The Paleo Diet, also known as the Caveman Diet, receives its name from the diet believed to have been consumed by our ancient ancestors during the Paleolithic Era, a period of 2.5 million years that ended with the introduction of farming and agriculture around 10,000 years ago. The theory suggests our ancestor’s diet consisted only of nutrition available to them at the time – meat, fish, plants, berries, nuts – and that our modern nutritional needs are still best suited for this diet as our metabolism evolved over time to process these ‘paleo’ foods.
The argument over which diet is best is one of those endless debates of man that will no doubt carry on many years into the future, yet it’s no surprise the Paleo Lifestyle has been adopted so avidly by many CrossFit athletes. Paleo proposes a dietary lifestyle focused on maximizing nutritional value in order to maximize energy to achieve the best fitness results possible. If there ever were an official ‘CrossFit Diet’ Paleo is it! From CrossFit.com’s nutrition page – ‘The Caveman model is perfectly consistent with the CrossFit prescription.’
The Nutritional Basics
Before agriculture and the domestication of animals became a pillar of modern civilization, man was a hunter-gatherer. During this time grains and dairy products were not yet consumed in large volume, nor were oils and starches used in the processing and cooking of food. The Paleo Diet thesis postulates that these modern foods, rich in carbohydrates and fatty acids, are consumed in disproportionate ratios and cause modern inflammatory diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Conversely, a Paleo diet high in protein and low on starch, sugars, and saturated fats is believed to be healthier because these foods are less complex and easier for our bodies to metabolize. Let’s look at the different proteins, healthy fats, anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phyto-nutrients included in the Paleo Diet.
Paleo Foods Fall Into 3 Simple Categories:
- Lean Proteins
- Vegetable & Fruit (emphasis on veggies over fruit)
- Healthy Fats (Omega-3)
Grass Fed Meats
Along with being a more humane and ethical option for meat consumption, grass fed meats have higher proportions of Omega 3 fatty acids and stearic acid, which combined with a grass fed free range lifestyle allow these animals to grow at a slower healthier rate which produces a higher rate of nutrition in these meats.
- Wild Game
Mostly including wild fish, as it is one of the healthiest forms of meat, with low, unsaturated fats. Most fish are also low in uric acid which can lead to gout, diabetes and kidney stones.
Free-range and pasteurized if possible. An obvious source of protein, eggs also contain choline, a chemical that strengthens cell membranes in our body. Along with all the vitamins eggs are rich in, they’re also a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids which lower triglycerides in the blood.
- Artichoke hearts
- Brussels sprouts
Focus daily intake on lower fructose fruits and reserve high fructose fruits, like bananas and mangoes, for days when a higher carbohydrate diet is needed. Having said that, even fruits that are high in fructose are still much better for your body than any amount of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
Nuts and Seeds
Extremely nutritious but also rich in Omega-6 fatty acids which are pro-inflammatory. If eaten with a balanced diet of Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and vegetables they can be a great source of energy and healthy for you. For those trying to lose weight be mindful of this and limit your intake of these guys.
Olive, Walnut, Flaxseed, Macadamia, Avocado, Coconut. All these oils contain healthy fats, which – according to research from even non-Paleolithic proponents – are good for health.
Non Paleo Foods:
All forms of refined sugars
Applies especially to flour based wheat’s and grains and anything involving gluten and corn.
Including beans, peas, peanuts, and cashews.
Some followers and supporters of the diet emphasize that dairy products can be consumed, but should be mainly avoided.
Including hot dogs, bacon, and sausages. These are prohibited because of high ‘bad’ fat content.
Including wheat germ oil, cottonseed oil, peanut oil, corn oil, soy oil, and rice bran
Traditional Food Pyramid
Paleo Food Pyramid
Notice any difference in the food pyramids? The daily serving size from the Breads & Grains category dominates the Traditional USDA Food Pyramid. The Paleo Food Pyramid on the other hand is represented by an almost an equal 1/3 ratio of lean proteins to healthy fats to fruits & vegetables. The Traditional Food Pyramid looks absurd in comparison with their suggested daily serving size of foods and grains that rich I Omega-6 fatty acids and carbohydrates. No wonder America is facing an obesity epidemic, the health and nutrition industry has been leading us on a death march to inflammatory hell!
At the most basic level, Paleo is following the nutritional guidelines that have evolutionary roots tracing back millions of years, with that type of time frame the diet no doubt has shaped our current genetics in some form or fashion. Paleo is all about consciously consuming unprocessed foods and striving to balance your diet between lean proteins, healthy fats and fruit & vegetables.
