What is the Paleo Diet?
The Paleolithic Diet, to give it its full name, is also sometimes referred to as the ‘Caveman Diet’. This is because the fundamentals behind the concept are based on the idea that out genetic make-up as human beings has not changed a great deal since the Stone Age, when we as a species functioned as hunter gatherers.
The physique of most humans at that time would therefore have been a great deal more impressive than the average body type today. What has changed the way we eat today is the development of agriculture, which began to appear in the late Stone Age, or Neolithic. This change in the way in which humans produced their food saw a massive increase in the amount of grains which people ate.
Proponents of the Paleo Diet would argue that this change was not a natural thing to do, from the point of our biology. Our bodies, they contend, are still largely set for hunter gathering rather than farming. This means that the most effective way of eating healthily is to mimic as much as possible the diet of our hunter gatherer ancestors.
The Paleo Diet aims therefore to return our bodies and eating habits to a more Paleolithic model of consumption. This helps to protect us from the effects of so-called ‘diseases of affluence’ related to diet, such as obesity, diabetes, heart problems and other conditions associated with carrying too much fat and flab.
The problem with eating grains, according to proponents of the diet, is that the energy they provide comes from the body converting them into glucose. Any glucose, which is a type of sugar, which is not used for energy, is then stored as fat. Coupled with a lack of exercise and working lives which involve sitting down a lot, the effects are easy to see.
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Paleo Diet Plan
Someone who is following the diet therefore cuts certain things out of what they eat, and focuses their attention on the kind of foods which come closest to those eaten by our caveman ancestors. This will then help to improve the way in which our bodies process food, offering a more balanced alternative to modern refined foods which in actual fact do little nutritionally except provide excess calories through their high sugar content.
But its grains which are seen as the real enemy by proponents of the Paleo diet. Grains contain two substances, lectins and gluten, which can wreak havoc with our bodies’ digestive systems. Gluten is a protein which is found in grains such as barley, rye and wheat. The recent explosion in the availability of gluten free products is something of a testament to how destructive this protein can be. Increasing numbers of people are discovering that they are gluten intolerant.
This condition can result in a large number of unpleasant conditions, such as acid reflux, joint pain and digestive problems, amongst many other things. A paleo diet can therefore offer some significant help to individuals who are gluten intolerant.
Lectins are a kind of defence mechanism which grains adopt in an evolutionary attempt to avoid being eaten. The presence of lectins in our diets can lead to damage of the digestive system, as they actually work to prevent our gastrointestinal networks from repairing themselves properly. As a paleo diet significantly reduces or eliminates the amount of lectins we consume, it can also help people with digestive tract illnesses.
Paleo Diet Food List
So a typical paleo diet shopping list would include lots of fish, grass fed meats, eggs and nuts for its protein content. To complement that, fruit, fresh vegetables, fungi and roots would also be included. The diet makes a point of excluding dairy products, legumes, potatoes, dairy products and refined salts and sugars. Processed oils are also not included in the diet.
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Paleo Diet for Athletes
As well as preventing illnesses though, the diet can offer significant help to athletes and other people with very active lifestyles. It keeps weight gain to a minimum, while its high protein content means that lean muscle growth is promoted. This is very useful for all athletes, but especially in those sports which require a mixture of power and endurance, such as rugby league.
One sportsman who has advocated the use of the diet is English rugby league player Richie Mathers, currently at the Wakefield Trinity Wildcats in the Super League. His reasons for adopting the diet were to improve his physique and make him more powerful, something which seems to have been reflected in his performances for the Wildcats from his position of full-back. Some athletes who have tried to use the diet have also complained that it can be very hard to stick to in a modern dining context.
Athletes also have high calorie requirements due to their training programs. They may therefore need to modify it somewhat, and include starchy vegetables like potatoes and beans, at least at first as they get used to it. Many athletes, such as international rower Ursula Grobler, insist that it has given them greater energy and helped to keep them lean. Sometimes, athletes only follow the diet for six days a week though, in order to make it less restrictive.
This is not to say that the diet is entirely without its drawbacks. Every nutritional program of this type requires some discipline, as well as affordable access to the kinds of quality meats, fruits and vegetables which are required. If you are restricted in your choice of local shopping outlets, this might make it problematic.
Nevertheless, there are clear benefits to using the diet, if you can stick to it. Combined with a dedicated program of focused training and exercise it can bring fantastic results. Like any kind of nutritional routine though, if you are in any doubt about it, consult with a medical or dietary professional. Some people with certain types of medical conditions may find that it does not suit.
If you need to get lean though, it can be a tremendous help. Make sure to research it in the light of your own medical history and activity levels if you want to take it on and use it though.