Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Caveman Eats: The Paleo Diet
At some point along the line of human evolution, we must've done something wrong when it came to nutrition. Or maybe, we did a whole BUNCH of things wrong. I'm not exactly sure when wild meats and raw vegetables were replaced with processed, starchy foods, but I can promise you it was a dark day for health and fitness. Sure, it's pretty obvious to see that we didn't mean to stray away from nature and all its goodness, and that new age processed food was seen as an advancement and modern convinience instead of a silent killer. But wouldn't it be nice to get back to how things were, when all food was natural, and natural was good?
That ideal is exactly what the Paleolithic Diet tries to cater toward. The "paleo diet," or "caveman diet" is basically a diet consisting of only foods that were available to the earliest of humans (alive in the paleolithic era, surprise surprise). It's an interesting diet, and one that has quite a bit of potential in terms of health. It also has quite the following in the health and fitness community, especially with crossfit athletes. Some swear by it, saying that our bodies were never meant to consume more than what the paleo diet has to offer, and therefore filling your belly with paleo food is like filling your car with high octane gas. Our body knows it, loves it, and runs with peak efficiency off of it. But is it true? And what foods exactly are in this caveman's buffet?
Meat: Caveman say "ugh ugh me like meat!" Seriously, this diet definitely encourages the consumption of lean meats from almost any source, such as beef, pork, chicken, buffalo, alligator, rabbit, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Personally, I don't really know about paleolithic humans and if they had cows or not, but I do really like this aspect of the diet. Lean meat is completely essential for the body as far as nutrients go, and the strong suggestion of lean meat consumption really helps to place this diet as a more favorable one for avid gym-goers.
Fish: The paleo diet is packed with fish and shellfish too, which I LOVE. Salmon, shrimp, crab, tuna, lobster, mackeral, you name it, you can probably eat it on the paleo diet. These fish are not only an incredibly dense protein source, they're also very low calorie and packed with heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Awesome!
Vegetables: The paleo diet says you can eat pretty much any vegetable, as long as it's not starchy (like potatoes, yams, etc). The diet pushes more for the raw consumption of these veggies, though obviously with modern commodities like ovens, microwaves, stovetops, etc, it's easy to make some pretty awesome recipes from the veggies and meats allowed on the diet. Again, I'm very supportive of this part of the diet. VEGETABLES RULE!
Fruits: Any fruit you can think of is allowed on the caveman diet. Early humans were supposedly able to easily pick off of trees and bushes, and therefore wouldn't be limited in what they could eat in terms of fruits. Sounds great to me, I love fruit! It's an incredible energy source and tastes absolutely delicious. Who doesn't love a little natural sugar?
Nuts and Seeds: According to the paleo diet, early humans were large consumers of many different nuts and seeds, and therefore foods like chestnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, and sesame seeds are all encouraged on the paleo diet. However, make sure to note that peanuts are NOT a nut, but actually a legume, which aren't allowed on the paleo diet.
Foods that AREN'T allowed on the paleo diet include:
Dairy foods: Again, according to the paleo diet (I'm not going off any sort of history source here other than what the diet claims), early humans wouldn't have been able to harvest or produce any sort of dairy products such as milk, cheese, or cream. Because of widespread lactose intolerance, it's easy for paleo dieters to claim that our bodies haven't fully adapted to dairy products as an energy source. I personally don't like this aspect of the diet, as I do believe that dairy has very large health benefits in the average individual.
Grains: That's right, you heard me clearly, NO GRAINS on the paleo diet. This means no oats, no amaranth, no quinoa, no rye, no rice, and no WHEAT. That may sound strange to any sort of health nut, but paleo dieters claim early humans wouldn't have been able to create processed grains through any sort of method, and therefore we shouldn't consume them for an energy source. I strongly disagree with this part of the diet. Oats and grains have extreme health benefits, and are an absolutely excellent source of long lasting, slow burning, complex carbohydrates.
Legumes: This means beans. No beans. No peanuts, no chicpeas, no black beans, no green beans, no red beans, and no peas of any sort. I don't like this part of the diet either, beans are an excellent source of plant protein and other important macro nutrients.
Starchy vegetables: This means no potatoes or yams, or sweet potatoes, or tubers. This basically kicks all bodybuilders out of the equation, because sweet potatoes are probably the main muscle building carb of choice, along with brown rice (which also isn't allowed).
Fatty meats: Bacon, fatty beef, fatty pork, etc. Get the picture?
Also not allowed on the paleo diet are any sort of sweets or soft drinks, as they contain TONS of refined sugars and chemicals that cavemen certainly would NOT have had access to. This aspect of the diet is quite useful in my honest opinion, as is any excuse to eliminate sweets from a diet. Your body will perform much more efficiently with lower amounts of refined sugar, not to mention you'll be a MUCH more healthy person as a whole.
Here is a complete list of foods that are and aren't allowed in the paleo diet: http://altmed.creighton.edu/Paleodiet/Foodlist.html
So here's the question, is the paleo diet a good choice, or a bad choice? Personally, I give it a split decision. There are aspects I REALLY like, and aspects I REALLY don't like. It's great to focus on lean meats, vegetables, and seeds, but not so great to kick out dairy and grains. Now let me be the first to say that their reasoning for doing so is deep and study-riddled, and wasn't just for the hell of it, so I'm not going to say they have no idea what they're doing. Clearly they do, at least to a certain degree. But I believe keeping grains and dairy in a diet is a much better choice for the average individual. But hey, I guess don't knock it till you try it, right? Many people have claimed PHENOMENAL body performance off of the paleo diet, and therefore for some people, it works. Everybody's different, and everyone will respond differently to various food patterns.
The paleo diet is truly a unique approach to dieting, and in some ways it's a refreshing attempt to bring back the days when food was much simpler. Give it a shot if you like, it definitely won't hurt you. See how your body responds. You never know, a caveman's life may be the life for you.
Eat clean, live simply, and as always, GOOD LUCK!