I’ve received some very useful feedback on Twitter about my blog saying Paleo sounds awfully complicated. It really isn’t but occurs to me I don’t think I’ve ever really explained what it is and why it’s such a delicious diet to follow.
Time to rectify that. So for those who aren’t sure here, for you, is Paleo in a nutshell.
First of all, Paleo is short for Paleolithic, the word used to describe the period of human history from about 2.6 million years ago up to around 10,000 years ago. So percentage wise, most of our time on earth. We’re talking about the first part of The Stone Age, or the Old Stone Age as it’s also sometimes called. A time when people began making tools with stones.
None of this need concern us though unless you’re interested in prehistoric times. What we’re interested in is the diet of our forebears.
In a nutshell
To sum up the abiding principle behind the Paleo Diet, it’s to try and mimic as closely as possible the diet eaten during the Stone Age. This is why the diet is sometimes also referred to as the Stone Age Diet.
It predates farming and agriculture and was a time of hunter/gatherers when we mostly ate meat. However humans are omnivores, part of the reason we’re such great survivors. The gathering part of the hunter/gatherer would have comprised nuts, berries and whatever else we could lay our hands on that was around at the time.
Paleo or Stone Age style eating means you eat no starchy carbohydrates, ie potatoes, bread, pasta and rice (also known as carbs) because until just 10,000 years ago, they hadn’t yet been cultivated. The Paleo way of life is very simple, eat what humans have been eating for millions of years because that’s what our bodies are used to and best able to process.
So it’s another version of Atkins?
It’s often assumed Paleo is just another word for Atkins or similar high-protein/low carb regimes. It isn’t. Paleo does have some carbs, obtained from dark green vegetables, salads and berries. Paleo is similar to lots of other high-protein diets and they’re nothing new. Probably the most famous one isn’t Atkins but the Scarsdale Diet which preceded it. Back in the 1950s there was The Eat Fat Grow Slim diet, also a high protein/low carb regime. Then, in no particular order, there’s The Low GI Diet, The South Beach Diet and also The Dukan Diet. But, in my view and I know I would say this, Paleo is the most human version of the high protein route, the most delicious and the easiest to follow by quite some way and yes, I have tried all the other diets on the market.
Why it works
It works because protein is much more filling than carbohydrate. Meat stays in the stomach longer, as do eggs. You feel fuller for longer and more satisfied. A typical cereal or toast breakfast won’t keep you going nearly as long as one comprised mostly of protein, ie your bacon or ham and eggs breakfast. A bowl of cereal and/or a slice of toast may have fewer calories than a full-cooked breakfast but it won’t sustain you nearly as well.
Say goodbye to calorie counting
And on Paleo, there’s no calorie counting! Perhaps the nicest thing about Paleo. You eat till you’re full then stop. You don’t feel deprived and you shouldn’t feel hungry either. This makes it easier to stick to – and no more boring mental arithmetic in your head all the time. Just cut starchy foods and sugar out as much as you can and you will lose weight but much more besides because…
Paleo is much more than a diet
Paleo isn’t just a diet for losing weight. It’s a diet for life because it’s so much healthier than eating the typical Western-style diet of highly-processed carbs. It’s a back to basics, back to nature, deliciously healthy way of eating.
The idea isn’t to eat exactly as our forebears did but to mimic it as closely as possible.
Following a Paleo diet can reduce your risk of Diabetes or give you much better control over it if you’ve developed it. It was after a Diabetes scare that I decided to go Paleo, with the blessing and supervision of my (NHS) doctor and the practice sister who monitors my weight and blood works.
Paleo has also cured my chronic heartburn which had necessitated me taking Omeprazole – part of the Proton Pump Inhibitors group of drugs which are prescribed to help prevent ulcers forming from excess acid that causes heartburn. Excess acid can also lead to cancer of the oesophagus. However, taking Omeprazole can increase the risk of Osteoporosis as it inhibits absorption of calcium.
My mother had Osteoporosis and being post-menopausal that gives me a one in three chance of getting it as it has a strong hereditary component. Increasing my risk by taking Omeprazole seemed plain daft as I’ve seen what Osteoporosis can do to a person. My mother’s mobility was horribly affected by having it. However…
My father and maternal grandmother had Diabetes, Type 2, the kind that’s also called Adult-Onset Diabetes. Again, there’s a hereditary link and I’ve a one in four chances of developing it and, again, I’ve seen what Diabetes can do and how debilitating it can be.
For me, Paleo solves both problems. I no longer need the Omeprazole and I’m reducing my risk of Diabetes by not eating grain, processed carbs or sugary foods which cause a spike in blood sugar and make the body work harder to bring blood sugar back to normal healthy levels. The part of the body that does that, the Pancreas, or more accurately part of it, produces insulin to mop up excess sugar in the blood. If it’s overworked, it can pack in altogether or become unable to function properly.
This leads to increasingly high blood sugar levels which are dangerous because they can eventually cause severe nerve damage leading to strokes and heart failure. Diabetes is life threatening and life shortening. Trust me, you don’t want it.
And if all this still sounds dreadfully complicated, here’s an easier way to understand it. Don’t put anything on your plate your grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food. Eat real food, food that needs to be prepared and cooked. Don’t buy processed foods and don’t eat starchy takeaways.
For vegetarians who wish to go Paleo, cheese is essential as are eggs. Many vegetarians eat a great deal of grain to substitute for meat and they often eat a diet high in processed carbs. So vegetarians too can definitely benefit from following Paleo as far as they are able.
You can do Paleo to the max and stick rigidly to all the rules but if you’re like me, you’ll want a bit of leeway. We’re humans not robots. We like to indulge sometimes. So have the odd glass of wine, square of chocolate or even cake sometimes. A former colleague of mine lost 20 kilos/three stone/40 pounds by following Paleo about 70 per cent of the time. She couldn’t entirely give up her love of chapatis and curries with rice. So she cut back instead.
I hope that clears this up but there are plenty links on this blog if you want further reading about Paleo. There is much more I can say about Paleo but I have to save something for my book! Suffice it to say, I’ve been doing Paleo for nearly six months and while I was supremely sceptical at the outset, I’m now convinced it’s not just a brilliant way to lose weight, it’s also a lovely, delicious, way to live. Why not give it a try?
Nobody associated with Paleo dieting has paid for an endorsement or mention on this blog.