Of course, as Paleo has received more attention and popularity in recent years, critics inside and outside the scientific community have taken notice and marginalized the diet as an unhealthy ‘fad.’ As with most things in life, moderation is the key to success; yes, if you eat only red meat and nuts and overlook fruits & vegetables you’re not eating healthy.
The premise of paleo foods is that of consuming nutrition the body has been conditioned to absorb, digest, and process for millions of years. What are the odds our caveman ancestors were dining on filets every day? The diet isn’t meant to gorge on meat, it proposes a balanced consumption of proteins, fats and nutrients – what doctor would say that’s unhealthy?!?!? We personally here at Stack Healthy believe in what we like to call the Paleo Zone Diet which is the harmonic combination of both the Paleo Diet and the Zone Diet but more on this and the Primal vs Paleo Diet(t3)
Cavemen Never Used Vegetable Oil
Inflammation is one the leading causes of cardiovascular problems in humans. One of the many byproducts of the Industrial Revolution was the rapid introduction of wheat’s & grains into not only the human diet, but also more recently, the feed for domestic livestock consumed by humans that has contributed to the increase in inflammation related diseases like obesity and heart disease.
Flour based grains are ‘simple carbohydrates’ that aren’t so simple to break down when a person overloads on them. Carbohydrates turn into fats when they are not properly digest and used for energy. This increase in flour based wheat & grain consumption, combined with the arrival of the modern vegetable oil industry and the dairy industry, drastically altered the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids in our bodies.
Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats that keep our metabolism operating properly, Omega-6 fatty acids are considered unhealthy fats as they cause inflammatory responses during their metabolic process. The imbalance to this ratio of fatty acids via the rapid increase in Omega-6 consumption has increased the incidents of cardiovascular and other inflammatory related diseases.
So how do you increase your Omega-3 consumption while lowering your Omega-6 consumption? Think like a caveman! Eat less processed foods cooked in vegetable oil and eat more vegetables and fish, it’s literally that simple. Fish is high in Omega-3 and root vegetables are high in potassium, folic acid, Vitamin A & C and phytonutrients; leading to a balanced nutrition necessary to maintaining a healthy metabolism, further combating the effects of inflammatory foods.
Fatty Acids & The Glycemic Index
Not all fats are bad, in fact triglycerides are essential for the body to produce energy in the absence of optimal levels of glucose. Along with their energy storage properties, triglycerides and forms of cholesterol insulate us and protect our vital organs. They also initiate chemical reactions that help promote growth, immune function, and a host of other healthy metabolic functions.
Paleo foods focus on fats from olive oil, avocados, and raw coconut oil as these oils are rich in monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats which are known protect against cardiovascular disease. Monounsaturated fats promote insulin resistance while polyunsaturated fats provide more membrane fluidity.
Paleo suggest that in order to produce energy that’s more efficient and takes longer to burn off (addressing the energy lag many people experience mid afternoon), foods with a low glycemic index should be consumed. These foods allow the body to absorb sugar at a slower rate. This has a number of advantages. One is that a person can stay active and energetic for longer periods after consumption. Moreover, the sudden rise of glucose in the body from processed foods can be quite detrimental to health. Foods with a low glycemic index contribute to the regulation of insulin levels, as well as healthy utilization of the liver for glycogen. Basically, an individual reaches the glycogen employment stage much later. Glucagon(wiki) (the hormone which releases glycogen from the liver and converts it to glucose for energy) is used much less by the body and generally at a later stages in a workout. With more glucagon floating around that’s a recipe for late game/WOD heroics.
Some Paleo diets suggest nominal use of salt, while others reject it completely. Granted that sodium in some amounts is essential for the body; however, the amount at which sodium chloride is consumed contemporarily leads to a number of diseases including hypertension.
Lastly, the cliché that grains and dairy products are ‘forbidden’ in Paleo foods has become a bone of contention among many of its practitioner. The truth is, there are better, safer sources of carbohydrates, minerals, and proteins available for consumption than the processed grains and dairy products lining the grocery shelves. Wheat and dairy are known to cause allergies and other illnesses in individuals and within certain societies. Paleo suggests safer alternatives so that these allergens can be avoided if possible.
*It should be mentioned that foods rich in carbohydrates are not bad to consume before stepping into the Box and kicking your WOD’s ass. Consuming energy in this form is not bad if you know you will need it to get through a workout
Interestingly, the US is the leader in dairy production and milk. However, ironically it is one of the countries with the leading rates of bone de-mineralization as well, this happens in a disease known as osteoporosis. Think about it, most highly evolved organisms like mammals need protein for their muscle growth and reparation, and all mammals require milk. But there is no other species on the planet that consumes another species’ milk. As humans, we just do it because we have the privilege of doing so.
