What did Paleo people eat?
(Paleo in this context means pre-agricultural humans (hominids) – roughly from 2 million years ago to 10,000 years ago)
It depended on where they lived.
They ate whatever they could find (hunt, gather, scavenge).
This means that what Paleo people in the tropics ate was very different from what Paleo people in the Artic ate.
So there is no “one, right, authentic, true” Paleo diet, with precise things on the ‘to eat’ list and precise ratios of protein, carbohydrates and fat.
We have a better sense of what Paleo people DIDN’T eat as opposed to what they DID eat. So the Paleo style of eating is really more about what to avoid.
Paleo rules of eating
Confused by this whole Paleo thing? Start with a healthy diet.
The place to start is to just eat more real food. Less stuff from boxes, bags, and cans. More actual food – fruits, vegetables, meats. If you eat grains avoid white processed flour (things like commercial breads, donuts, cookies, pastries, etc) and focus on more real whole grains – rice, quinoa, oats, etc.
Then slash your sugar intake. This includes white sugar and brown sugar and ‘natural’ sweeteners like honey, molasses, and maple syrup. This also includes artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose (splenda) and the host of other artificial sweeteners out there.
Is a little sugar/sweetness okay? Sure, I’m not suggesting you live a monk-like life of denial, but we’ve just gone flat out sugar crazy in our society. A little sugar or sweetener here or there, a little stevia or a little xylitol are fine, but beware the slippery slope of a little becoming a lot.
If you can eat more real food, reduce or eliminate white flour and dramatically reduce your sugar intake, I believe you are 80% there. You’ve made massive improvements in your health, and you haven’t even really gone Paleo yet. Notice you could apply these basic principles to any eating plan: vegetarian, Mediterranean, low carb, etc.
Then try Paleo (if you want)
Why am I into this whole Paleo thing anyway? Well, first it makes sense given the evidence we have, and second as a clinician who sees a lot of sick people, I see this diet help a LOT of people. So I recommend you give it a try.
I recommend number 2. You can do anything for 30 days, and most people experience significant benefits from cutting out all grains, and all dairy. At the end of that time you are the one that can decide if the benefits you got from it are worth the costs.
So in the future, when you hear Paleo, think REAL food first, then remove grains and dairy and add some animal foods. The precise ratios, amounts and specific foods are really very much up for debate. But we do know what Paleo people didn’t eat and the significant health consequences for many of us eating those foods. Give Paleo a try, odds are very good you’ll be glad you did.
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