It goes by many names- Paleolithic, Caveman, Primal -and yet the Paleo Diet still remains somewhat of a mystery after several years of national popularity. Whether or not you’ve embraced, rejected, or shrugged off this trendy lifestyle choice, it certainly is a difficult phenomenon to ignore…as well as define! It’s time we finally nail down the true meaning- from cave to Ikea dinner plate -of “Paleo”.
Although it takes on a silly persona when slapped on the front page of a fashion magazine, the Paleo diet draws from the origins of the human diet, namely from the Upper Paleolithic era (from which its name is derived) 40,000 – 10,000 years ago. Before the dawn of agriculture and animal husbandry- i.e. processed grains and dairy -the Paleolithic era (also referred to as the Stone Age) was a primitive stage of the human timeline, consisting of a nomadic human lifestyle that involved:
- Hunting birds, wild game, and fishing
- Gathering berries, nuts, eggs, and various fruits/vegetables
- Migrating alongside large game (ex: reindeer) in order to feed
This period of human evolution is characterized by a dependency and adaptation to seasonal changes, stone craftsmanship with the use of chipped tools like axes and spears, and the mastery of fire control.
What It Means to Be Paleo
Acknowledging its evolutionary origins, the modern Paleo diet is designed to emphasize the simple, unprocessed nature of our ancestor’s food habits. As foragers in an undomesticated landscape, early humans adopted a flexible and nutrient-dense diet of wild game, fruits, and edible plants — a hearty foundation without the dilution of additives, sugars, starches, preservatives, etc.
The Paleo diet’s main intent is to strip away the unnecessary extra ingredients and/or GMOs that are grossly over-used in our modern foods, benefiting from the clean, healthy, and raw foods of the past.
The Fine Print
At its most basic form, being Paleo means eating as cleanly as possible: organic, non-GMO, unprocessed, straight from earth to table.
While the Paleo diet encourages the consumption of a variety of wild meat (especially organ meat and bone marrow), leafy greens, fruits, and meaty seeds (i.e. sunflower), it certainly has several restrictions:
- No salt.
- No refined sugar or agave nectar. Only raw honey, and used sparingly.
- Only grass-fed meats.
- No beans.
- No dairy.
- No grains or bread.
- No beverages except for spring water free of pharmaceuticals (fluoride, chlorine, etc) and organic green tea.
- No processed seed oils.
- No processed foods in general.
Anything more advanced than the technology of hunters and gatherers is considered off-limits; cheese, for instance, was only available after mankind domesticated cows and discovered fermentation…so it’s rejected.
The ultimate goal is to liberate your gut from the gauntlet of non-organic, genetically modified, refined, and processed foods present in the modern diet, re-establishing a connection with the more primal, nourishing, and wholesome diet of our ancestors.
The Best of Both Ages
While it’s inarguable that the modern diet has birthed a laundry list of “diseases of affluence” (i.e. heart disease, obesity, diabetes, etc), critics of the Paleo diet remind us that our contemporary meats and fruits will never be exactly the same as the wild game and fruits available to our hominid ancestors, due to a combination of plant/animal extinction and the pervasiveness of chemicals circulating within the environment.
There are many variations of the Paleo diet, and tweaks are almost always necessary to ensure that you ingest the proper amount of vitamins and nutrients, in this case calcium and Vitamin D. This is a diet that’s low in carbohydrates and fiber, and high in protein and fat, so individuals with specific conditions or deficiencies should consult a medical professional before taking the Paleo leap.
Also keep in mind that exercise is obligatory in supplementing this diet, seeing as our ancestors didn’t sit for 8 hours a day while chowing down on meat, and the success of this lifestyle relies on thorough research of your organic produce and lean, grass-fed meats.
While we don’t have to subject our guts to the severe limitations of our ancestors, the spirit of the Paleo diet is an admirable throwback to a nutritious world free of packaged, processed, and artificial foods!