I explored the vegan diet in the past and all the animal right’s issues that go along with eating meat. So it’s going to seem drastic for me to talk about the paleo diet today! At first glance, they seem to be completely opposite.
The paleo, or paleolithic diet, refers to man during the paleolithic time in history – caveman basically. This was a time before agriculture. There were no processed foods, no wheat, no grains. Man survived on meat, eggs, animal fat, vegetables, nuts and berries. Sources of food were ‘organic’ so to speak – no genetically modified ingredients or pesticides.
There are actually some similarities between paleo and vegan diets. Both don’t include dairy (although this a gray area, some paleo dieters consume some unpasteurized dairy products), and both focus on vegetables as the main stay of the diet.
The paleo diet cuts out vegetable and hydrogenated oils (except olive and avocado oils). This means no margarines, soybean oil, safflower oil, canola oil, corn oil, etc. There are also no grains or processed foods. If it comes in a box, you can’t eat it!
People usually feel strongly one way or the other about animal products. Are they good for us, should you eat meat, are saturated fat and cholesterol healthy? While I discuss the benefits of the vegan diet in a previous post, I am now going to discuss the pro animal products side.
Dietary cholesterol actually doesn’t affect blood cholesterol! Shocking statement, right? When we eat cholesterol, or bodies actually make less of it, and when we avoid it, our bodies make more in order to compensate. Cholesterol in itself is not bad – we need it to live! Our brains need cholesterol. Drug companies are pushing for cholesterol levels to be unnaturally low (no one can have levels this low without the use of their statins, after all) and I am afraid that we will see in increase in rates of Alzheimer’s due to this. It is only oxidized cholesterol that wreaks havoc in your body so the focus needs to be on what causes the oxidation, not the cholesterol itself! The biggest contributors to oxidation are polyunsaturated fats (corn, soybean, and sunflower oils for example) and fructose consumption.
Eating fat doesn’t make you fat! Actually carbs and fructose are turned directly into fat. Fat fills you up (way more than bread) making you less likely to overeat. Wheat is so adulterated today that it is hard for our bodies to tolerate and more and more people are realizing they are gluten intolerant. Eating carbs causes insulin levels to spike making it hard to lose weight.
The source of animal products is extremely important. Grass fed free range animals are healthiest and treated more humanely. If you eat an animal that was fed corn (and this corn is genetically modified in the states if it’s not organic), then YOU are also eating corn (you are what you eat!). Since corn and grains are not part of the paleo diet, you are not following it if you eat conventional meat. I encourage everyone to buy their meat from small local farmers/ranchers. Visiting the farm and seeing firsthand how the animals are treated is important so you can be confident with your choice to eat meat.
Eating a wide variety of ingredients is also important. Back in the stone-age, humans tended to eat at least 20 types of plant foods a day! They also used every part of the animal and ate a wide range of animals. So don’t just think chicken breast, think ostrich, bison, elk, cooking meats with bone in, fatty cuts, organ meats, etc.
It’s not just about food; paleo is a whole way of life. Some practice a whole caveman lifestyle including being outside often and exercising in short intense spurts instead of lengthy cardio workouts. For more information about the paleo diet, check out Dr. Loren Cordain, one of the leading experts on paleolithic nutrition.