One of the most popular dietary trends today is the paleo diet. It is not only known and followed by famous people, but also recommended by nutritionists to lose weight and even in some restaurants they offer you the "Paleolithic" menu.
This diet has been immersed in the field of health for some time, but doubts, recent scientific evidence, new critics and defenders are also arising.
In this post you will have a guide that will help you to know in depth everything about this diet. If you are interested, I invite you to continue reading.
How did this type of diet come about?
When truly modern humans appeared on the scene around 50,000 years ago, the ancestors were already eating an omnivorous hunting-and-gathering diet.
About 10 thousand years ago, most of the world discovered agriculture, thus passing from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic period.
Planting and agriculture provided humans with a consistent and relatively reliable food supply, without which civilization could never have developed.
Many people believe that the shift from a hunting and gathering diet (rich in wild fruits and vegetables) to an agricultural diet (rich in grains), gave rise to new modern chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
This is one of the main reasons why advocates of the paleo diet say that we should return to a diet based on meat and agricultural products like our ancestors.
What is the paleo diet?
Also known as the primal diet, it is based on two central insights:
- Adapt to eating certain types of food.
- Staying healthy, strong and fit, to avoid the chronic diseases of modernity.
During the Paleolithic period, the ancestors ate according to the season and the availability they had at the time.
The main idea of paleo
The concept of this primary diet is that the ancient human genetic pattern does not match the diet and lifestyle of the 21st century. And this results in that your health and well-being can be affected.
This way of eating makes some key evolutionary assumptions, which might help you understand it much better:
- Paleolithic hunter-gatherers were robust and healthy. If they didn't die young from accidents or infectious diseases, they lived long.
- When Paleolithic hunter-gatherers switched to Neolithic agriculture (to the modern diet), they became relatively sicker, shorter, and skinnier.
While a case can be made for this evolutionary trend, a recent study in The Lancet analyzed 137 mummies from societies around the world, from Egypt, Peru, the American Southwest, and the Aleutian Islands, to look for signs of atherosclerosis .
They observed probable or definite atherosclerosis in 47 of 137 mummies from the four geographic regions, regardless of whether the people had been farmers or hunter-gatherers, peasants, or the social elite.
Everyone suffered from hardening of the arteries, regardless of their lifestyle. In fact, hunter-gatherers from the Aleutian Islands had the highest prevalence, with 60% of their mummies showing evidence of atherosclerosis.
Consider these factors before starting a paleo diet
This past century has been too short a period for significant genetic adaptation. Industrialization and technology have radically changed the way you eat and live.
Today, a quarter of people subsist on commercially prepared and packaged foods high in refined sugars and starches, highly processed fats, and sodium.
Without question, this modern Western diet is unhealthy for anyone. Proponents of the paleo diet are absolutely right on this point.
Remember that ancestors lived almost all over the world, in totally different customs and environments. And yet, in most cases, primary diets certainly included more vegetables and fruits than most people eat today.
If I want to be healthier, should I eat like they did in Paleolithic times?
Perhaps that may be the case, but not necessarily for the reasons that proponents of this type of diet recommend. And I show you why:
- Most of today's fruits and vegetables are not like they were eaten before.
Those from that time were often bitter, much smaller, difficult to harvest, and sometimes toxic.
Over time, plants have been bred with preferred and attractive traits: the largest fruits, the most beautiful colors, the sweetest flesh, the fewest natural toxins, and the highest yields.
- The vast majority of animal foods today are also not the same as before, as they are fed with grains and injected with hormones for faster growth.
Keep in mind that beef steak (even if it's grass-fed), is not the same as bison steak or venison.
From now on buy the most natural and organic foods possible. Just remember that what you eat today didn't even exist in Paleolithic times.
Cereals and legumes in the primary diet
The main reason why its advocates eliminate or restrict the consumption of cereals and legumes is because of antinutrients (I'll talk about them later).
For his followers, these foods were not consumed in the Paleolithic period, but there is research that shows otherwise.
These are notable for the antinutrients they contain, such as gluten and phytates . However, they were consumed in the Paleolithic period:
- Recent studies in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , using more advanced analytical methods, have found that ancient humans may have started eating grasses and grains before the Paleolithic era began, up to three or even four million years ago.
Beans, peanuts, peas, lentils are also restricted in the primary diet and for a similar reason to cereals; the antinutrients they contain, which are lectins and phytates.
In contrast, the idea that legumes were not widely available or consumed is completely false.
- A 2009 review revealed that in the Paleolithic period they not only ate legumes, but that they were an indispensable part of their diet.
Antinutrients are the chemical defenses that plants use to defend themselves against their predators. And in theory, these prevent or hinder the absorption of other nutrients that your body needs.
But you don't have to worry. In fact, research suggests that the benefits of grains and legumes far outweigh their antinutrient content, especially when cooked.
Once cooked, these chemicals can be good for you. Lectins can reduce tumor growth, while protease inhibitors become anti-inflammatory and anticancer.
paleo diet vs. Mediterranean diet
Clinical trials have been conducted proving the efficacy of the paleo diet:
- In the first, they recruited diabetic and prediabetic volunteers with heart disease and put them on one of two diets:
After 12 weeks, the Mediterranean group lost body fat and saw an improvement in diabetes markers. But those in the paleo group fared even better, losing 70% more body fat and also normalizing their blood sugar levels.
- In the second investigation it was found that:
The paleo group ate much more protein, compared to the Mediterranean diet group.
And by consuming a large amount of this macronutrient, they were able to keep their lean mass dense and strong, leaner and more satisfied.
What do critics say about the principles of this diet?
It's a tall order for critics to say anything against replacing processed foods with natural, organic foods. However, there are some factors that are still in doubt regarding this diet:
Does it really work?
Paleo-style eating emphasizes whole foods, lean protein, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds, which is a huge improvement over the average Western diet.
However, more rigorous trials are needed before reaching any definitive conclusions. For this reason, I recommend that you see a nutritionist to design a diet that meets your needs.
Despite the obvious benefits over the typical diet, the paleo diet has some flaws.
Every diet has its pros and cons. And this does not escape them.
If you decide to follow this regimen, it is essential that you attend with a professional who can guide you and recommend what best suits you.