Ever thought about your ancestors and what it must have been like living thousands of years ago? Without basing it on movies like Ice Age and The Flintstones? Our ancestors were pretty tough people – they could only eat food that they went out and hunted, or picked from the ground. They were eating what we now call the Paleo diet. In the Paleolithic period, diets would have consisted of high quantities of protein (i.e meat, fish, eggs from nests), as well as fruit and vegetables that could be picked from the ground. Hence the term ‘hunters and gatherers’. What we now recognise as the Paleo diet is based upon following our ancestors example, and only eating the foods that our bodies have been designed to recognise for 1000s of years (basically foods that have been ‘hunted and gathered’ in their natural state).
As the years passed by, advances in technology made other forms of food available – like grains, dairy and processed foods – which are harder for our bodies to digest. Currently 70% of our calories come from foods that would never have been available to our ancestors. Most modern Western diets contain many complex carbohydrates, derived from wheat, barley and grains. This is going to include foods such as cereals, bread, cakes and pasta. Surprisingly, only 100,000 years ago there were no grains, and it has only been recently that we have started eating them. Although we might have discovered new foods and used technology to process them, human evolution hasn’t quite caught up yet and our genetics have remained 99% the same as they did over 100,000 years ago. Therefore, our bodies have not evolved to digest these new types of food as efficiently.
So what are the benefits of eating a Paleo diet?
The Paleo diet is high in rich proteins and vitamins, providing many health benefits. One of the main components of the paleo diet are lean proteins which support strong muscles, healthy bones and optimal immune function. Due to the large intake of seeds, avocados, olive oil, fish oil and grass-fed meat, those on a paleo diet consume more monounsaturated and Omega-3 fats, which have been connected to reducing instances of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Fruits and vegetables are also an essential part and contain antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
It also lacks many common allergens and food culprits as it is dairy, peanut and gluten free. It can also help with reducing inflammation, improving sleep patterns, stabilizing blood sugar and balancing hormones. The foods recommended in the Paleo diet generally provide our bodies with more efficient, long-lasting energy that also aid in burning fat.
What can you eat?
Interested in Paleo but don’t know where to start?
Starting a new way of eating doesn’t have to be difficult, but with all the conflicting advice out there from health and fitness gurus, fitness bloggers and everyone in between, getting started can be quite overwhelming. However, following a Paleo diet is all about going back to basics and eating what our ancestors would have eaten.
Our ancestors were pretty tough people, in that they were only able to eat what they went out and hunted, or picked from the ground. They were eating what we now call the Paleolithic diet. Their diet would have consisted of meat, eggs (picked from nests), seafood, and fruit and vegetables that could be picked from the ground. All the foods our bodies are designed to eat and digest properly!
It has only been in recent years that advances in technology have made other types of foods such as ready meals, cakes, pastas, bread, dairy, grains and cereals available. Did you know that 70% of the calories from food that we eat would never have been available to our ancestors? Although we might have discovered new technology and foods, human evolution hasn’t quite caught up yet and 99% of our genetics remain the same as they did over 100,000 years ago. Therefore, our bodies have not evolved to digest these types of food properly.
Here are our top tips for starting your Paleo lifestyle:
- Cleanse your environment.
Carry out an assessment of your house and other places you may store food, including the fridge, freezer, desk at work and gym bag. Get rid of anything that is not Paleo – give it away, donate it to a food bank, give it to friends but do not keep it in the house. Cookies in the cupboard will provide too much temptation! You are building new eating habits, so remove all distractions out of the way.
- Re-fill your cupboards and fridge with Paleo foods.
Go to your local supermarket, butchers or green grocers and buy a variety of meats, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, and vegetables and fruits. You can also find Paleo snacks in either the Wholefoods or Free From aisle in your local supermarket or in your local health food store. Go by these guidelines – eat meat, fish, veg, nuts and seeds, some fruit and no sugar. Do not eat processed foods, and if it has a long ingredient list on the back then put it down! The Primal Pantry bars all have under 5 ingredients, making them a perfect snack for your everyday.
Try to think of your plate as 50% veg, 30% protein, 10% good fats such as avocado, 5% fruit and 5% nuts and seeds.
- Plan your meals.
Batch-cooking your meals is a great idea to make food prep easier.
Protein – You could bake or grill strips of chicken breast and thighs, or roast some pork shoulder or a joint of beef. Another great option is to hard-boil some eggs – they’re great for slicing into salad!
Veg – Try something different such as cauliflower cous-cous (whiz up raw cauliflower in a food processor) or courgette/zucchini noodles. Making ratatouille is also a great way of eating plenty of vegetables, and make a tasty side to your protein.
Salad – make a big batch of fresh salad and divide up into portions throughout the week. Don’t add salad dressing until the last minute though, as it will cause the salad to go limp.
- Plan snacking on the move.
Along with purchasing fresh produce, make sure you prepare for snacking on-the-go. Some good snacks include nuts and seeds, fruit, dried fruit, beef jerky or biltong, or The Primal Pantry Bars (perfect for post-workout snacks, eating on the move, and kid-friendly). Make sure you are able to snack right if you are caught short – if you do get hungry make sure you are reaching for a Paleo snack rather than a bag of crisps or a chocolate bar. Stash your snacks in your car, desk drawer, gym bag, handbag or anywhere else you can think of.
- Get creative!
Become excited about what you are eating and experiment with textures and flavours! Test how innovative you are, or go online where you will find a wealth of websites with Paleo meal inspiration. For those with a sweet tooth, do not fear! There are also plenty of delicious Paleo dessert recipes that will be sure to hit the spot.