The Paleo Diet is based upon everyday, modern foods that mimic the food groups of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors. The following seven fundamental characteristics of hunter-gatherer diets will help to optimize your health, minimize your risk of chronic disease, and lose weight.
- Higher protein intake – Protein comprises 15 % of the calories in the average western diet, which is considerably lower than the average values of 19-35 % found in hunter-gatherer diets. Meat, seafood, and other animal products represent the staple foods of modern day Paleo diets.
- Lower carbohydrate intake and lower glycemic index – Non-starchy fresh fruits and vegetables represent the main carbohydrate source and will provide for 35-45 % of your daily calories. Almost all of these foods have low glycemic indices that are slowly digested and absorbed, and won’t spike blood sugar levels.
- Higher fiber intake – Dietary fiber is essential for good health, and despite what we’re told, whole grains aren’t the place to find it. Non-starchy vegetables contain eight times more fiber than whole grains and 31 times more than refined grains. Even fruits contain twice as much fiber as whole grains and seven times more than refined grains.
- Moderate to higher fat intake dominated by monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats with balanced Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats – It is not the total amount of fat in your diet that raises your blood cholesterol levels and increases your risk for heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes, but rather the type of fat. Cut the trans fats and the Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats in your diet and increase the healthful monounsaturated and Omega-3 fats that were the mainstays of Stone Age diets. Recent large population studies known as meta analyses show that saturated fats have little or no adverse effects upon cardiovascular disease risk.
- Higher potassium and lower sodium intake – Unprocessed, fresh foods naturally contain 5 to 10 times more potassium than sodium, and Stone Age bodies were adapted to this ratio. Potassium is necessary for the heart, kidneys, and other organs to work properly. Low potassium is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke – the same problems linked to excessive dietary sodium. Today, the average American consumes about twice as much sodium as potassium.
- Net dietary alkaline load that balances dietary acid – After digestion, all foods present either a net acid or alkaline load to the kidneys. Acid producers are meats, fish, grains, legumes, cheese, and salt. Alkaline-yielding foods are fruits and veggies. A lifetime of excessive dietary acid may promote bone and muscle loss, high blood pressure, and increased risk for kidney stones, and may aggravate asthma and exercise-induced asthma.
- Higher intake of, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and plant phytochemicals – Whole grains are not a good substitute for lean meats, fruits, and veggies, as they contain no vitamin C, vitamin A, or vitamin B12. Many of the minerals and some of the B vitamins whole grains do contain are not well absorbed by the body.
- Grass-produced meats
- Fresh fruits and veggies
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthful oils (Olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, coconut)
Here are a few tips to make the Paleo Diet a routine part of your lifestyle:
- For breakfast, make an easy omelet. Sauté onion, peppers, mushrooms, and broccoli in olive oil; add omega-3-enriched or free-range eggs and diced turkey or chicken breast.
- Paleo lunches are easy. At the beginning of the week, make a huge salad with anything you like. A good starting point can be mixed greens, spinach, radishes, bell peppers, cucumbers, carrots, avocadoes, walnuts, almonds and sliced apples or pears. Store the salad in a large sealable container. Each morning prepare a single serving from the large batch and then mix in meat (ground beef, beef slices, chicken, turkey, ground bison, pork chunks, etc.) or seafood of choice (salmon, shrimp, tuna, or any fresh fish or seafood). Toss with olive oil and lemon juice and you are set.
- For dinner, try spaghetti squash as a substitute for any pasta recipe. Top with pesto, marinara and meatballs.
- Roasted beets and their greens make a great side dish for pork. Asparagus, broccoli, and spinach can be steamed quickly. Salmon, halibut, or other fresh fish filets grill well with accompanying foil packs full of cut veggies with olive oil and garlic.
- Berries and other succulent fruits make a great dessert. Pre-cut carrot and celery sticks, sliced fruit, and pre-portioned raw nut/dried fruit mixes are easy snacks.
Here is a day’s worth of sample meals:
- Breakfast: Omega-3 or free ranging eggs scrambled in olive oil with chopped parsley. Grapefruit, or any fresh fruit in season, herbal tea
- Snack: Sliced lean beef, fresh apricots or seasonal fruit
- Lunch: Caesar salad with chicken (olive oil and lemon dressing), herbal tea
- Snack: Apple slices, raw walnuts
- Dinner: Tomato and avocado slices; grilled skinless turkey breast; steamed broccoli, carrots, and artichoke; bowl of fresh blueberries, raisins, and almonds; one glass white wine or mineral water. (Clearly, wine would never have been available to our ancestors, but the 85:15 rule allows you to consume three non-Paleo meals per week.)