Pile your plate high with veggies, lean red meat, and fish. And for dessert, it’s fresh fruit. That’s essentially what the Paleo diet is. It cuts out all dairy, grain, sugar, and starch. The idea is that eating like our ancestors is healthier than what we have today, which is processed and refined beyond recognition. Is it healthy? Is it a good option for you?
The Paleo diet originated with a doctor who studied nutritional anthropology, specifically nutrition from the Paleolithic era. This period of time lasted 2.5 million years. Humans didn’t drink milk (because animals had not been domesticated for their dairy), they didn’t eat grain because farming hadn’t started, and the only sugars and carbs were from fruit, veggies, and possibly honey. Man hunted and gathered produce.
What exactly can you eat (and not eat) on the Paleo diet?
There are debates over certain foods, like maple syrup, honey, vinegar, chocolate, and coffee. The issue isn’t so much if it’s true to the Paleolithic era (they probably aren’t), but whether or not they’re healthy. You basically just want to follow the “less is more” rule and always get a high-quality product that isn’t full of artificial ingredients.
The list of what you can’t eat is much longer:
Research into the Paleo era shows that humans were not eating food on the “do not eat” list, even if they are healthy foods, like quinoa and beans. Those are the hardest types of food to cut out and the reason why a lot of people aren’t too crazy about the idea of going Paleo. However, there are plenty of reasons to consider the diet.
What are the health benefits of going Paleo?
Since the Paleo diet is so restrictive by most people’s standards, why would anyone want to eat this way? For the answer, you have to look at the benefits. People who have gone Paleo say they’re stronger, they sleep better, they lose weight, they have more energy, and so on.
Benefit #1: Extremely nutritious
Because of its emphasis on vegetables, the Paleo diet is full of valuable minerals and vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin C, folic acid, and more. These nutrients all contribute to better health all-around, which means a happier, more energetic body.
Benefit #2: Increases your energy
The sugar found in fruits and veggies is slowly absorbed by the body, which means you avoid that blood-sugar spike and subsequent crash. You’ll have longer stretches of energy.
Benefit #3: Keeps your brain healthy
One of the best foods you eat on the Paleo diet is fish, specifically wild-caught salmon. It’s full of omega-3 fatty acids, which in turn have DHA. That compound is essential for your brain to function at its best.
Benefit #4: Good for building muscle
The healthy protein that comes from quality meats and seafood is excellent for building new muscle cells. This is because the protein is anabolic, which is what’s needed for the muscle-building process.
Benefit #5: Increases insulin sensitivity
Studies have shown that a Paleo diet can improve blood-sugar levels and insulin sensitivity, which prevents diabetes. With a balanced blood sugar, your energy will be more consistent and last longer.
Benefit #6: Prevents weight gain
Because Paleo cuts out so many of the foods responsible for weight gain (refined grains, sugary foods), this diet can help prevent you from gaining weight. If you’ve recently lost weight, sticking to a Paleo diet is one of the best ways to keep the weight off.
Benefit #7: Healthier skin, hair, and everywhere else
A big reason the modern diet is so unhealthy is because of all the artificial chemicals and preservatives. A Paleo diet is a clean diet, which means you can physically see the positive results in your hair, skin, nails, and mental state.
Benefit #8: Has detox effects
Fiber and antioxidant-rich veggies and fruit are the world’s natural detox agents, and since the Paleo diet is all about the fresh produce, your body will be cleaner and more resistant to sickness.
Are there any problems with the Paleo diet?
The Paleo diet is not without its problems, and critics have been very vocal. They say there is no way to know for sure what Paleo-era humans ate, and limiting so many food options actually goes against what our ancestors probably would have done, which is eat everything and anything that came their way. Opponents also point out that humans of this era didn’t live very long, only to about 30, in fact, so it’s kind of dumb to try and copy their dietary habits. The biggest problems, however, are nutritional.
Problem #1: It’s low in Vitamin D and calcium
Vitamin D and calcium are found in dairy products like milk and cheese, which are not allowed on the Paleo diet. To make it up, you have to turn to other sources, like tuna, salmon, and mackerel, or take supplements.
Problem #2: Saturated fat can be too high
All the meat on the Paleo diet can be too much, resulting in a consumption of too much saturated fat. To counter this possibility, you should eat more fish than red meat, and watch the consumption of coconut oil and eggs.
Problem #3: It can increase bad cholesterol
One of the concerns with the Paleo diet is that it could eventually raise bad cholesterol levels. In a study conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine, they found that participants who were on a Paleo diet for 10 weeks saw a rise in their total cholesterol and LDL levels, even though they exercised. If someone already has high cholesterol due to genetics and other factors, a Paleo diet might not be the right fit.
