Knowledge about the Paleo diet has spread quickly over the past two decades, but even today there are many misconceptions that are still held–even among some people who have Paleo followers for years!
Before getting fully on board with the Paleo diet, it helps to know some background and interesting facts. Of course the “Paleo diet” is based on how our ancestors or hunter-gatherers ate and lived, but how did the modern-day diet get started, and who’s really behind some of the most widely held Paleo beliefs?
Many people attribute the majority of ideas behind the Paleo diet to Dr. Loraine Cordain, but in fact the principles were developed more than 40 years ago. The idea of eating a diet similar to the one hunter-gatherers ate during Paleolithic times can be traced to the work of a gastroenterologist named Walter Voegtlin. Stanley Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner are two other researchers who picked up his ideas, and some years later the diet became more flushed-out and scientifically backed by Professor Loren Cordain–who wrote his book The Paleo Diet in 2002.
The Paleolithic era was a long period that lasted millions of years. It is classified as the time period between 2.5 million years and ending about 10,000 years ago. At the time, humans obtained food through hunting, fishing, and gathering wild foods. They used homemade tools, bones and other means to gather what they could from their environment, but didn’t practice agriculture and trading yet.
What exactly people ate during these years changed according to location, season, food availability and how modernized the humans were. So there isn’t one specific group of foods that all Paleolithic people were eating. Around 10,000 years ago farming was first established and people began to settle into civilizations, plant and harvesting foods, raising livestock and trading instead of simply gathering their food and hunting for it. After this time is when dairy products, grains and other agricultural foods were introduced.
Depending on whom you ask, some of these “modern foods” are included in the Paleo diet that people follow today (like raw milk, butter or ghee or example) while others choose to stick with pre-agricultural foods only.
The Paleo diet has shown favorable outcomes for lowering risks for some of the biggest modern diseases facing us today–including autoimmune diseases, metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Some studies have found that when people follow a Paleo-style diet for as little as two weeks they can experience improvements in characteristics of metabolic syndrome, which is related to weight gain and an increased risk for heart disease.
Eating the Paleo way will likely result in you having more energy and therefore a stronger desire to move your body–since it’s a nutrient-dense diet and also very low in things that throw your blood sugar into a frenzy, like sugar and refined grains. Less inflammation, a stronger metabolism and more stable blood sugar will increase your stamina, motivation and ability to gain healthy muscle mass. However despite what some people think, not everyone following the Paleo diet is doing CrossFit. These two became exceedingly popular at about the same time, and it’s true they do have many followers in common, but the Paleo-way-of-life is simply about focusing on health in all areas–not about dogmatic rules about which types of exercise you must do.
Some people who follow the Paleo diet simply like to walk outside, run, lift weights, do high intensity interval training, and just about any other form of activity. The goal is to take care of your body in multiple ways, which includes regularly moving in a way that makes you feel good.
The Paleo diet looks different for every person, taking into account someone’s food preferences and also any current health conditions. For some people, a diet higher in fat is helpful (like those who struggle with insulin resistance or weight fluctuations for example), while for others continuing to eat plenty of unprocessed carbohydrates (like starchy veggies or fruit) is needed.
It’s true that the Paleo diet usually features plenty of nourishing healthy fats and adequate protein–but not in amounts that are above what’s really needed. Just because you’re following the Paleo diet doesn’t mean you’ll need to gorge on bacon, coconut oil, nuts and loads of veggies. The Paleo diet doesn’t recommend any particular macronutrient split. There’s room for adjustment and customization depending on what works best for you.