My article Mythbusting the Paleo Diet is now live on DeliciousLiving.com! Check it out and let me know what you think.
In case you haven’t heard of it, the paleo diet involves eating only foods that existed in the paleolithic, hunter-gatherer, pre-agricultural era. That means grass-fed meats and wild fish; fruits and vegetables, including their healthy oils; and nuts and seeds. Paleo eating eliminates all dairy, legumes, and grains. (Because it’s grain free, paleo is naturally gluten free.)
Here are 3 surprising reasons to love the paleo diet, which I learned while researching and writing the Mythbusting piece—and from my own experience.
1. The paleo diet may be crucial to weight loss.
Dave and I have been eating what we call “mostly paleo” for a few years now, focusing especially on the low-carb aspect. Dave combined carb-cutting with increased cardio exercise to lose weight. The results: After being a yo-yo dieter for most of his life, he lost 40 pounds and has kept it off. And his cholesterol, which hovered above 220, fell to 180. His doctor, who had been advising him to take statins to lower cholesterol, told him to keep doing whatever he’s doing.
To make our lives and cooking easier, I joined him on the mostly-paleo path. I’ve shed and kept off nearly 10 pounds.
We eat mostly paleo because I’m convinced that the typical Western diet’s reliance on starchy carbs, and especially sugar, is the real culprit behind obesity and, by extension, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Here are just a few recent studies that back me up:
A 2015 meta-analysis in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that paleo eating resulted in greater short-term improvements in five components of metabolic syndrome (a group of risk factors that make you more susceptible to developing diabetes and heart disease) than did the control diets. Specifically, the paleo diet improved markers for waist circumference, triglycerides, systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, and fasting blood sugar.
A 2015 study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition states as its conclusion: “Even short-term consumption of a Paleolithic-type diet improved glucose control and lipid profiles in people with type 2 diabetes compared with a conventional diet containing moderate salt intake, low-fat dairy, whole grains and legumes.”
A 2012 study in Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity made an interesting link between the paleo diet and a healthy gut microbiota, proposing that a high-carbohydrate diet produces an inflammatory response in the gut and “may be the primary cause of leptin resistance [leptin is the hormone that signals the brain that you’re full] and obesity.” The study concludes that “a diet of grain-free whole foods with carbohydrate from cellular tubers, leaves, and fruits [that is, whole root vegetables and leafy greens] may produce a gastrointestinal microbiota [healthy gut bacteria] consistent with our evolutionary condition, potentially explaining … the apparent efficacy of the modern ‘Paleolithic’ diet on satiety and metabolism.”
2. The paleo diet offers tons of variety.
I realize there are a lot of very passionate paleo camps out there, but Dave and I are not paleo purists; we still have wine and cocktails every so often, and I won’t say no to a scoop of excellent ice cream on my birthday. But we have eliminated regularly eating common foods that are mostly carbohydrate: bread, pasta, rice, and especially sugar. And you know what? We really don’t miss those empty calories.
We are far from bored. In fact, we eat better than we ever did—lots of clean meat like wild game and organic chicken and fish, and tons of salads and vegetables. Without the fallback of bread and other grains, we come up with inventive dishes using the colorful wide world of veggies.
And although there are some awesome paleo products on the market (I include several in Mythbusting the Paleo Diet), generally we just eat whole foods that we cook ourselves … with the one exception of Dave’s favorite protein bars, Pure Protein Chocolate Peanut Butter, which he loves for a snack (20 grams protein, 2 grams sugars).
Need a little inspiration? Search my blog for easy, paleo-friendly recipes (more coming soon!), or check out these 10 paleo-friendly recipes at deliciousliving.com.
3. The paleo diet can actually help the environment.
Contrary to popular thought, the paleo diet isn’t just about meat—but how you choose meat does matter. In researching the Mythbusting article, I came across the Savory Institute, a fascinating nonprofit dedicated to grassland restoration. I asked Sarah Gleason, director of marketing and communication, this question: “Given its heavy emphasis on meat, isn’t the paleo diet environmentally irresponsible?”
Her answer: “Your question is interesting in that is implies that livestock, or meat production, is bad for the environment. In fact, livestock and hooves on the ground are essential to the health of our grasslands. Without ruminant animals on grasslands, the grasslands will turn into degraded land.”
She elaborated: “Meat protein comes from herbivores (wild or domestic). These herbivores’ digestive systems are designed by nature to process cellulose (grass). They are an integral part of grasslands ecosystems throughout the world and key to their health. When herbivores are removed from the grasslands it disrupts the lands integrity. The ecosystem processes are interrupted—the dung, urine, and ground cover created by herbivores, and necessary for healthy soil, is also removed. Livestock can be a problem or a solution to land degradation. Properly managed [my emphasis] livestock on grasslands, mimicking the large, wild herds of ruminants that used to inhabit our grasslands, is essential for restoring the grasslands, sequestering carbon, food security, and water efficiency.”
Fascinating, right? That’s one reason why responsible paleo adherents preach wild game meat or truly grass-fed, organic meat. (Lucky for me, Dave is a conscientious hunter.)
What eating plan works for you, and why? I’d love to hear your comments below.