Posted March 17, 2013 by Gareth Evans in WeightLoss

A beginner’s guide to the Paleo diet

Lose weight with the Paleo diet
Lose weight with the Paleo diet

I’m always sceptical when it comes to diets. Sure, I understand a little about why a high protein diet is best and what foods one should stay away from. When it comes to obscure fad diets, however, I’m always suspicious. Diets where eating carbohydrates is only permitted on certain days, where you can’t eat carbohydrates after 9pm, you can only eat protein and nothing else, or you can only eat certain colours of food are all a little hard to swallow, and, more importantly, hard to follow.

The Paleo diet is different.

While fad diets have come and gone, being replaced by diets so weird and wonderful that you have to wonder where the science behind them comes from, the Paleo diet has remained. And there’s one simple reason why.

It’s based on evolution. And, try as you might, you can’t argue with that.

What is the Paleo diet?

The Paleo diet is essentially based on the concept of eating modern-day food, which mimics the diet of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors. Paleo diet advocates insist, and many biologists agree, that the human body has been conditioned through genetic adaptation to cope best, and perform optimally, by following the diet of our Paleolithic ancestors.

The seven tenets of the Paleo diet

While the theory of maintaining a Paleolithic diet is scientifically sound, adherence to such an eating regime is strictly divergent with common, modern-day societal trends. The Paleo diet, at its very core, promotes the following seven tenets.

1.    High protein intake. Protein comprises an alarmingly low percentage of the average person’s diet, roughly 15%, compared to the 30% found in the diets of hunter gatherers. The Paleo diet promotes increased protein consumption, largely through meats, seafood and other natural animal products.

2.    Less carbohydrates and lower glycemic index foods. For hunter gatherers, grains were not a part of their daily diet. Carbohydrates derived from grains are a relatively new phenomenon, which only developed as a result of the human race beginning to farm. Food stuffs such as rice, pasta, bread and corn are, therefore, sources of carbohydrates that our bodies are not adapted to digesting in an effective manner. Consumption of such items often leads to weight gain and fat retention. Instead, the Paleo diet advocates eating non-starch rich fruits and vegetables, which tend to have a low glycemic index and are digested and absorbed slowly, releasing energy slowly and continuously throughout the day, rather than inducing energy spikes and troughs, as simple sugars do.

3.    A high fibre diet. We have discussed before the benefits of a high fibre diet. Fibre provides much needed nutritional value, while suppressing the appetite, leading to less snacking. Vegetables that contain relatively little starch are a much richer source of fibre than grains; these vegetables contain eight times more fibre than whole grains, and up to 30 times more fibre than refined grains. The Paleo diet, therefore, promotes the consumption of non-starchy vegetables.

4.    The human body needs fats, but the right kind of fats. We are used to the proliferation of the idea that all fats are bad. Nothing could be further from the truth. The body needs fats, but not the kind of polyunsaturated fats that make up the average diet. By cutting down on these, as part of the Paleo diet, and increasing your intake of Omega 3 monounsaturated fats, the body gets the fats that it needs, without the associated risks of heart disease, cancer and type two diabetes.

5.    Get the salt balance right. The bodies of our Paleolithic ancestors functioned optimally on a diet which was high in potassium and low in sodium. Unfortunately, in today’s society, the reverse is true of most people. High blood pressure and heart disease are the result of high sodium intake. The Paleo diet seeks to reverse the trend and ensure that your body gets the salts it needs, potassium, while minimising sodium intake. 

6.    No acid, without alkaline. Meats, fish, grains, some dairy products, and salt are all acid producing foods after digestion has taken place. While some of these foods are discouraged as part of the Paleo diet, many are a central part. In order to balance the acidic mass directed to the kidneys after digestion, therefore, the Paleo diet promotes the consumption of high alkaline-yielding foods, such as non-starchy fruits and vegetables, as a means of neutralising the acid produced by other foods. By ensuring that dietary acid is minimised, this reduces the likelihood of high blood pressure, kidney stones, and the decomposition of bone and muscle tissue.

7.    More vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Modern diets that are rich in grains are the reason that many of us are vitamin or nutrient deficient in some way. Lean meat, fruits and vegetables all contain more bountiful supplies of the vitamins and nutrients that our bodies desire.

Invest in a diet that works

There is no getting away from the fact that the Paleo diet is by no means a cheap, short term fix. Unlike other diets, there is no focus on results that can be gleaned in weeks if you just follow a certain strategy. What the Paleo diet does provide, though, is long term piece of mind that your new lifestyle will see an improvement in blood lipids, weight loss and reduced pain from autoimmunity. There is no “lose 10 lbs in a month” type tag line attached to the diet, but the benefits, unlike those promised by most fad diets, are very real. Slow and steady commitment to changing your lifestyle will undoubtedly present challenges, but the investment of both time and money will be worth it over the long term. Your body is the only possession that you will truly own for life, you could do worse than invest in it.

Gareth Evans

Gareth Evans
A former professional rugby player in his youth, Gareth is now a bit of an all-round amateur when it comes to sport. He continues to play rugby for his local club, has studied Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Argentina, played Basketball in Peru, trekked in the Andes and the Himalayas, is a reluctant adventure racer, and is now studying KFM (Keysi Fighting Method). He has a passion for a whole host of sports, as well as travel, but feels truly at home on the rugby pitch or in the mountains.