What are Paleo Meals? What Is A Paleo Diet?
Paleo Meals have been increasing in popularity and generating quite a bit of buzz in the past few years. But what does it consist of exactly? Dressing up like a caveman and eating big chunks of meat? Not quite. This modern nutritional plan attempts to recreate the diet of Paleolithic humans, which means incorporating lean meat, fresh vegetables, low-glycemic fruits, and nuts.
“The Paleo Diet is a way of eating that attempts to mimic the eating patterns of our ancestors. Its purpose is to explore how we were designed to eat,” explains Chad Walding, a physical therapist, CrossFit coach, and author of The Paleo Secret.
The primary emphasis is quality sources of produce such as grass-fed and grass-finished meat, free-range and pasture-raised chicken, wild-caught fish, organic vegetables and fruit, and traditional fats (such as lean animal fats, coconut oil, palm oil, lard, tallow, and olive oil (cold-pressed, unrefined). Many are also incorporating butter and ghee with small amounts of nuts and seeds (when properly prepared). And little to no sugar is present in the diet other than what’s occurring naturally in vegetables and fruit.
Because humans developed agriculture and the keeping of livestock relatively late in the evolutionary game, advocates argue that eating grains and dairy is fundamentally incompatible with human health. This dietary philosophy contends that when we eat such things, we may survive and manage to use them for nourishment, but in reality our bodies are just barely tolerating these types of food. For instance, while eating dairy is relatively common in the Western hemisphere, primarily European societies, it’s actually rare worldwide. Apparently, around 75 percent of the world’s population is lactose intolerant.
“The Paleo diet is the unique diet to which our species is genetically adapted. This program of eating was not designed by diet doctors, faddists, or nutritionists, but rather by Mother Nature’s wisdom acting through evolution and natural selection,” contends Dr. Loren Cordain, one of the world’s leading experts on Paleolithic diets and author of The Paleo Diet and The Paleo Answer. During the past two decades, Cordain has researched the effects of diet on human health and specifically examined links between modern diets and disease.
“(It) is based upon extensive scientific research examining the types and quantities of foods our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate,” he says. “This nutritional plan is totally unlike those irresponsible, low-carbohydrate, high-fat, fad diets that allow unlimited consumption of artery-clogging cheeses, bacon, butter, and fatty meats.”
Paleo is sometimes conflated with the Atkins diet, as they both emphasize meat as the main source of protein, but the former, as Cordain points out, is distinctly different in that it advocates eating only lean meat, as our Paleolithic ancestors did for thousands of generations. Furthermore, Paleo eschews the eating of dairy products, while Atkins tends to glorify butter and cheese.
With this said, it’s important to keep in mind that switching to the Paleo diet abruptly could lead to potential health problems or imbalances for some people, remarks Jim White, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. While the diet can provide multiple health benefits, he believes there’s a chance that cutting out all grains and dairy without supplementing certain nutrients in other ways could lead to some possible deficiencies in nutrients like calcium and vitamin D.
White makes a valid point in that we have indeed grown dependent on these foods in many ways and rely on them for many vital nutrients. White’s advice is to help create a greater balance by focusing on fresh, unprocessed foods, and rotating between seasonal produce throughout the year to provide variety and substance. His view is that grains and dairy are not inherently unhealthful, so a strict Paleo approach is not necessary for every person.
And yet, all too often, a diet that relies on dairy and refined grains can actually cause serious and chronic health problems and imbalances even though many dieticians and nutritionists hesitate to reduce or eliminate dairy and grains for fear that one will become calcium- and fiber-deficient.
Don’t Drink Your Milk
If calcium is of concern, there are many whole foods that contain calcium, like leafy greens, nuts, and seeds, explains JJ Virgin, renowned celebrity nutrition and fitness expert and co-star of TLC’s hit series “Freaky Eaters.”
“The truth is you can get all the calcium you need without ever touching dairy,” she says.
And keep in mind that if you aren’t drinking organic cow’s milk, you are also ingesting a concoction of residual herbicides, pesticides, dioxins, as well as a slew of antibiotics. Dairy can also be addictive. Particularly with the casein in milk, your body produces casomorphins, which have the same calming affects that morphine and other drugs have.
Besides, dairy is increasingly becoming a common food allergy and sensitivity. And even if you aren’t lactose intolerant, dairy creates other problems such as acne, rosacea, mucus problems, gas, and bloating. According to The Nurses’ Health Study, which took place over 12 years and involved almost 80,000 people, those who had the highest milk consumption had the highest risk of bone fractures.
And in a study published in the journal Neuroepidemiology, researchers found a high correlation between cow’s milk consumption and multiple sclerosis all around the world. Laboratory work from Germany and Canada found that a number of cow’s milk proteins are targeted by the immune cells of people with MS. Further injecting them into experimental animals caused lesions to appear in the central nervous system of the animals. Apparently certain proteins in cow’s milk mimic part of myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein, the part of myelin thought to initiate the autoimmune reaction in MS.
