The Paleo diet, or as it is properly named, the Paleolithic diet, just makes sense. It may not be 100% accurate in terms of the original argument for its support, but from a physiological point of view, it’s simply logical. The original concept was based on the theory that humans existed as hunters and gatherers for much longer (about 100 000 years longer at least) than as farmers. Agriculture began about 10 000 years ago. Today, our society feeds itself from modern agriculture. Thus, the theory goes, the digestive tract of humans has not had enough time to adapt to modern foods through genetic selection.
What is the Paleo Diet?
What we are talking about in the Paleo diet is a diet primarily based on meats (fish, seafood, wildlife, beef and poultry), healthy oils (such as olive, grapeseed, hemp, fish and coconut, for example) as well as berries, fruits and vegetables. This is the basis of the Paleo diet. It lacks grains (including wheat), wheat-based products, dairy of any kind, processed foods, fast food, and salt. The primary drinks are water and tea. It lacks coffee and any fruit juices, and most notably, it lacks pop drinks of any kind. The food also comes in a raw form more often than the modern diet due to the pretense that ancient people did not cook the majority of their food.
With regards to the evolutionary theory, that our digestive tract did not have enough time to evolve to farmed and processed food, this statement is only partially true. Over the last 10 000 years, most people have acquired the gene for the lactase enzyme which breaks down the lactose found in dairy products. The same goes for enzymes involved in the digestion of the carbohydrates found in wheat products. However, there is a large proportion of individuals that are lactose intolerant. Dairy products also contain the protein casein which has been implicated in causing impaired glucose tolerance which may lead to full blown diabetes.
With regard to wheat, many people are gluten sensitive or even have celiac disease (extreme gluten intolerance). There is also the argument that grain and legumes contain compounds which hinder the absorption of micronutrients, such as essential vitamins and minerals, leading to deficiency states and contributing to the development of disease.
Our Diet in 2014
But perhaps the strongest argument for the Paleo diet is that the modern diet, which is based primarily on grains, legumes and processed fast food, is simply unhealthy. The modern diet leads to many serious diseases of our modern society.
Excess carbohydrates, and especially simple carbohydrates, leads to obesity, insulin resistance, hypertension and eventually, to diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, kidney damage, loss of vision and leg ulcers to name a few. The gluten in today’s diet may cause damage to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract (even without obvious symptoms) leading to malabsorption of micronutrients and even cancers of the GI tract. Processed foods contain high levels of simple carbohydrates and processed animal fats. Animal fats lead to high cholesterol and atherosclerotic plaques that cause heart attacks and strokes. With regards to milk, many people do not tolerate lactose. This may also be asymptomatic for a long time while the damage gets more substantial over time. As mentioned before, casein in dairy may lead to insulin resistance and impaired glucose tolerance. This may lead to diabetes and all the complications associated with it mentioned above.
Benefits of Going Paleolithic
The Paleo diet, on the other, hand is packed with nutrient rich but low calorie foods. The sea food provides omega 3 and 6 fatty acids as well as protein. It is basically free of carbohydrates. The berries, fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, fiber (for proper GI health), and phyto-nutrients (such as flavonoids for example). The latter are powerful antioxidants with anti-aging properties which work to promote heath. Lean meat on the other hand provides protein and many micronutrients. Eating the same quantity by volume will make one feel just as full as on a fast food diet but the amount of calories consumed will be less than a third. This will lead to promotion of health, and weigh loss or proper weight maintenance. It will also eliminate all the health risks associated with the modern diet.
In terms of bodybuilding what can be better? The Paleo diet will lead to a lean and muscular form as well as a good state of health. A health oriented body builder is not only concerned with building muscle. He or she should also be concerned with promoting health. The only catch is that the Paleo diet does not provide a large amount of carbohydrates for large and intense energy expenditures such as in a gym. The only sources are the fruits, berries and vegetables. This may not be enough for someone training intensely with weights for an hour or longer. In this case, I recommend the most complex carbohydrates available to provide the energy needs while carbs get absorbed very slowly.
As in many of my previous blog articles, I would like to present some “catches” that should be kept in mind. The Paleo diet is not rich in vitamin D. If one is not regularly exposed to sunlight, one should supplement with this vitamin to prevent a deficiency. This may also be the case for calcium, since the lack of dairy products may lead to a deficiency. However, certain vegetables, such as kale and spinach, as well as egg yolks, are a good source of calcium. But it’s not going to hurt to supplement with this mineral. Besides these two points of caution, I don’t see how you can go wrong with this approach.
It may not be the most valid argument that modern man has not had enough time to adapt to the modern diet, but it certainly makes sense that the Paleo diet can make a huge contribution to the prevention of some “modern” diseases that are at epidemic proportions. See you next time.