What is Paleo?

Do people on a Paleo Diet really eat only that which was available to cavemen ?

“Show me a wooly mammoth, and I’ll adopt the Paleo diet!”

These are things I’ve heard from people when discussing my dietary habits.  Which, really, is nothing more than a minimally-processed, whole foods approach to food.  And that’s all “eating Paleo” is.  It’s the “I-don’t-eat-processed-crap-in-a-bag-in-a-box” diet.  It’s the “I-eat-only-things-that-were-alive” diet. It’s the “I-avoid-overly-processed-chemical-laden-synthetic-man-made-garbage” diet.

For some reason, though, people have a tough time understanding that concept.  And some people think they know what Paleo is, and intentionally denigrate those who follow it with an insipid and ignorant statement such as the last one above (as an aside, the wooly mammoth existed up until about 5000 B.C. The Paleolithic era ended over 10,000 years ago, making the wooly mammoth a neolithic creature, not paleolithic).

But there’s far more ignorance in that statement than meets the eye.  And that ignorance leads to a lot of confusion even amongst those who are genuinely interested adopting such a diet.  So, let’s clear this confusion up right now. Just what is Paleo (a.k.a. The Paleo Diet)?  In short, it is eating real, whole, minimally processed food as close to its original form as possible.  As Robb Wolf has said, “The Paleo diet is a template, not an historical re-enactment!” Which means, no, we are not eating exactly what our ancestors ate.  We are not restricted to eating only BBQ’ed wooly mammoth ribs (as delicious as that sounds!).

Eating a Paleo diet means, essentially, that your diet consists of eating meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, some fruit, nuts, and some seeds with a little dairy if you can tolerate it.  It means, Ding Dongs, Ho-Hos, Twinkies, cupcakes, candy, soda, bread, pizza, pasta and the like are seldom, if ever, a part of your diet. It means leaving grain and legume-based foods behind. But it does not mean depriving yourself nutritionally or calorically limiting your food consumption (though, as Robb also says, “You need to learn the difference between your mouth and a vacuum cleaner!”).

Why the focus on real, whole foods? Because real, whole foods are chock-full of the necessary vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your body requires to fulfill the demands you place on it, whereas processed foods do not.  Even the “enriched whole wheat” products don’t have what your body needs in the quantities your body requires. According to Dr. William Davis, author of Wheat Belly, there are over “75 conditions unique to humans, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, polymyalgia rheumatica, and many others—many, perhaps all, getting their start with wheat consumption”. (‘Is this healthy plant wrecking your health?’).  Furthermore, most people don’t actually consume “whole wheat”.  They consume things made from wheat, i.e. processed foods.  These foods typically contain additional non-natural ingredients in the form of preservatives and stabilizers, the effects of which have never been studied.  Not to mention all the added processed and refined sugars and salts.  That’s why we focus on whole foods.  They’re natural, nutrient-dense, and have exactly what our bodies are looking for, and lack all the extra stuff our bodies don’t need.

So that’s it.  That’s all the “Paleo Diet” really is. There’s no mystery to it.  For further reading and understanding the science behind why and how it works, I highly suggest getting and reading one of the following books and/or visiting the author’s websites:

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