Paleo eating - is it right for you?
By now you've probably heard of the Paleo Diet. You might know what it is and what's involved, or you may be wondering what it's all about, what benefits it can provide for your health and whether or not it's right for you. Time to find out.
What is the Paleo Diet?
The Paleo Diet, or Paleolithic Diet is fairly new and it's taken off in popularity over the last couple of years. It's based on Palelothic food groups, or what our ancestors would have eaten. Their diets were far higher in lean proteins than our modern diet and the basis of a healthy diet is lean proteins, healthy fats and fruit and vegetables. Here's what you can and can't eat:
Okay to eat
- Processed food and sugars
Our modern diet is blamed for many degenerative diseases such as diabetes, cancer, obesity, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's disease and even depression. So could switching to the Paleo Diet be a healthy choice? Let's look at what paleo eating is all about in more detail.
Fruit and vegetables
Loaded with phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, fruit and vegetables can decrease our likelihood of developing degenerative diseases.
Omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats found in fish, olive oil, nuts, sees and avocado can reduce your risk of cancer, obesity, heart disease and diabetes whilst contributing to a healthy brain. Reducing the amount of saturated fat in our diets is also a great way to protect heart health. Compared to the grass-fed meat eaten by our ancestors, the types and quantities of fat in modern grain-fed meat is dramatically different. Meat from grass-fed animals is lower in saturated fat, yet higher in omega-3 fats such as DHA and EPA. So free-range meat is a much healthier choice than 'conventional' meat (1).
By now you might be thinking that paleo eating sounds pretty healthy, but what are the real health benefits? Weight loss, stable blood sugar levels, clear skin, balanced energy levels and improved blood lipids are just a few of the known benefits - by reducint foods which are at odds with our health, such as dairy and grains, and increasing our intake of antioxidants, minerals and vitamins, we can dramatically improve our health.
Paleo and depression
Evidence exists to suggest that paleo eating can help reduce symptoms of depression. With one-third of the population expected to suffer from depression or anxiety by 2050, is the paleo diet the answer to this modern epidemic (2)? Elevated blood sugar and insulin levels have been linked to depression - in fact, one study revealed that young men with insulin resistance are three times more likely to suffer from severe depression. The paleo diet can bring a noticeable improvement to insulin levels and blood sugar, which could reduce the risk of depression and anxiety.
Improved brain health
Protein and fat from oily fish such as salmon can boost brain health - omega-3 fatty acids contain DHA which is good for your heart, eyes, and brain function and development.
Gain more muscle whilst reducing fat
Because paleo relies heavily on healthy proteins, the diet is ideal for building muscle mass - the more muscle you have, the more efficient your metabolism.
Certain foods, such as grains and dairy, are known allergens that many of us are incapable of digesting. The Paleo Diet suggests removing these foods for at least a month and this could reduce your risk of allergies.
Improved energy levels
Who wouldn't want to experience a boost in energy levels? Eating a bagel and sugary coffee for breakfast won't do your blood sugar levels any favours - it won't leave you feeling satisfied either. Paleo eating helps you to feel energised by including foods with a low glycaemic index - so you won't feel that slump you get after eating refined starches or sugars.
Is Paleo for you?
We're not here to tell you whether or not a specific diet is right for you - our job is simply to inform you so you can make the choice for yourself. With that in mind, you should be aware of the pros and cons that paleo eating offers:
Some of the evolutionary arguments about paleo just don't add up and there is (as yet) no strong evidence to suggest that excluding dairy, grains and legumes from your diet is beneficial for health. Adopting a diet like this, with a list of 'allowed' and 'not allowed' foods isn't a great idea as it can be limiting and tough to be consistent long-term.
On the plus side, the Paleo Diet's emphasis is on lean protein, whole foods, fruit and vegetables and healthy fats is a good way to improve your diet. Even incorporating some paleo eating 'rules' into your diet part of the time could be helpful.
If you're unsure whether a diet like this is right for your lifestyle, why not try the 50/50 rule? Eat paleo half of the time and a healthy, varied diet including dairy (if you like), legumes and grains the other half of the time. If you find you feel healthier on your paleo days, it may be that this is a diet you wish to consider following full time - the benefits will be different for everyone!
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