About six months ago, I started hearing people talk about the Paleo diet.  I didn’t pay much attention to it since I’ve never had much luck with dieting in the past.  One day, curiosity got the best of me and I started reading about the Paleo diet and learned that it is much more than a diet.  The Paleo diet or Caveman diet is actually more of a lifestyle than it is a diet. While there are some people who follow the Paleo diet to lose weight, many people follow it for health and fitness reasons.

What is the Paleo Diet

The Paleo diet is also called the Caveman diet because, in part, it is getting back to eating the way our caveman ancestors ate and lived. This is my understanding of it as someone who follows the diet and not as a nutritionist or expert. The focus of the Paleo diet is on healthy, whole, unprocessed ingredients of the types that were available before we became an agricultural society. Before we became farmers, our diet consisted of berries, meat, wild vegetables and fruits, and the occasional nuts and seeds.

We weren’t growing grasses, grinding grains, baking bread, milking cows, digging potatoes or doing any number of other things that we do today to process our foods. We did not have to worry about the sugar level or salt level of the foods we ate because those things were not available. While we may have occasionally come upon a hive of honey bees, we certainly didn’t eat honey, sugar, maple syrup, chocolate, or artificial sweeteners on any regular basis (or at all).

What the Paleo Diet is Not … Gluten-Free

I’ve spoken to a few people about the Paleo diet and many confuse it with a gluten-free diet. While the Paleo diet is gluten-free because there are no grains, there are also a few notable differences. Gluten-free diets allow gluten-free grains like rice, corn, oats and quinoa. The Paleo diet does not allow grains of any sort. The gluten-free diet allows dairy. The Paleo diet does not allow dairy although some people do allow occasional full fat organic, grass-fed Greek yogurt for health reasons

Many people who follow the gluten-free diet allow a variety of processed foods that are gluten-free from corn chips to diet sodas. The Paleo diet does not allow processed foods or artificial sweeteners of any sort. Some people allow very limited use of all natural sweeteners like stevia, honey and maple syrup. However, the focus is really on very minimal use of sweeteners because they would not have been readily available to our ancestors.

There are a few other things that are not part of the Paleo diet including potatoes, beans, and peanuts.  For the most part, potatoes are eliminated from the Paleo diet because we simply are not active enough to justify the huge input of carbohydrates that potatoes give us. Carbs become sugar and sugar that we do not burn up becomes fat. Either way, it’s not healthy especially for people who are struggling with controlling weight or insulin according to most people who follow the Paleo diet.

So, what’s the deal with peanuts when other nuts are allowed on the Paleo diet? Peanuts are not actually a nut, they’re a bean otherwise known as a legume.  I’m far from a scientist but the way I understand the explanation is that legumes contain a large amount of phytates.  Phytates bind to the minerals in the foods we eat and limit the amount that is available to us.  Legumes also tend to be fairly high in carbs compared to the nutrition they provide (see the potato above).  Legumes also contain lectins which can damage your stomach. They can also be contaminated with aflatoxins which are a type of mold and cause allergic reactions in some people – even some people who may not be allergic enough to have a full-blown attack.

If you are interested in the Paleo diet, I highly recommend that you look for two websites: Mark’s Daily Apple (Mark Sisson) and Robb Wolf, the author of the Paleo Solution. I have been following the Paleo diet for three months and have not only lost 15 pounds but feel healthier and have more energy than I have in years.