Is Paleo the way to go?

April 23 2015

We’d like to think that humans have evolved pretty darn well over the last million years. We discovered fire, invented the wheel and even created a little thing called civilisation!

Evolution means that we have adapted to thrive in our current environments, but in a world where obesity is fast becoming one of the main causes of death and where processed foods and sedentary lifestyles have become the norm, should we still be following in our caveman ancestors’ footsteps?

Millions of years ago the human race survived on a very simple diet of raw meat, vegetables, fruit and some pulses. This way of thinking may seem outdated, but the modern caveman diet, formerly known as paleo, is certainly making a mark on our contemporary world.

What is Paleo?

The Paleo diet is an attempt to recreate the kind of diet that humans used to eat, by consuming natural foods that haven’t been processed or treated with chemicals and preservatives.

The theory behind Paleo is that our bodies aren’t used to eating refined carbohydrates such as pasta, bread and rice and due to this we have developed food intolerances to them, as well as generally feeling bloated and sluggish and putting on extra weight.

Unlike other fad diets, the Paleo diet allows you to eat as much food as you like - as long as it fits in with the Paleo principles. The reason it works and you won’t pile on the weight is because the foods are very low in calories and saturated fats, after all how often do you hear of someone going up a dress size because they binged on too many apples?

To put it simply, if it walks, grows or swims then you are allowed to eat it. Typical Paleo recipes are high in protein to keep you feeling full, with plenty of low-carb vegetables for vitamins and iron, as well as including healthy fats.

But wait...vegetables are carbs?!

Yes this is true, vegetables are complex carbohydrates.

We still need to consume some carbs to release glucose into our bodies for energy. Unlike simple carbohydrates (such as white bread and sugar) these types of carbs are absorbed slowly into our bodies, which means that they won’t cause a spike in our blood sugar levels.

Protein leaves you feeling full and satisfied for much longer than carbs do, and while carbs may fill a temporary hole you will eventually end up craving more. We all know that feeling, you could easily polish off two bowls of pasta and cheese, but you’d be hard pressed to try and eat more than one portion of steak and vegetables.

No sugar, no excuses

Sugar is a cardinal sin for a Paleo follower, so if you have an insatiable sweet tooth then you’ll probably struggle to stay on track. However, you can still get your share of fructose by eating plenty of fruit.

As our caveman ancestors stopped drinking milk once we had grown into children, dairy is another sacrifice that you would have make. This may seem like an effort, but many Paleos choose a substitute, such as almond or soy milk, instead of cutting it out of their diet forever.

Does it work?

Critics are sceptical about the benefits of the Paleo diet, claiming that it is unhealthy to eat so much protein and little amounts of carbs. The Paleo diet would also be challenging if you were vegan or vegetarian, tofu isn’t allowed and there are only so many different meals to make with eggs… omelette again anyone?

On the other hand, you can't argue with the results. Research by Lindeberg S et al, and cited in Authoritynutrition.com, found that in a controlled test where one group followed the Paleo diet and the other followed a typical Mediterranean diet. The Paleo group improved their waist circumference and glycemic control, compared to the Mediterranean diet group. A further study conducted by Jonsson T et al, and also cited in Authoritynutrition.com, concluded that participants on the Paleo diet lost on average 6.6 pounds and 1.6 inches more from their waist lines compared to the control group.

Listen to your body

The Paleo diet can be a simple way for you to eat healthily without counting calories, but it certainly isn't for everyone.

Always consult your doctor before making a huge change in your diet and if you do want to go Paleo then implement gradual changes and see how your body reacts. If you are starving all the time and lacking in energy, then maybe it isn’t for you, or you just need to make some adjustments.

While diet does play a crucial part in your health, don’t forget to dedicate time to exercise too. Sign up for a DW Fitness Club now and you will soon notice the difference.