If your ancestors didn’t eat it, then you shouldn’t either - that’s the message of the Paleo diet. But how can we ensure we achieve optimal levels of essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients while following this popular “caveman-era” diet?
The Paleo diet is certainly not a new concept, and mimics the food groups of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors. This is based upon the fundamental concept that the optimal diet is the one to which we are genetically adapted. The aim is to optimise health, minimise risk of illness, and maintain a healthy weight.
If you’re getting started with the Paleo diet, the wholesome, contemporary foods to include are fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and healthful oils including olive, coconut, avocado, macadamia, walnut, and flaxseed. While plant foods are the focus of the Paleo diet, it also includes servings of fresh meats, preferably grass-produced or free-ranging beef, pork, lamb, poultry, and game meat, fish and seafood.
Foods to avoid include dairy products, cereal grains, legumes, refined sugars, and processed foods.
The Paleo diet didn’t hit the spotlight until 2010 with experts such as Prof. Loren Cordain and Robb Wolf became prominent advocates. Prof. Cordain is a Professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. His scientific publications include the nutritional characteristics of worldwide hunter-gatherer diets and nutrient composition of wild plant and animal foods (see www.thepaleodiet.com).
Prof. Cordain says he first became interested in nutrition during his childhood. “My mother would always encourage me to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and my father would give me books about Stone Age people and how they lived off the land from wild plants and animals.
“At a young age I competed in intercollegiate athletics, and this really peaked my interest in diets that had the potential to improve performance. I was a big reader too – I read a variety of popular, and now classic, health books on vegetarian dieting by authors such as Frances Moore Lappe, Norman Walker, and Paavo Airola,” says Prof. Cordain.
The best-selling author and nutritional researcher says a recent study released in March 2014 deconstructed the paleolithic diet and found ancestral nutrition target and alter various biological processes involved in common heart conditions.
“It is evident that diets of our ancestors provided high doses of functional food and nutraceutical constituents that have been shown to modulate biological processes.”
While Paleolithic diets provided modest levels of carbohydrate-derived energy, these diets are also low in sodium.
"The nutritional qualities of modern processed foods and foods introduced during the Neolithic period are at odds with our ancient and conservative genome. This genetic discordance ultimately manifests itself as various illnesses, which have been dubbed ‘diseases of civilisation’,” says Prof. Cordain.
“By replacing our current diet with foods like our ancestors consumed, it is possible to improve health and reduce the risk of chronic disease."
If you’re following the Paleo diet, here are some tips to staying healthy and balanced:
If you’re finding it difficult to give up high-glycaemic load carbohydrates, such as snack foods consisting of refined sugars, try supplementing with a herbal combination of bitter melon and goat's rue to assist in the maintenance of normal healthy blood glucose levels in healthy individuals.
- Has your digestive function suffered due to consumption of the wrong foods? A broad-spectrum enzyme supplement can assist in overcoming temporary, secondary intolerances developed from your old eating habits. Look for a supplement containing plant-derived enzymes that assist in the breakdown of carbohydrate, proteins, lactose, lipids and cellulose (fibre).
- While it is ideal to incorporate fresh fish into our diets, many of us do not consume enough of the right type of oily fish needed to obtain optimal levels of omega-3 fatty acids. When choosing a fish oil supplement, always look for an ultra-pure source with low toxicity that meets the strict requirements of the Global Organisation for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED).
- For individuals following the Paleo diet to achieve healthy digestive function, don’t forget to consume a multistrain, dairy-free probiotic for the restoration and maintenance of healthy intestinal flora and healthy digestive function, and temporary symptomatic relief of medically diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- If you're adapting the Paleo diet to reduce symptoms of illness associated with poor nutrition and/or obesity, curcumin is a widely beneficial active constituent from turmeric that provides anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. Supplementing with curcumin may enhance the health benefits achieved from your new lifestyle.
Speak to your healthcare practitioner for more information about looking after your health with an individualised treatment regimen that includes a combination of a balanced diet, high-quality supplementation and exercise. To find a healthcare practitioner in your local area, use our Find a Practitioner service.