If fiber is what you are after, most grains are actually pretty low in fiber compared to whole foods like berries, veggies, nuts, and seeds, Virgin adds.
Consider, too, that the fiber from vegetables is more healthful than the fiber from whole grains. Vegetable fiber is a prebiotic, meaning it helps fertilize the digestive system with friendly bacteria. Fiber from whole grains on the other hand, can help cultivate yeast in the digestive system, which leads to a host of problems like Candida, which is an article in itself.
“The only real downside to going gluten-free would be if people gravitate to gluten-free junk foods believing they are somehow healthier,” Virgin says. “A cookie is still a cookie, whether or not it’s gluten free.”
According to Dr. James Braly, co-author of Dangerous Grains: Why Gluten Cereal Grains May Be Hazardous To Your Health, about 30 percent of the population have some form of gluten sensitivity that isn’t full-blown celiac but creates many of the same symptoms, including joint pain, fatigue, mental fog, and weight gain. Most just don’t realize that the cause of their malaise comes from the bread or pasta they’re eating (keep in mind that the wheat today is hybridized and our bodies are not used to digesting it).
Gluten is dangerous because it contains a protein called zonulin that damages your gut wall, so things not intended to slip through begin to and create an immune response, inflammation, and numerous symptoms. And when undigested foods seep through, you run the risk of developing “leaky gut” syndrome.
“In autoimmune disease the body begins to attack itself, and it’s now presumed that it’s because foreign invaders have made their way into the blood stream through the gut lining,” Walding explains. “This is where the term ‘leaky gut’ originates and what was once viewed as ‘quackery’ is now being accepted as truth. More and more research is showing that our guts have been compromised because of the consumption of process and refined foods and that the diseases we face today are a consequence of our environment rather than genetics.”
For this reason, a Paleo diet would be beneficial to folks with celiac, IBS, and other autoimmune disorders.
“Gluten resembles your thyroid gland, so when immune antibodies tag gluten for removal, they also trigger antibody production against your thyroid. In fact, even a little gluten can trigger an immune response that can last up to six months,” adds Virgin who has many of her clients remove gluten and dairy,whereupon many of these symptoms — acne, fatigue, joint pain, and other problems — disappear.
“They’re able to overcome weight-loss resistance, they feel better, and they look younger,” she says. “That’s the real proof for me.”
Bottom line: If you have any sort of autoimmune disease, seriously consider skipping dairy and gluten permanently.
Back In (Paleolithic) Time
It was when the Earth’s temperature rose and the climate thawed that our eating habits changed, says Nora Gedgaudas, certified nutritionist and author of the internationally bestselling book Primal Body, Primal Mind: Beyond The Paleo Diet For Total Health and a Longer Life. Gedgaudas has also served as a trainer for the State of Washington Institute of Mental Health, where she has “illuminated nutrition’s impact on mental health for state health care workers at all levels.”
“It was during this tiny, seemingly insignificant 11,500-year spike of solar warmth in the grand Milankovitch cycle that we have experienced literally the whole of human civilization and agriculture,” she says. “We are, nonetheless, still that 2.5 million-year-old ice age creature in our fundamental design, whether we are aware of that or not. We are not fundamentally agricultural beings, we are primal beings.”
Yet how can we undo 11,500 years of agricultural history and renew ourselves in a way that would have been familiar to our ancestors especially when the world’s food economy is irrevocably dependent on the production of cereal grains? Most would contend that agriculture has been integral to the development of our human society and that grains and dairy are associated with “progress” and “civilization.”
Paleolithic = Preventative
Because processed and grain-based products are cheaper and more accessible and convenient for most Americans, Paleo may be viewed as a regime that is only easily accessible to people of some privilege, making it off-putting.
But it’s a matter of perspective. You can argue that avoiding processed grains and dairy can lower the rates of chronic disease in industrialized countries, which would therefore be beneficial in term of long-term costs of health care. For instance, just cutting replacing dairy fats like butter with healthier oils, like coconut oil, would be beneficial.
Would you rather pay now in the form of organic produce or later in a mountain of hospital bills?
A study done by the Mayo Clinic, for instance, showed how the Paleo diet could help reduce cardiovascular diseases. It even mentions how animal fats along with other plant-based fats may be the key to a healthy ticker. In summary, the hunter-gatherer diet and lifestyle are the milieu for which we remain genetically adapted. Although it is neither practical nor even possible to replicate all prehistoric living conditions today, these general characteristics should serve as a template to design and test effective interventions to reduce the incidence of degenerative cardiovascular diseases.
Now it is understandable that this way of eating may be difficult for people who have less access to fresh foods and healthy, organic sources of meat. But Paleo doesn’t have to be impractical. It can be done gradually, and it doesn’t have to be extremely strict, and you can tweak and experiment with variations. In this way the diet is more of a template than a one-size-fits-all diet with a rigid set of rules, Walding adds.
So go ahead and get in touch with your inner caveman or cavewoman!
Maryam Henein is an investigative journalist, professional researcher, and producer of the award-winning documentary Vanishing of the Bees.
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