Paleo eating is popular in the States but has not caught on as much in the UK. It is the diet of choice for many athletes and hardcore fitness adherents such as Crossfitters. You needn’t be an elite athlete to benefit though as it is an enjoyable and fairly easy to follow way of eating with a growing and enthusiastic community.
There are some well established popular blogs and websites state-side, my favourite being Mark’s Daily Apple. It is an excellent site that provides detailed well researched information to back up the advice given. If you want to look into things a little further head on over to the site. Alternatively here are the bare bones of what Primal eating it is about.
The Basics of Paleo
Our diet has changed in the last 50 to 60 years more than in the entirety of our previous evolution over many thousands of years. Increased consumption of sugars and processed foods seem to be connected with rises in diseases of civilisation; obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Certainly traditional diets pre-dating modern industrialised production of food offer many advantages. Paleo advocates however prefer to look even further back to a period pre-Agricultural revolution (approximately 10,000 years ago) specifically prior to when humans began farming grains and consuming dairy produce. 10,000 years is a comparatively short time in our evolution and arguably not long enough for us to have adapted fully to consuming these new ‘foods’.
Cutting out grains and reducing dairy leaves the emphasis in the Paleo diet on animal proteins, vegetables, small amounts of fruit and nuts and larger amounts of fat than the current conventional wisdom would recommend. Many Paleo diet gurus also argue that saturated animal fats needn’t be the source of all ills we are led to believe and are actually a preferable source of energy to carbohydrates. The key with fats is in avoiding damaged polyunsaturated fats that are common in processed and convenience foods.
When it comes to improving body composition what many don’t realise is that carbohydrates are much more readily converted to body fat than dietary fats. All carbohydrates are sugars, whether simple or complex in structure, and their principle use is as energy. If carbohydrates are consumed in excess of energy requirements they are efficiently stored as body-fat, an energy reserve for later use. Paleo logic does not cut out carbohydrates all together but recommends they are consumed in low amounts mainly in the form of vegetables and fruit. Compare the energy yield of 100 grams of the following foods: broccoli 2g of carbohydrate, 31 kcal; brown rice (uncooked*) 77g of carbohydrate, 370 kcal.
* Cooked brown rice can double or even triple in weight through absorbed water without adding carbs or calories. Even at the extreme end of this range 100g of cooked brown rice would contain 25.6g of carbohydrate and 123kcal, still considerably more than broccoli.
You will find different opinions on dairy consumption from complete avoidance to allowing small amounts. Generally the consensus is that high dairy diets should be avoided and can cause problems such as increased body fat and dietary intolerances.
Advantages of Paleo Eating
Paleo eating is pretty easy to stick to as it is not as restrictive as some diets. There are loads of enjoyable meals possible, just search Paleo or primal recipes for some ideas.
The Paleo diet embraces fats as playing an important role in nutrition as well as actually helping to reduce stored body-fat. Most low fat diets are bland and difficult to adhere to. Fat gives flavour to food and feelings of satiety (fullness) making you less likely to overeat. Look at the previous post for sources of good fats.
There’s no need to obsess over counting calories, just eat from the recommended Paleo food groups and combined with appropriate exercise you should start to see improvements in body composition pretty quickly.
In my own experience I have more consistent energy levels since reducing carbs, in particular cutting out grains. On my previous higher carb lower fat diet when I had to eat I really had to eat, often feeling light headed and irritable. Thankfully these moments of weakness seem to be a thing of the past.
This simple meal plan is a first step towards Paleo eating before attempting to go fully primal. I have tried it out with a couple of personal training clients and had good results in improving body composition.
Eggs omelette / scrambled with vegetables e.g. onions, peppers, mushrooms, spinach
Tuna, salsa, avocado
Any leftover protein and veg from evening meal
Seeds, nuts, boiled eggs, cold meat or fish, jerky, left-overs, full fat Greek yoghurt*
Big salad with fish or meat
Include good fats e.g. olive oil, avocado, oily fish, nuts, seeds
Large portion of fish or meat plus vegetables
occasional tea or coffee
You are allowed any of these once per day. Use common sense, less treats will lead to faster fat loss, but they shouldn’t completely sabotage you either.
2 squares dark chocolate
1 glass of red wine
1 portion of fruit (after a meal only)
No grains. E.g. rice, flour, bread, pasta, oats
Think of breakfast as a meal like any other. Get away from the idea of boxes of high carb cereals or toast.
Focus on what you are going to eat, rather than not going to eat. Cutting out grains doesn’t mean one third of your plate should be empty. Don’t skimp on protein, good fats, and vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables e.g. broccoli and cauliflower are good filling choices. Load up on ‘em.
Take your time eating. It can take up to 20 minutes for your food to settle and feel full.
Have a low-carb protein shake before or after training.
Keep above listed snacks to hand.
Figure out where you can buy appropriate meals e.g. high protein salads, in case you don’t have time to prepare your own.
Limit dairy produce- *One 400g tub full fat Greek Yoghurt per week, or cottage cheese. Use a little cream in coffee rather than milk.
One day per week go nuts. Eat whatever you like.
2 x whole body weights sessions per week e.g. kettlebells
1 to 2 x per week High Intensity Interval Training (5 to 20 minutes maximum effort in intervals)
5 hours activity per week, e.g. lower intensity sport, walking, golf, yoga