and includes other factors such as exercise, stress and sleep. The Paleo lifestyle is a combination of many factors which are all related to your overall health.
The food component is based around Palaeolithic principles which basically means we eat real food – just like the cavemen did. So nothing processed, full of sugar, chemicals and preservatives. Instead the food eaten is seasonal, fresh and unprocessed. The diet does include meat but, contrary to what many believe, this is not eaten in vast quantities. The meat that is eaten should be high quality meat to avoid added hormones and preservatives.
What do you eat?
This is the question I often get asked – “so what do people eat if they go paleo?” The first thing to remember is that following a paleo lifestyle does not mean sticking to a rigid set of rules. Yes there are guidelines out there that some people will follow to the letter, but you can adapt these to find a diet that works best for you and your family. Food is something to enjoy after all so denying yourself certain foods is not what paleo is all about.
The basic principle is to eat real food and remove foods that could cause you digestive problems, are potentially inflammatory or are nutrient poor. We are what we eat and what we put in our bodies affects our overall health. When we look back at our ancestors, they did not have the lifestyle diseases that we have today and they did not eat sugar laden, packaged food. Instead they ate a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, good quality meat and fish, healthy fats, nuts and seeds.
You are encouraged to eat organic produce if possible. This means there are no nasty chemicals and so it is better for you and the environment. Organic meat and seafood can be very costly so buy the best that you can afford. Speak to your butcher and fish monger and ask about where the produce has come from. Grass fed meat free from hormones and antibiotics is a good choice and opt for local, wild caught fish where possible.
Now for what you can’t eat!
ell we shouldn’t use the word “can’t”. The Paleo diet does suggest cutting out a variety of foods but if you decide to follow it, you can choose what is best for you and your family. In all cases, always check with your doctor or health professional before embarking on any new eating regime as including or excluding certain foods can cause some people problems.
Under the Paleo guidelines, dairy, grains, legumes and refined sugars are excluded from your diet. That is quite a list! So why are they excluded?
The basic principle is to eat nutrient rich real food. Excluding grains and legumes is because they are hard to digest. Dairy is excluded too as this was not consumed by our Palaeolithic ancestors and it often contains substances such as antibiotics.
Refined sugars are found in so many products these days and people are consuming more and more of it. As a result, we are seeing an increase in obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Avoiding these refined sugars will help protect us from these conditions and steer us away from processed, pre-packaged food which is often nutrient poor.
In all cases there are alternatives that you can consume such as almond milk and coconut flour. They just may take a bit of getting used to!
Other factors to consider
The other factors which make up the Paleo lifestyle are components of good health and so to achieve overall wellness these factors are crucial. They include -
- Stress management – try to minimise your stress as it can really impact your health and well-being. Look at ways to relax such as yoga, meditation, reading a book etc. Ensure you fit in some time to relax every day.
- Sleep – this is vital to good health and we should aim for at least 7-8 hours sleep every night.
- Exercise – try to include movement every day. This doesn't mean that you have to go to the gym or go for a run. It can be as simple as going for a walk in your lunch break or going out on your bike with the kids.
- Eliminate toxins – look at the products you use around the house and try to cut out those which contain lots of chemicals as they can have an impact on the health of yourself and your family.
- Fresh air – go for a walk or read a book in the garden for a few minutes every day – it will do you the world of good!
- Water – don’t forget to keep hydrated. Drink some water regularly throughout the day. I keep a bottle with me so I never forget!
Is it for me?
Well this is up to you! There is no right or wrong answer.
There are many people who say that adopting a Paleo lifestyle has changed their lives and improved their health. The overall principle of eating fresh, high quality foods and avoiding pre-packaged, processed food is good advice for everyone. The other lifestyle factors are also all compatible with achieving optimal health. However not everyone will suit the paleo way. Excluding food groups is something that you need to consider carefully and discuss with your doctor.
Whether or not the popularity of the Paleo approach declines remains to be seen. The fact that more people are looking at what they eat, where it has come from and if it has been treated with any chemicals has to be a good thing. Hopefully if the Paleo lifestyle does turn disappear then this inquisitive approach will remain as we will all be healthier as a result.