Popular, controversial, and evolution-based, the paleo diet isn’t for everyone
What’s up with Paleo?
This popular plan—it’s one of the top diets in America—claims to cure a variety of conditions, including diabetes, obesity, polycystic ovary syndrome, mental illness, and more. However, scientific research on the Paleo diet is limited, so it’s good to be skeptical. Naturally higher in fat and lower in carbohydrates, the Paleo diet is satisfying and can help people lose weight—but people report that the plan is difficult to sustain over the long term.
Paleo diet creators and followers believe we should eat as our hunter-gatherer ancestors did; however, anthropologists are still debating what our ancestors ate, and whether that jibes with Paleo guidelines.
Leaving that controversy aside, Paleo advises that you avoid processed foods, which is a great way to eliminate a lot of sugar and sodium from your diet. Just be wary of the ‘Paleo-friendly’ processed snacks and meals on store shelves. Avoiding dairy is another requirement of the Paleo approach; that could result in inadequate calcium intake, though you can get calcium from other food sources or supplements.
Possibly troublesome is the elimination of legumes, grains, and some fruits. Beans, peanuts, whole grains, and fruits possess vital nutrients including soluble and insoluble fibers, vitamins, and minerals. Carbohydrates are the fuel of choice for our bodies, so a super-low carb diet may have undesirable side effects like fatigue, headaches and mood changes.
Another concern about Paleo is that the diet is naturally high in fat and saturated fat thanks to the strong emphasis on meat and coconut oil. While food guidelines have long been recommended limiting these nutrients to protect your heart, research suggests that the Paleo diet doesn’t always raise heart risk.
All “diets” possess good and not-so-good components, of course. The Paleo-friendly foods outlined here, along with nutrition profiles, allow you to make informed choices.
Go ahead and enjoy those high-protein breakfast eggs on the Paleo diet. A staple for followers, eggs provide all nine essential amino acids that we need. What’s more—they are a rich source of choline, an important vitamin-like nutrient involved in cell functions. Eggs also pack a good source of vitamins B6 and B12, biotin, riboflavin, and selenium.
These sustainably grown nuts boast a healthy dose of fiber, vitamin E, protein, calcium, magnesium, and monounsaturated fats. Enjoy a handful each day, or use almond butter as a spread on an apple for the perfect pick-me-up snack. Nuts are encouraged on the Paleo diet (but, not peanuts, because they’re botanically classified as legumes), so check out these top-rated nut choices.
If you were forced to sit at the dinner table as a child to finish those overcooked, soggy (and, now cold) Brussels sprouts, they deserve a do-over. Roasted or pan-fried, Brussels sprouts are nutty and delicious. Boasting super high amounts of fiber, vitamins A and C, they’re a healthy Paleo diet food. And the phytochemicals naturally present in cruciferous vegetables—indoles and isothiocyanates—may help prevent cancer.
Wild game provides lean protein for Paleo followers. Venison is significantly lower in fat (and, therefore, lower in calories) than beef. It’s a good source of vitamins B6 and B12, too. Our ancestor hunter-gatherers certainly enjoyed wild game in their active lifestyle.
Green leafy vegetables provide tons of vitamins A and K, and they’re allowed on the Paleo diet. Greens keep you full and satisfied longer due to their high fiber content. Beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin in greens help prevent some chronic diseases. Swiss chard contains the antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid, which is associated with improved glucose control in people with diabetes.
Some Paleo followers limit their fruit intake since they’re high in carbohydrates. Still, blueberries are one of many excellent Paleo diet foods, with high amounts of fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins. They’re also one of the top brain foods. Wild blueberries have the highest ‘total antioxidant capacity’ when compared to 20 other fruits and vegetables. What’s more, wild blueberries contain more fiber and manganese than their traditional blueberry cousins.
Many types of fish and shellfish are included in the Paleo diet, including shrimp, halibut, mahi mahi, tuna, and trout. Salmon is super high in EPA and DHA, the fatty acids with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities. Canned pink salmon with bones can be a calcium-rich food on the Paleo diet.
Cruciferous veggies (like cauliflower and cabbage) are a mainstay on the Paleo diet, with broccoli arguably one of the most popular. And, with good reason—broccoli boasts a wide range of nutrients: vitamins A, C, K, and folate, manganese, and potassium. Phytochemicals found in broccoli possess cancer-preventing qualities.
Protein-rich poultry is included in the Paleo diet, so enjoy your turkey long before and after Thanksgiving. Turkey boasts high amounts of iron, zinc, phosphorous, and potassium. Use those turkey leftovers for soups incorporating Paleo-friendly veggies. Turkey lettuce wraps or turkey meatballs can be prepared to meet Paleo guidelines also.
Some Paleo followers allow sweet potatoes, beets, and squashes (acorn and butternut), while others avoid them due to their natural carbohydrate content. They’re still worth adding to your regimen because the complex carbohydrates found in these starchy vegetables are excellent energy sources. Rich in vitamin A, C, E, B6 and manganese, sweet potatoes are one of the healthiest foods you can eat. Not sure about the difference between yams and sweet potatoes?
Certain fruits are limited on a strict Paleo diet, but grapes pack unique antioxidants and should be included. Resveratrol, found in the skin of red grapes, is a polyphenol associated with improved glucose control and anti-inflammatory actions. Concord grapes, also rich in polyphenols, have been shown to improve cognitive function, immunity and blood lipid levels.
Go easy on the coconut oil and organ meats
Coconut oil has a higher smoke point, meaning you can heat it up without burning, making it a great choice for frying. It’s certainly a healthier option than trans-fat-full shortening. But remember: Coconut oil is super high in saturated fat. A little is just fine, but don’t overdo it. Organ meats may not be your first choice for dinner, but they are encouraged in the Paleo diet. The most widely available being liver, kidney, tongue, tripe and heart—all super packed with vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, organ meats are very high in saturated fat and cholesterol. So, go easy on them for the sake of your heart.