There is no nutritional requirement for the milk of another species in the human body. In fact, after age 2 there isn’t really a nutritional requirement for milk at all. Grains – as discussed above – are a part of recent civilizations. Recent research has proven that wheat is harmful for a lot of people, and that gluten(wiki) contributes to celiac disease(wiki). However, we also understand that completely cutting grains and milk out of one’s diet is very difficult in practical terms. This is where pseudo grains come to satiate your cravings
Pseudo Grains or ‘pseudocereal’ are foods that resemble grains in sight and texture but have different biological properties. Wheat and grain come from grass seeds and contain gluten, pseudo grains on the other hand come from non-grass seeds, are rich in protein and contain no gluten.
Quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth are all examples of pseudo grains that are great at satiating cravings while lacking the allergens associated with other grains. Other paleo foods like coconut flour, mashed potatoes, and cauliflower rice are used in the diet to replace grains for those looking to for a paleo hack(cas).
Low Glycemic Dairy
Glycemic foods can be quite harmful for people with diabetes and even healthy individuals. That coupled with the disadvantages of dairy products we’ve discussed above; make dairy products a very bad choice for a healthy diet. Low glycemic dairy products can act as dairy products when it comes to satisfying your cravings, and they are not nearly as harmful as dairy products in general.
These generally include skim milk, liquid egg whites, extra low fat cheese, and non-fat ice cream with no sugar added. Non-dairy alternatives with a low glycemic index include coconut milk and almond milk. They don’t taste nearly as good as dairy milk, but they are much healthier. So if you can’t control your cravings and need to gradually shift your lifestyle towards a Paleo diet, your Paleo diet shopping list should include the following:
- Coconut flour
- Mashed Potatoes
- Cauliflower Rice
- Skim Milk
- Coconut Milk
- Almond Milk
Hopefully, these will keep your cravings in check, and keep your metabolism working in near optimal conditions. However, your end goal should be to minimize dairy products as much as you can.a
Is Protein Powder Paleo?
This is a very common question asked by athletes all the time. The answer is not that simple. If we consider the utility of protein powder, the most prominent positive factor that comes up is convenience. Protein powder is in no way, a nutritional requirement for athletes or heavy lifters. But the positive thing about it is the fact that it is much easier to eat compared to grilling a chicken breast. It takes very little time to consume and it does fulfill your protein requirement and aid in your tissue recovery.
So the answer should be that even though protein powder is not standard Paleo per se, it is not ‘taboo’ for Paleo followers. It is not harmful and Paleo foods can be used to make protein powder to align the diet with the Paleo ideology. Protein powders that are Paleo friendly include whey protein isolates, egg white protein, whey protein concentrate, casein protein (the main protein in milk).
Non-Paleo friendly protein powders include soy protein, pea protein, hemp protein, and brown seed protein. A problem with protein powder is that there are no conclusive ways to know what is in them, and that is why, many Paleo dieticians oppose them. A Paleo diet in general, opposes most processed products and products that aren’t completely necessary for optimal health. However, no one can deny that they are a convenient way to get protein in your body. But that is as far as their benefits go.
Readers must first of all understand that when it comes to dieting, there is no one perfect approach. The simple reason for this is that no matter how much we try to understand our biology and generalize our findings, individual differences do exist. Thus, the most important thing to do when you’re following a diet is to listen to your body and assess its needs.
The ideas that most diets are based on are imposed like principles of the law with no room for individual differences. The Zone Diet however, is the concept of optimally regulating your hormones through your diet. Many diets don’t focus specifically on hormones even though they should be the primary focus of diets. This is where the Zone Diet has an advantage over other diets.
The Zone diet doesn’t focus on a low carb, low fat, and high protein diet. Instead, it focuses on a balance between carbs, fats, and proteins. The reason for this is to regulate the three essential hormones namely, insulin, glucagon, and eicosanoids.
A Zone diet uses lean natural meats as proteins, fruits and vegetables with a low glycemic ratio for carbs, and it also focuses on fats as an essential energy source. It incorporates a system of block meals, in which there are three types of block meals. There are one block meals, two block meals, and three block meals. The individual is allowed to mix and match these blocks. The way it works is that in a one block meal you can only choose one type of meal from three food groups namely; proteins, carbs, and fats. Whereas, in a two block meal you are allowed to choose two foods per group, and similarly in three block meals you can choose three choices from each list.
The best thing with this is that it gives you a lot if choices and discretion to chose your meals and their timings. The main focus is to get the right amount of each food group into your body so the three major hormone systems can be balanced. This proves to be effective in weight loss, CrossFit nutrition, and for general health and fitness purposes.