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The most important elements of the paleo diet

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Critics of the paleo diet often complain about its trendiness and seemingly arbitrary rules about what you can or can’t eat. What they miss: The basic principles of the paleo diet can make just about anybody healthier.

When it comes to my own diet, I admit it, I’m a paleo fanatic. If a vegetable has not been grown organically, I usually try to avoid it. I won’t eat any grains except on rare occasions. My beef is invariably organic and grass-fed. I don’t eat soy products and won’t touch oatmeal, even if it is certified gluten-free.

My husband likes to eat paleo but he is not very strict about it. Nevertheless, he embraces paleo’s most important precepts.

And even though he strays from the paleo path a few days a week, the diet has made a big difference in his weight and health. The reason: Just eating paleo most of the time can rescue you from some of the worst dietary tendencies that are wrecking the health of many Americans.

As Janet Helm recently noted in her blog, Nutrition Unplugged: “While I may not recommend a Paleo diet, I must admit there are some positive outcomes of this trend.”

The benefits of basics

The first thing she discusses is the fact that the paleo diet gets you back to eating basic, real, nutritious food and cuts back on the nutrient-poor processed items that many Americans eat day after day.

By eating more foods that don’t come prepared with added sugars and damaged fats (like hydrogenated oils), you can lower your risk of health problems like obesity, diabetes and cancer. Fresh vegetables possess disease-fighting capabilities that you can never get from packaged snack foods.

Cook your own food

The fact that paleo necessitates cooking most of your own food also represents a positive step toward better health. Fresh-food cooked at home has fewer additives and more phytonutrients from vegetarian foods than anything you can get at a fast food emporium.

At the same time, the paleo diet embraces the consumption of healthy fats. Those fats help you absorb more nutrients from your fruits and vegetables and help protect you against cancer and heart disease.

As Helm says: “Paleo is not a low-fat diet. In fact, it celebrates certain fats. For too long, people thought all fat was bad, so I’m glad to see the emphasis on olive oil, nuts and avocado.”

The average American diet includes way too much processed vegetable oil that has been degraded into fats that do your body little good. On the other hand, avocados, wild-caught fish and grass-fed meats have fats that improve health, don’t hurt it.

And the fact that paleo allows you to eat healthy fats means that paleo eaters are consuming more egg yolks. Tests of the effects of the nutrients in yolks shows that it can help heart health and actually improve your cholesterol.

Along with eggs, paleo allows you to eat nuts every day (but not peanuts, which, technically, are considered to be legumes that are off-limits). Nuts have been shown to benefit heart health and improve the workings of your brain.

Keep on walking

Together with all the helpful dietary advice, the paleo lifestyle also advocates plenty of strenuous exercise. A wide range of research shows how a diet filled with fruits and vegetables combined with consistent physical activity can lower your risk of many diseases. And the exercise doesn’t have to be wildly tiring. Fast walking is plenty good enough.

So even if you don’t want to stick to a strictly paleo diet and lifestyle, benefits and weight-loss can be had by being part-time paleo. Just ask my husband who weighs about 10 pounds less than the day we were married but who never feels deprived on the delicious foods included in his relaxed version of the paleo diet.

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