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What is The Paleo Diet?

September 14th, 2012
What is the Paleo Diet

The Paleo Diet is a way of eating that attempts to mimic the eating patterns of our ancestors. It’s purpose is to explore eating how we (humans) are designed to eat. Later variations in the diet lead to the individual tweaking/experimenting as it’s not a one size fits all diet. In this way the diet is more of a template than a rigid set of rules with caloric restrictions or macronutrient guidelines.

The primary emphasis on this way of eating is QUALITY sources of produce such as grass-fed/grass-finished meat, free range/pasture raised chicken, wild caught fish, organic vegetables and fruit, and traditional fats (such as quality animal fats, coconut oil, palm oil, lard, tallow, olive oil (cold pressed un-refined) and many people now accepting butter and ghee with a small amount of nuts and seeds (when properly prepared) in the diet. Little to no sugar is present in the diet other than what’s coming from natural sources with vegetables and small amounts of fruit.

The diet (when done optimally) is for the most part free of anything processed or refined and it’s always suggested to get your produce from local farmers and eat what’s in season. The diet is free of all grains, legumes (with exceptions to soft shell, “pod like” legumes such as green beans & peas) and dairy (with many now becoming more accepting of butter, ghee, kiefer and raw milk). Dairy seems to be a “grey” area for many people as some people are highly reactive and intolerant to dairy. It’s usually suggested when starting to eat this way to completely eliminate all grains, legumes and dairy for 30 days, see how you look, feel and perform, then if you like… re-introduce raw dairy (or whatever else you like) and see how you handle it. In doing so a person gains awareness as to how certain foods can make them feel and they make better decisions in the future.

Paleo Food Pyramid

Paleo Food Pyramid

The speculation is that we have not yet fully evolved to eat grains and many feel the same with legumes and dairy. We know the humans species has been around for around 2.5 million years and we didn’t begin to eat grains on a wide spread cultural level until around 10,000-12,000 years ago. The same can also be said for dairy and legumes. Some evidence however suggest that grains, legumes and dairy were eaten by some humans up to 200,000 years ago but it’s very clear that the large majority of humans did not. Anthropologists tell us that it takes around 40,000 years for the human species to adapt to a new environment so from that perspective one can argue that we are not yet evolved to eat these more “modern foods.” If we look at fossil remains from anthropological studies we see significant changes right around the time of the agricultural revolution such as birth defects, malformations in the teeth and jaw, reduction in brain size and a shortened life span. A common hypothesis is that it was the introduction of grains, legumes and dairy that contributed to this change.

Overall this approach to eating becomes more of a lifestyle than a diet. The accepted definition of a “diet” is something that people go “on” and then go “off” of. This is not the case with this way of eating. It eventually leads to “a way” of eating that people tend to stay on… I believe the effectiveness and fulfillment that this way of eating brings to people is contributing to it’s accelerated movement. More on that later.

There is no specific macronutrient ratio to follow. Some people will do best on a high fat, moderate protein, low carb (little fruit) ratio… others may thrive on less protein and more carbs with fruit, yams and sweet potatoes (usually the case with high level athletes that need extra fuel). It’s usually suggested when starting this way of eating to begin on the “lower carb side” with very little fruit… then get to your desired level of leaness/health, etc… and then ratchet up the carbs and try to find your “carbohydrate sweet spot.” Many people also abide by eating a macronutrient ratio that changes with the seasons with no fruit and lots of fat/protein in the winter with more fruits and starches eaten in the summer.

If we take in account genetic variations among primitive people we see that those with origins in colder climates such as the original eskimos ate a diet of virtually 100% protein and fat (whale meat and blubber) where as those living closer to the equator would eat more vegetables and fruit with less protein. Not everyone will thrive on the exact same diet, everyone is different. However the common variable in all these diets was level of  QUALITY… with food sources that were untouched by man. Our ancestors ate food that was not processed or refined, cooked with toxic oils or loaded with sugar like it is with our modern food supply.

We must keep in mind that the word “Paleo” is just a word. It’s a bunch of letters that when put together and spoken make a sound. That sound is a pointer to a better way of eating but the word itself is not where the magic is. Humans also have the tendency to get very attached (or non-attached) to words and they make assumptions  based on words. They will say things like “Paleo is just another fad diet” or “I heard it doesn’t work.” You may also here people say “Paleo is the way, it’s the only way and all other ways are wrong.” Both statements are limiting and fail to paint a clear understanding of what this really is. There is no substitute for self experience in eating this way for 30 days and for direction on that we suggest you go here.

by Chad Walding, DPT
Photo ofChad Walding
Chad Walding
Job Title
Doctor of Physical Therapy
The Paleo Secret

2 Responses

  1. I have many customers that follow the paleo way of eating. We actually run freezer meal workshops – one being paleo-friendly. What are your thoughts on cold pressed grapeseed oil? Thanks.

    • chad.walding says:

      According to Mary Enig, PhD (She is the co-founder of the Weston A. Price organization, nutritionist and has a PhD in Nutritional Sciences. She was one of the early researchers of trans-fatty acids and was instrumental in raising awareness of the dangers of trans-fats.)

      “Grapeseed oil contains phenols that raise the smoke point. However it is very high in omega-6 fatty acids, so it not a good choice for our diets–we need to avoid excess omega-6 fatty acids as much as possible. Also, grapeseed oil is industrially processed with hexane and other carcinogenic solvents, and traces will remain in the oil.

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