Paleo (Paleolithic) is one so-called diet that hasn’t expectedly disappeared from cookbooks like most health fads. It was created in the 1970’s, popularized in 2002, went mainstream in 2012, and is still a popular topic among anyone looking to improve their health through nutrition today.
If you ask a Paleo enthusiast, “What is Paleo?” they’ll likely give you a lengthy story of the human species’ dietary history. “Well you see… our paleolithic ancestors didn’t have access to processed grains or icing, so our body doesn’t react favorably to cinnamon rolls.”
And they’re right.
The diet is based on what our ancestors’ dietary restrictions were and how they correlate with our evolved selves’ reaction to modern nutrition. Logically, it makes sense. If your body’s not designed to eat something, eating it will make you sick. Hardcore enthusiasts even go as far to identify where their ancestors originated from geographically then limit foods that weren’t indigenous to that area. Like I said, hardcore.
But for most of us, we really just want the truth about good vs. bad foods and how we can eat a little healthier day to day.
These are the top three questions we use to help decipher how important diet advice really is.
- Why should I try that?
- Will it help me lose weight?
- Can I reasonably do it, if I wanted to?
Why should You Try The Paleo Diet?
To answer that, I’d like to share my rudimentary understanding of nutrition, which also serves as a foundation course for the Paleo diet.
Your body is a super, duper, uper, muper complex system made up of other super-schmuper complex systems. (I’m sorry, did I get too sciency there?) Every different type of food is made up of specific nutrients that start a chain of chemical reactions when you eat them. Those chemical reactions impact how your super-complex (and critically important) systems function, grow and age over time.
Ok, that’s how nutrition works in a little nutshell. Still with me?
Now it’s important to understand that not every nutrient results in a favorable reaction. Some nutrients cause unwanted inflammation in the body. We know that eating foods with those nutrients can promote what’s called chronic inflammation, which then increases the risk of chronic diseases. Eating pro-inflammatory foods doesn’t necessarily seal your fate, but it doesn’t help your chances either, and eventually will likely have some effect on your health.
Examples of chronic inflammatory diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, Alzheimer’s, heart disease (the #1 killer of men & women in the US for the past 80 years), Crohn’s, IBS, asthma, depression, and cancer.
The Paleo Diet aims to eliminate foods that promote inflammation in the body (which, oh, coincidentally happens to be processed food-things our ancestors didn’t eat), and embrace foods that reduce inflammation and promote longevity (unprocessed, nutrient-dense, whole foods).
In her comprehensive guidebook, Practical Paleo, Certified Nutrition Consultant Diane Sanfilippo describes the diet as “(1) eating whole foods that provide better fuel for your body, and (2) avoiding processed, refined, nutrient-poor factory foods.
So back to the question…
The Paleo diet might be good for you if you want to live longer and reduce your chances of serious health complications.
Will I Lose Weight Eating Paleo?
I’ll just get this one out of the way up front. Yes, you’ll lose weight eating Paleo (healthy).
So it’s no surprise that one of the primary goals of any dietary decision is often based on its effectiveness as a weight loss tool.
I can’t blame people who make this question a priority, but I will say one thing. Your super-gaboomper complex body is pretty good at being healthy when given the stuff it needs to be. A healthy body (which I understand not everyone is born with) will naturally find the right weight if provided adequate nutrition and physical activity.
It will level out hormones, repair vital internal functions, and store the necessary amount of fat, naturally. Obviously, not everyone is equipped with this ability but most humans do have this awesome superpower built-in. We all know the sure-fire way to lose weight and keep it off is to eat healthily and exercise. Convenience is usually the issue here, but unfortunately, there’s just no substitute for cooking your own food and taking responsibility for what you put in your body.
Once you get over the convenience thing, the real confusion doesn’t lie in the question of how to lose weight, but rather what’s actually healthy and what’s not? It’s not your fault, the media, government and healthcare professionals alike flip-flop recommendations on an annual basis.
So instead of using strict nutrient restrictions as a guideline like most diets, Paleo actually simplifies things by labeling inflammatory (processed) foods bad and leaving everything else fair game.
So to clarify, yes, you’ll naturally lose weight by following paleo guidelines because your body is getting more of what it needs to repair itself and heal naturally, and less of the stuff that doesn’t allow it to do that. In addition to weight loss, you’d also benefit from a slew of other healthy corrections your body would probably make.
Is It Hard / Can I Do It?
If the benefits of the Paleo diet sound good to you, you’re probably left wondering whether or not you can reasonably do it and stick with it for longer than a month.
To answer that depends on your response to a different question. It’s the same question I’d ask if you wanted to start and maintain any healthy “diet”, and it isn’t what most busy Americans want to hear.
“Want to learn how to cook?”
A recent peer-reviewed study found that 57.9% of the average American’s calories come from what they define as ultra-processed foods. Those ultra-processed foods contribute about 90% of their daily added-sugar intake.
Since the basis of the Paleo diet is to remove processed foods that the body “rejects” in the form of inflammation, the answer lies in your ability to commit to preparing and cooking your own food with whole ingredients you’re responsible for choosing.
I get that not everyone wants to cook regularly, but just like anything, start small and I believe you’ll find real enjoyment from the learning, tasting, and health benefits.