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What is the Paleo / Real Food Lifestyle?Updated 3 months ago

Often hailed as a return to our ancestral roots, the Paleo lifestyle offers more than just a dietary regime; it's a holistic approach aimed at aligning modern habits with those of our pre-agricultural ancestors. 

At its core, the Paleo diet seeks to emulate the dietary patterns of Paleolithic humans, who lived roughly 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. The approach is based on the belief that our bodies are best adapted to the foods consumed during this era, which primarily consisted of meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. This comes from research in which hunter-gatherers and agricultural worker populations were compared to show that the former had a greater lifespan and fewer degenerative and inflammatory illnesses ranging from diabetes, anaemia and osteoporosis. These illnesses were believed to have arisen due to the agricultural revolution diet containing a lack of diversity of whole food items, and being heavy on grains with less absorbable nutrients, resulting in potential nutritional inadequacies. As a result, the Paleo diet encourages the consumption of whole, unprocessed foods while excluding grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugar, and processed oils which we did not have available to us all those years ago.

Key principles of the paleo lifestyle:

  • Whole foods, ideally organic: Emphasis is placed on consuming foods in their most natural state, free from additives, pesticides, preservatives, and artificial ingredients. Vegetables and fruits are included within the diet.
  • High protein intake: The Paleo diet is rich in protein, derived from sources like lean meats, fish, and eggs - which would have originally been from wild sources - that  are essential for growth, repair and satiety.
  • Consumption of fats: Healthy fats, such as those found in avocados, nuts, seeds, and extra virgin olive oil, as well as animal based saturated fats like tallow, are encouraged. Typically, it does not advocate the consumption of dairy which is processed, but some could argue that raw milk may be an exception (although this is considered to be more ‘Primal’ than ‘Paleo’ in the dietary definitions).
  • Elimination of processed foods: Processed foods, including refined sugars and grains, are eliminated due to the fact that these wouldn’t not have been available to our ancestors as well as their potential adverse effects on health and metabolism.
  • Embracing physical activity: In addition to dietary changes, the Paleo lifestyle advocates for regular physical activity, mirroring the active lifestyle of our ancestors.

Suggested benefits of the paleo lifestyle:

  • Improved metabolic health: By eliminating processed foods and refined sugars, the Paleo diet may help regulate blood sugar levels and promote weight loss.
  • Improved nutrient intake: Whole foods abundant in the Paleo diet are rich in essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, supporting overall health and vitality. The diet also naturally contains fewer anti-nutrients like lectins found in beans and grains that can hinder absorption of nutrients within the digestive tract.
  • Better digestive health: Again, the elimination of grains and legumes, which contain anti-nutrients, may lead to improved digestion and gut health for some individuals. Grains containing gluten have also been shown to be inflammatory for gut health.
  • Reduced inflammation: The anti-inflammatory nature of the Paleo diet may benefit individuals suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions. This 2023 review explored the benefits of the diet for those suffering from autoimmune thyroid disease, and showed improvements in all cases - with some being significant.  

While the Paleo diet and lifestyle hold promise for many, it's essential to recognise that individual needs vary. What works for one person may not be suitable for another. As with any dietary or lifestyle change, consulting with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian is recommended to ensure it aligns with your unique health goals and needs. The other thing to note is that when individuals choose to follow a certain ‘diet’, adherence can dwindle after a while, such as in this randomised controlled trial on overweight but ‘healthy’ adults where only 35% of participants on the paleo diet managed to maintain it after 12 months. Some people do better to understand the principles of such approaches and aim to largely live by these within the parameters of their real life circumstances.

Nevertheless, in a world inundated with processed foods and sedentary lifestyles, the Paleo diet and lifestyle serve as a reminder of our evolutionary heritage and a possible route for individuals looking to improve their health. If you're looking to shed a few pounds, boost your energy levels, or simply reconnect with your ancestral roots, exploring the Paleo path might just be an approach worth trying.

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