Problem #4: A low-carb diet can cause the body to go into ketosis
Ketosis is what happens when your body uses fat for energy, because you aren’t eating enough carbs. During the process, ketones are created. Ketosis is normal, but it can get dangerous if your ketone levels get too high. Your blood becomes more acidic, and you can become dehydrated. Without treatment, it can even kill you. If you have a history of heart, kidney, pancreatic, or liver problems, it’s essential that you talk to your doctor before considering a Paleo or any low-carb diet.
It’s all about balance
It’s very possible to be on a Paleo diet and not have the problems discussed above. T0 succeed, you have to talk to your doctor first, so they can tell you if they think it’s a good idea. Next, commit to meal-planning and flexibility. You want to get as much variety in your Paleo diet as possible, so plan out meals using all kinds of veggies, and limiting red meats in favor of fish and lean meats.
Another way to make the Paleo diet easier is to transition slowly. Cut out foods gradually, so you can monitor how you feel. Fast food, preservatives, and stuff with artificial ingredients should be the first to go. Next, try cutting out some dairy products, like cheese, before going cold turkey. Then, there’s potatoes, beans, and grains. What you want to give up first is up to you, as is how gradual and slow you want the process to be. You might want to build up a menu of Paleo meal options before committing to cutting out foods, so you don’t feel overwhelmed and like you have no idea what to eat.
Chicken (+ the Egg) Burrito
Time: About 10 minutes
Who says you can’t have a burrito when you’re on the Paleo diet? Instead of a wheat tortilla, you use egg whites. The filling is made with shredded chicken, a bell pepper, tomatoes, chiles, cilantro, and onion. You can adjust the recipe with different veggies and meat for more combinations.
4 eggs w/ whites and eggs separated
2 small chopped tomatoes
1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 chopped avocado
½ cup shredded chicken
½ chopped onion
¼ cup diced green chiles
¼ cup chopped cilantro
- Whisk the egg whites together.
- Heat a skillet and pour in half of the whites.
- The whites should spread out, like a tortilla.
- Wait 30 seconds and then cover with a lid.
- Cook for 1 more minute before using a spatula to slide the egg-white tortilla to a plate.
- Cook the other half of the egg whites the same way.
- In that pan, add a little oil and cook onions for 1 minute.
- Add tomatoes, cilantro, meat, chiles, and red pepper.
- Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl and pour into the pan, mixing everything together.
- When cooked, divide the scramble evenly between the egg white tortillas and roll them up.
- Top with avocado and serve!
Nutritional info (½ serving):
Total calories: 379
Cajun Shrimp Dinner Bowl
Time: 10 minutes
Dinner bowls are typically made with Paleo no-no’s, like pasta and rice, but this one uses spiralized zucchini instead. If you’re going Paleo, I highly recommend getting a mandolin or spiralizer, because veggie noodles are going to be a big part of your life. On top of the zucchini, you’ve got Cajun-spiced shrimp, onion, and red pepper for an addicting, envy-inducing supper.
10-20 diced jumbo shrimp
2 big, spiralized zucchinis
1 sliced red bell pepper
1 sliced onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 crushed garlic cloves
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon salt
Dash of red pepper flakes
- Mix seasonings in a bowl and toss shrimp.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pan.
- Toss in garlic, red pepper, and onion.
- Cook for 3-4 minutes.
- Add shrimp and cook until they’re not clear anymore.
- In a separate pan, heat a little more oil and cook spiralized zucchini for 3 minutes.
- Put the zucchini in a bowl and add shrimp and veggies.
- Season to taste with a little more salt if necessary.
Nutritional info (½ serving):
Total calories: 424
Halibut w/ Homemade Peach Salsa
Time: 25 minutes
Halibut is a great source of protein, vitamins B-6, and omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also a mild fish, so it works seasoned in a variety of ways. For this recipe, it has a pretty simple marinade of garlic, paprika, and lemon juice. On the side, there’s a fresh peach salsa with habanero for heat. You can grill or fry the fish in a skillet.
Four 6-ounce skinless halibut fillets
2 minced garlic cloves
1 ¼ cup peeled and chopped peaches
1 cup chopped bell pepper
½ seeded and minced habanero pepper
¼ cup sliced green onions
¼ cup + 4 teaspoons lemon juice
4 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon paprika
- Mix peaches, bell pepper, green onions, habanero, ¼ cup lemon juice, oregano, 1 garlic clove, salt, and pepper in a bowl.
- Stick in the fridge.
- While that chills, preheat a skillet (or grill).
- In a bowl, mix remaining lemon juice, garlic, and paprika.
- Coat the fish, cover, and store in the fridge for 15 minutes.
- When time is up, cook the fish with olive for 3-4 minutes per side.
- Serve with the peach salsa.
Nutritional info (¼ recipe):
Total calories: 443