How Paleo can you go?

The Paleo diet takes its name from the term ‘Paleolithic’ and the principle of this diet, in its simplest of terms is ‘to eat like a caveman’.

How Paleo can you go? - A Free From Life
Paleo Shepherds Pie
Image courtesy of Jules/Flickr

The idea behind the diet is that our ancestors ate what they caught or foraged and our digestive systems developed to cope with this way of eating.

Since man began to farm and grow food, resulting in being able to process grains to make flour, turn milk into cheese, add sugar to products etc, our health has suffered because our digestive systems are not able to deal with it. That’s the theory anyway.

Many would argue we have evolved to deal with modern processed food, for example, our ability to produce lactase, the enzyme that digests lactose found in dairy products. In fact, we are nothing like our Paleolithic ancestors.

There have also been findings of popcorn and other processed grains, dating back to these times, including a type of bread made without yeast. This suggests perhaps our cavemen did in fact eat some processed grains.

Then there is the question of what you can and can’t eat if you follow the Paleo lifestyle. Without a definitive list, it can be confusing. I’ve heard people say they eat Paleo when they actually include rice in their diet. Surely that’s a processed grain?

Another thing that makes the term ‘Paleo’ feel wrong as a way to describe a lifestyle, is the amount of exotic produce we have access to nowadays that simply wouldn’t have existed back then. Most of these have been cultivated by man.

Aside from the tenuous link to our ancestors, what the Paleo diet does have in its favour is its natural, unprocessed approach to eating.

Processed grains, such as bread, rice or pasta, especially if eaten in their ‘white’ form, are quickly broken down by the digestive system and turned into glucose, which raises blood sugar levels and causes the body to release insulin. This brings the blood sugar levels back down again, but it is this constant yo-yoing of blood sugar that puts unnecessary stress on the body and leads to ill health. In addition, any unused glucose ends up stored as fat. In this sedentary lifestyle that many people lead, we simply don’t need that amount of energy.

This makes the Paleo principle similar to that of a low GI diet, or one followed by a diabetic. It’s a common sense approach to eating that cuts down on carbs and sugar and considers food that is more natural or in its ‘whole’ form.

For our family, Paleo has its place because we have a gluten and dairy intolerant member of our tribe. This can make providing suitable food difficult, as gluten free diets don’t always accommodate dairy intolerance and vegan diets don’t consider issues with gluten. The fact we eat meat too means Paleo ticks all the boxes. The only thing I personally draw the line at is cauliflower rice and zucchini noodles. They leave me cold just thinking about them!

Our approach is one of common sense. I get what I need from a Paleo cookbook whilst adapting the recipes to suit our needs.

For example, I discovered a lovely ‘cream’ sauce substitute made from cashews and I’ve also experimented with grain free cookies and treats.

I may not wholly sign up to the Paleo approach, but I do feel it has its place in the arena of healthy eating, particularly given how ‘addicted’ we seem to be to a high carb, high sugar lifestyle.

About Nicola Young

Freelance writer and copywriter

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