Paleo diets broken down


photo by Amy Selleck via Flickr

The Paleo Diet: Broken down so a “caveman” can understand it

Paleo diet, Primal diet, Vegetarian Paleo, The Whole30…you’ve heard them all but what exactly are they?

Let’s start with where the Paleo Diet came from. Dr. Loren Cordain is widely accredited as the primary expert on nutrition of our “caveman” ancestors. He wrote “The Paleo Diet” and it was published in 2010.

The premise of the Paleo Diet and all of its subcategories is to eat the food groups of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors. It is based on higher protein intake, very low carbohydrate intake, low glycemic foods, higher fat from more Omega-3 sources, as well acid/ alkaline balanced foods.

That being said, let’s clarify what is included and not included in each of these diets.

The Paleo Diet

What you can eat                 What you can't eat
Fresh vegetables               starchy vegetables, potatoes
Fresh fruit                    high sugar fruit like grapes
                                apples, kiwis, etc
fish/seafood                     dairy, including butter
lean grass fed beef              cereal grains including wheat
                                  barley, corn
eggs                             refined sugar, salt

Example Paleo meal:
Grilled wild salmon with lemon, arugula and spinach salad with pine nuts and sliced cucumber, drizzled with avocado oil and balsamic vinegar. 

The Primal Diet

Mark Sisson, author of the “Primal Blueprint,” is accredited with developing the Primal Diet. It is based on the same premises of the Paleo Diet, with a few differences.

  • Occasional fermented or raw dairy: kefir, yogurt, raw milk and cheese
  • Saturated fat is not limited
  • Occasional intake of legumes
  • Occasional glass of wine

Example Primal meal: Two scrambled eggs with red and green bell peppers and grass fed raw milk cheese with two slices uncured bacon.

A point to notice is that the Primal diet does not limit saturated fat in the diet. Very high intake of saturated fat is linked to high cholesterol and heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States.

The Vegetarian Paleo Diet

The idea here is simple; follow Paleo guidelines except anything that is not vegetarian. However, abiding by it is not so simple. This means no soy vegetarian products, no dairy, no grains, and no beans- many that are vegetarian staples. That leaves you with eggs, fruit, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. This could cause some nutrient deficiencies including B12, vitamin D, and Omega 3s. Also, if not carefully planned, the Vegetarian Paleo diet could be lacking in protein. Many vegetarians who go this route may choose the Primal way of living to include some more choices in their diet.

Example Vegetarian Paleo diet: Mixed green salad with hard-boiled egg, walnuts, shredded carrots, and avocado. Side option: cauliflower “mashed potatoes.”

The Whole30

Dallas and Melissa Hartwig created the Whole30 program in 2009. The Whole30 is the most restrictive of the Paleolithic-type diets. The diet is called The Whole30 because it cuts out certain foods completely from your diet for 30 days.

These foods include:

  • Added sugar of any kind- including artificial sweeteners, honey, monkfruit, syrup, etc.
  • Alcohol, even in cooking
  • Grains of any kind, including gluten free grains
  • All dairy except clarified butter
  • Legumes or beans- exception: sugar snap peas, green beans, snow peas
  • Carageenan, MSG, sulfites
  • Baked goods made “paleo.” This means no Pinterest recipes for Paleo cupcakes, cookies, etc.

Example Whole30 meal: Grilled grass fed steak with roasted brussel sprouts, yellow squash, and tomatoes roasted with clarified butter. Dessert: bowl of blackberries.

While these foods can fit into a healthy lifestyle, they have some drawbacks. A grain free diet could potentially contribute to some vitamin deficiencies. Whole grains provide fiber, iron, B vitamins, and vitamin E. By avoiding grains completely, you may also be avoiding some valuable phytochemicals and antioxidants that protect against heart disease, high cholesterol, and obesity. That being said, this does not mean processed, refined grains. Everyone can agree that refined white flour and processed foods are not beneficial to your health.

Another point to think about is the convenience of these diets, or lack thereof. It would be tricky to eat out and follow most of these diets. Also, any prepared foods are unlikely to be caveman-friendly. If cooking is not your forte, this lifestyle would be very difficult.

Because these diets are so restrictive, it could be easier to fall off the wagon and fall back on unhealthy eating habits. Possibly adding a Paleolithic meal once a while in addition to a healthy, balanced diet may be a better option.

Whether or not you think these diets are “so millions of years ago,” or if you agree with them, at least now you are aware of what they are.

Photo by Amy Selleck

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