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What is the paleo diet?

November 22 2017 by Jess

Our nutritionist Jess explains the philosophy behind the paleo diet and compares the benefits and challenges of a paleo lifestyle.

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Maybe you’ve dipped your toe in the caveman way of eating - upped your fresh veggies, eaten more locally sourced meat, or perhaps you’ve tried gong grain or processed food free. But let's delve deeper and ask: Is it worth it? What’s the diet based on? Does the evidence stack up?

Jess, graze nutritionist
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What can you eat on a paleo diet?

So, what does that mean when it comes to food? What's considered ‘Paleo friendly’ and which foods would a caveman not touch with a long stick?!

Paleo friendly foods:

Meats: meat, fish, reptiles, insects, etc., ideally pasture-raised or grass-fed, and usually, almost all parts of the animals, including organs, bone marrow, cartilage, and organs
Seafood: most kinds, ideally wild-caught
Vegetables: any kind, ideally organic and local
Eggs: any kind, ideally pasture-raised or free-range
Fruit: any kind, all in moderation, ideally organic
Nuts and seeds: all kinds, in moderation, ideally organic and with no added oils
Certain oils and fats: mainly saturated and monounsaturated fats (few polyunsaturated fats), ideally organic and unrefined

Some paleo adopters introduce grass-fed dairy (mostly yogurt and other cultured options), and small amounts of “properly prepared” legumes — meaning legumes that have been soaked overnight.

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What are the challenges of a paleo diet?

There are some definite benefits of The Paleo Diet when compared to the typical Western diet of today, though it does have some flaws:

Food is not as simple as “good”, “bad”, “allowed” and “not allowed”. This rule-based approach can encourage an all-in or all-out way of thinking which for some people, can lead to anxiety when it comes to food. The most important thing when it comes to health is how enjoyable food is, how it makes us feel and how consistently we can keep up these healthy eating patterns. Being ‘on plan’ for a short-lived period isn’t as good as following a plan that works long-term.

The evidence for excluding dairy, legumes, and grains isn’t (yet) strong. So as a Nutritional Therapist, I have to say that I don’t subscribe to a one-size fits all diet. Absolutely, some people should avoid or reduce their dairy and gluten intake, and some people enjoy health benefits from keeping their legume and grain consumption low. Feeling good, and performing well doesn’t have to be focussed around eliminating lots of foods, it’s about eating the foods that make you feel at your best, and for some, having a large ‘food to avoid’ list isn’t necessary.

The evolutionary arguments are weak. The human species is constantly evolving, and won’t stop any time soon. When microorganisms first landed on this planet, they have switched, been updated, regressed and advanced, and that evolutionary cycle will never end. To use the Paleolithic era as a point of comparison doesn’t make sense, knowing how many years prior to this era humans have been on the planet. The caveman didn’t live to the ripe old years we’re living to today, medicine has advanced, it’s impossible to make these comparisons and attribute the introduction of ‘the grain’ and other foods as a reason why we have so much diet and lifestyle led disease. There are so many factors to consider, and certainly, diet plays a huge role.

jess notes

As a well researched Nutritional Therapist and coach, I don’t believe there is one universal ‘best’ diet for all. I don’t belong to any specific nutrition camps (vegan / vegetarian/ Paleo/ Ketogenic etc.) or promote a single nutrition philosophy to everyone. Physiologically, the human body can do well under a host of different nutritional conditions, it’s amazingly adaptable.

If having rules helps you, then this could be the right lifestyle for you. If it makes you feel confined and overwhelmed, then probably not.

Enjoyment, sustainability, personal preferences and taste buds should all be considered when it comes to fuelling our bodies.

Jess, graze nutritionist
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By Jess, graze nutritionist.

Our nutritionist extraordinaire, Jess trained at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition and is a registered practitioner with the British Association for Applied Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She's the creator of our health badges, to help you choose the snacks and boxes that are right for you. Check out everything from Jess on our blog, with recipes and tricks to help you keep making better choices, or go to her website at jessntom.com for even more.

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