What is Paleo?

What exactly is this paleo diet I’ve been talking about?

First of all, it is not a diet in that you don’t do it for a while to lose weight and then go back to your regular way of eating.  It is a lifestyle.  It involves more than just food.  It is a whole way of living.

Let’s start with what the paleo diet eliminates: all grains, legumes, refined vegetable oils (such as soybean, corn, canola, safflower and sunflower), processed foods, refined sugars, and in many cases, dairy.

Grains:

Grains are very high in lectins, a class of proteins which includes gluten.  Lectins are part of plant’s defense mechanisms.  In our body lectins can damage and kill the cells lining our intestines.  The extreme version of this is Celiacs disease, but it happens in varying extents to all of us.  The damage to the intestinal wall leads to “Leaky Gut” in which there are literally holes in your gut which allow things that are supposed to stay in get out.  This can be proteins, which can lead to allergies, sugars, bacteria, and other small particles.  This can lead to low level inflammation throughout your entire body.  Lectins are also what are referred to as “anti-nutrients” meaning they bind to nutrients in your food, making them unavailable for your body to absorb them.  Eat as much calcium as you want, but if you are consuming foods high in lectins your body will have a hard time holding onto it.  Grains are also high in Omega-6 fatty acids.  Ideally, you want your diet to have an Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio of 1:1 to 1:3.  A high level of Omega-6 fatty acids leads to systemic inflammation in your body, which leads to disease.

Legumes/Beans:

Besides also having lectins, legumes are also high in saponins which also contribute to a leaky gut.

Modern Vegetable oils:

Besides being highly processed, modern vegetable oils are high in Omega-6 fatty acids and tend to go rancid rather quickly, like before you even have a chance to buy them.

Dairy:

If you are honest, most people have trouble digesting dairy.  The proteins are highly allergenic, and even if you do not have an obvious reaction, chances are you would notice a difference in how you feel and/or your health if you eliminated dairy for a month and then tried reintroducing it.  It also contains protease inhibitors, which limits protein digestion.  Some people on the paleo diet who can tolerate dairy do consume it, but they tend to do so in moderation and look for the best sources of diary, such as grass fed, organic, and even raw.

Processed foods and refined sugars just aren’t good for you.  Do I really need to explain why?

For more information on lectins, saponins, protease inhibitors and leaky gut, read these two articles from The Paleo Mom.

How Do Grains, Legumes and Dairy Cause a Leaky Gut? Part 1: Lectins

How Do Grains, Legumes and Dairy Cause a Leaky Gut? Part 2: Saponins and Protease Inhibitors

Ok, now that we have that out of the way, what is included in the paleo lifestyle?

Lots of vegetables:

Raw, cooked, fermented, whatever.  Vegetables are good for you.  Get the best ones you can.  Local and organic are preferred, but a side of conventionally grown vegetables are going to be better for you than a slice of bread at dinner.

Meat:

Again, try to get the highest quality you can.  Grass fed / pastured / organic is ideal, but not easy for everyone to get.  Among many other benefits, grass fed and pastured meats have a higher concentration of Omega-3 fatty acids, factory farmed meat is higher in Omega-6.  If you get factory farmed meats, try to limit it to the leaner cuts.   Try to get the best quality fatty cuts you can.

Fish:

High in Omega-3.  Try to get wild caught.

Eggs:

Get the best ones you can.  If you have a chicken in  your backyard, great.  Other wise, try to get organic free range.  Or just organic, or just free range.  Last choice, the basic ones at the grocery store.

Fruits:

Eat a variety.  They are yummy and nutritious.  They are also typically high in sugar, so some people need to limit them depending on their dietary needs.

Nuts and Seeds:

These should be eaten in moderation, as they do contain anti-nutrients, but in much smaller quantities than grains and legumes.  This can be somewhat mitigated by soaking them overnight, then drying them back out in a dehydrator or a low temperature oven.  They also tend to be higher in Omega -6 fatty acids.

Healthy Fats:

Olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, palm oil, lard, beef tallow, chicken schmaltz, rendered duck fat, etc.

Non-Food aspects:

If you are going to truly be healthy, it has to go beyond food.  Plenty of sleep, stress management, time spent outdoors every day, and physical activity are all important.

Here are some examples of the paleo lifestyle, courtesy of Beck:

Carrot juice is paleo.  (O cereal is not, this picture was taken in our glutenous days.)

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Raw, vegan cheesecake is paleo.

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Salmon sashimi is paleo.

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Fruit salad is paleo.

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Honey is paleo.

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Pumpkins are paleo.

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Lettuce is paleo.

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Oranges are paleo.

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Seaweed is paleo.  (Though you may want to buy it in a store rather than harvesting it yourself.)

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Broccoli is paleo.

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Bananas and chicken broth are paleo.

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Outdoor time is paleo.

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Getting lots of sleep is paleo.

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Swinging is paleo.

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Hanging out with goats is paleo.  Drinking their milk can be.

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Swimming is paleo.

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Riding your bike is paleo.

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Big, strong muscles are paleo.  (paint optional)

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THIS IS NOT PALEO.

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