Sounding like something straight out of the Flintstones, the Paleolithic (“Paleo”) diet is the original diet designed keep us lean, strong and healthy. As its name suggest, this diet is essentially derived from the types of foods our ancestors consumed during the Paleolithic Age, spanning from about 2,600,000 years ago to about 10,000 years ago. While the availability of certain foods depended largely on factors such as geographic location, climate conditions and seasonal changes, each Paleolithic diet shared several similarities in common:
Firstly, the vegetable components did not include grain and grain products, but mainly consisted of non-starchy wild fruits and vegetables.
Secondly, the non-vegetable components excluded any dairy, and consisted mainly of meat from wild animals, which bore a completely different amount of fatty acid composition to our modern day domestic animals.
Third and perhaps most obviously, the Paleolithic diet excluded processed foods and refined sugar (apart from honey). As a result, the diet could be characterised as high in protein and fibre, and low in carbohydrates.
Now this begs the questions: what makes a 2 million year old diet still relevant in today’s society?
According to science, our genetic structure determines our optimal nutritional needs, and this has evolved according to the environmental conditions in which our ancient ancestors lived, including the foods they ate. The latest research has shown that our genes have only evolved between 0.01-0.02% since our ancestors in the Paleolitic age, leaving us (yup, you guessed it) between 99.8%-99.9% similar to how humans were 2 million years ago! Yet even though our genetic profile has remained largely unchanged, our human diet has drastically drifted away from that of our ancestors. Mass agriculture and industrialisation have introduced numerous grain, refined sugar and salt, dairy products, as well a plethora of processed and artificial foods as a regular part of the human diet.
In other words, many of us are not eating the foods we are genetically and physiologically adapted to eat. The food which we are fuelling our bodies with is therefore not in sync with the fuel our bodies need – much like fuelling an unleaded car with diesel. This resulting discordance has been accused as being a fundamental cause for many of our modern “first world” diseases, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancers, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, heart disease, auto-immune diseases, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s and a host of other conditions that originally were unknown to our Paleolithic ancestors.
Ironically, some of the unhealthiest foods in today’s diet is being promoted and recommended to us by health organisations and nutritionists, and some of the foods which we were made to consume are rejected as unhealthy. Things like saturated
fat, cholesterol and red meat – types of foods that humans are actually genetically designed to consume – often come attached with a “eat only in moderation” label. Yet what we should really be eliminating in our diet are grain products, excess sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oils, legumes and homogenised and pasteurised dairy, some of which are at the very base of the universal food pyramid (an out-of-date diet concept still widely accepted in Australia).
If your goal is to stay lean, healthy and natural, here are my 6 Top Tips to maintaining a successful Paleo Diet:
Be generous in having ANIMAL PROTEIN through the day (Organic if possible, as this will contain less toxins, preservatives and hormones).
a) Red meat and game (Beef, pork, lamb, veal, rabbit, goat, sheep, kangaroo, deer), including their organs (liver, kidney, bone marrow). Don’t be scared to eat the fatty cuts
if they come from a well-treated animal and all meals with proteins should contain fat as well. Preferably choose pasture-raised and grass-fed meat coming from a local, environmentally conscious farm.
b) Poultry and eggs (chicken, wild turkey, pheasant, duck, quail, goose)
c) Wild caught fish (Salmon, tuna, trout, bass, halibut, sole, haddock, turbot, walleye, tilapia, cod, flatfish, grouper, mackerel, anchovy, herring)
d) Shellfish (Crab, lobster, shrimps, scallops, clams, oysters, mussels)
Have lots of fresh NON STARCHY VEGETABLES.
a) Non leafy vegetables (Celery, tomatoes, bell peppers, chilies, onions, garlic, leeks, kohlrabi, green onions, eggplants, cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, cucumber, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, artichokes, okra, avocados, zucchini, mushrooms)
b) Leafy vegetables (Lettuce, spinach, collard greens, kale, beet top, mustard greens, dandelion, swiss chard, watercress, turnip greens, seaweeds, endive, arugula (rocket), bok choy, rapini, chicory, radicchio)
c) Root vegetables (Carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips, rutabaga, sweet potatoes, radish, jerusalem artichokes, yams, cassava, pumpkin, ginger)
d) Herbs (Parsley, thyme, lavender, mint, basil, rosemary, chives, tarragon, oregano, sage, dill, bay leaves, coriander)
Moderate your intake of FRUITS AND NUTS.
Bear in mind that while fruits are high in antioxidants and vitamins, the way a lot of store bought fruits are being cultivated and stored nowadays cause them to be extremely high in sugars and almost devoid of nutrients. Therefore aim to eat mostly fruits low in sugar and high in antioxidants like berries as well as nuts high in omega-3 or low in omega-6 like macadamia nuts and almonds. Here are some examples:
a) Fruits (berries, strawberry, cranberry, cranberry, blueberry, blackberry, grapefruit, peaches, nectarines, plums, pomegranates, pineapple, papaya, grapes, cherries, apricot, honeydew melon, kiwi, lemon, lime, mango, tangerine, coconut, figs, dates, passion fruit)
b) Raw nuts and Seeds (pistachios, brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds,
pumpkin seeds (pepitas), pecans, walnuts, pine nuts, macadamia nuts, chestnuts, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts)
Minimise (or eliminate) CEREALS, GRAINS AND LEGUMES.
While there are certain cultures that have adapted better to consuming these foods, humans as a species have only been eating grains (refined or whole), since the beginning of mass and industrialised agriculture some 10,000 years ago. Since our genes and the make-up of our digestive system was formed long before the advent of industrialisation, grains remained structurally and chemically different to the foods which the human body had already grown accustomed to eating. Unlike birds, which have a digestive system adapted to dealing with grains and seeds, our bodies are simply not made to effectively break down these forms of carbohydrates. These include:
a) Grains (wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, soy)
b) Legumes (peanuts, kidney beans, pinto beans, navy beans and black eyed peas).
Eliminate PROCESSED SUGAR.
In nature, sugar almost always coexists with fats, protein, minerals and vitamins. By segregating sugar, like white sugar, we are in fact feeding our bodies a foreign substance, something that it cannot breakdown completely and will eventually interpret this as a poison. This includes:
Sugar products (sweets, soft drinks, all packaged products and juices including reconstituted fruit juices). As a rule of thumb, if it comes pre-packaged in a can, bag or box, don’t eat it!
Eliminate HOMOGENISED AND PASTEURISED DAIRY PRODUCTS.
With the exceptions of organic butter and maybe heavy cream. Some cultures have successfully adapted well to dairy and its products, but this represents only 30% of the population, and more often than not, they have access to raw dairy from organically grown grass-fed cows (not genetically modified cows selected for increased milk production, nor grain-fed cows). For those of us that may not get such high quality raw diary, then be aware that homogenisation and pasteurisation kills the good cultures and enzymes in milk that many of us need when consuming diary.
Founder and Master Strength Coach
Australian Strength Performance