Have you ever heard people speak about the Paleolithic era? That was the era when our ancestors still hunted and gathered fruits and vegetables from their surroundings; the time before agriculture and livestock. Our ancestors were also much more active then and they lived in a much harsher environment.
The paleo diet is based on this time of human existence, 10 000 years ago, when things were much different. Animals were not yet domesticated, so there was no milk in our ancestors’ diets, neither any other dairy products.
They also travelled quite a bit, so they ate what was available in their immediate surroundings. Fishing was much easier than hunting, which was a dangerous and exhausting exercise. Their preservation methods for meats were very basic since salt and sugar did not exist for them.
They preferred to gorge themselves on wild meat after each hunt instead of carrying it with them as they moved. Luckily, wild meat was lower in fat than the meat from our current domesticated animals. They had little access to grains; only when they came upon wild growing corn or wheat. Access to beans, lentils and peas was limited, and they had no way of extracting oil from coconuts, so coconut oil did not exist either.
The Paleo diet in the 21st century
So how likely and sustainable is the type of diet today? Ironically, the food items which were freely available during our ancestors’ time are now on average more expensive to obtain and consume than today’s average diet and it is a challenge to sustain this diet in the long term.
Although this diet focuses on fruits and vegetables and high-biological value protein, rather than processed foods, it fails to meet current scientific nutrient recommendations and also excludes whole food groups.
The low intake of grains in this diet does not provide for enough essential nutrients (carbohydrates and B vitamins), fibre and fuel for good bacteria in our gut. More fruit and vegetables together with increased amounts of protein may help control blood sugar and prevent Type 2 diabetes, but this diet’s fat and protein intake exceeds scientific recommendations, whilst falling short for carbohydrates, legumes and dairy. Thus it is deficient of important vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre, which plays a significant role in reducing your risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other diseases.
What are the benefits of a paleo diet?
It is argued that the paleo diet improves blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides. However, this effect is due to the weight loss caused by this diet and not necessarily by the diet itself. There are just not enough good quality studies to promote a Paleo diet as advantageous at this stage. Also remember that our ancestors were much more active than we are nowadays, so this needs to be included in your lifestyle changes. It is also important to rather see an expert, like a nutritionist, when you plan to make a significant change to your diet. He or she will assess you as an individual, your food intake and medical history, which will lead to a personalised nutrition plan that will suit your lifestyle and preferences.
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