What is the Paleo Diet?

Is this one the paleo diet?

What is the paleo diet? Well, in its simplest expression, perhaps, the paleo diet is whatever was eaten by Palaeolithic man (and woman!), i.e. the people living anywhere from 10,000 to 2,500,000 years ago.

Of course, as you might imagine, there are some slight problems with the idea of eating exactly what these ‘cavemen’ ate. For a start, they lived a long time ago. Even at the more recent end of the Paleolithic period, we’re still talking ten thousand years ago, and that’s a long time to be sure of anything.

That huge number of years makes it hard to say with any accuracy what people did eat. Within the recorded history of the last few thousand years we can, of course be pretty sure about what people ate, but past three or four thousand years, into the paleolithic, we’re really guessing. No doubt there will be some very well educated and scholarly guessing, but it’s still guessing. When the records you’re dealing with are largely fossilized and geologic it just isn’t easy to see what people ate for their paleo breakfast, let alone figure out a full paleolithic diet.

Another issue when it comes to defining a true paleo diet is evolution. Just as we have evolved over the hundreds of thousands of years, so has the food we eat. Modern, cultivated foods are very different to their original, wild varieties. Even the foods which were first cultivated in ancient times would have been much closer to the native types – there were certainly no dodgy GMOs or weird and not so wonderful hybrids in the original paleo diet!

The modern Paleo Diet

But before we go getting too depressed at the thought of having little idea of what the paleo diet actually was, what is it that we actually mean when we say we’re going to go paleo or follow a paleo recipe?

Here's an idea of what the paleo diet is likeAgain there’s a simple explanation and  a slightly lengthier version. To put it briefly, on a paleo diet we eat as much as possible of what Paleolithic peoples would have eaten and nothing that they wouldn’t or couldn’t have consumed.

So how does that translate in terms of real food on our plates? Basically it’s going to be plenty of vegetables, some meat and fish, eggs, some fruit, nuts and seeds. That’s pretty much it. Looking at it from the other direction; no grains, no sugars or sweeteners, no legumes or potatoes, no dairy, no preservatives, additives or processed, emulsified, hydrogenated or otherwise manufactured nonsense!

Another way you might look at it is that if you can’t eat it raw then you probably don’t want to eat it at all. You may not be interested in eating a raw food diet but you will find that almost everything on a true paleo diet can be eaten raw if you choose. Fruit, nuts and seeds, vegetables and yes, even meat and fish can all be eaten raw. You might not like the idea of chewing on raw meat or fish, but you’ll do a lot better with that than trying to eat raw potatoes or wheat! And anyway, what about sushi? Or beef jerky? Or salami? None of those are cooked you know. (shhh!)

How the Paleo diet works in practice

The paleo diet, for most people, is going to revolve around plenty of fresh vegetables with some high quality meat, fish and eggs, and some fruit, nuts and seeds. There are many ideas about the varying degrees of ‘strictness’ that you should observe when it comes to following a ‘proper’ paleo diet. Don’t get hung up on it though!

What is the paleo diet?Some people believe that it’s good to make paleo versions of modern foods such as pizza and muffins; you’ll find them making things like cauliflower pizza base and sweet potato brownies. Paleo recipes like these will often involve the use of modern kitchen equipment like food processors, and even ovens – it’s hardly the classic, paleolithic open fire in the mouth of a cave scene! Objectors to this way of doing things tend to insist that all food should be chewed and served ‘as nature intended’ – no blended soups and smoothies for them thank you!

As with so many things, the best advice is probably to find what works best for you. There is, however, a definite starting point; Stop eating grains, sugars, potatoes, legumes and anything else that gets heavily processed before you can eat it. Whether or not you’re going to stop eating dairy products, alcohol and coffee is another question entirely – enter the debate between paleo diet and primal eating. That one will just have to wait for another day!

If you’re looking to get started with Paleo then I highly recommend going with a 30 day program to fully immerse yourself in the new way of being. Something like the Whole30, or the program featured below, where you have a structure, a plan to follow and some support, is very good while you’re getting used to it. Keeping a record of how you feel is very useful too. I recorded a video and wrote a blog post for each of the first 30 days of my going Paleo and it certainly helped keep me on track (well most of the time!).

It’ll be interesting, but your body will thank you for it!

What is the Paleo Diet? Let this be your guide...


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