The notion of “Paleo” as a diet and lifestyle descriptor developed from the study of evolutionary biology, and the assimilation of ancestral foodways from around the globe. With a commitment to good science, rigorous research, epidemiological studies and plenty of anecdotal evidence to boot, “Paleo” has evolved from a little-known nickname for a prehistoric era to a diet and lifestyle template that is sweeping the nutrition scene, helping to reinvigorate the health and happiness of millions of people.
But what, many ask, is Paleo?
Quite simply, Paleo provides a model for holistically healthy living. The Paleo diet recommends whole, nutrient-dense foods, and is at its most basic an elimination diet.
By removing many of the causes of allergies and autoimmune disorders, as well as the processed food-like products brought about by modern manufacturing, the human body is able to detox from foreign substances and naturally reset those basic functions that make eating, breathing and moving so effortless in a healthy system.
Paleo looks to ancestral wisdom—whether from cave-dwelling Paleolithic ancestors or remote native populations untouched by Western disease—for guidance on what to eat and how to live. The foods that our great, great grandparents wouldn’t have recognized in our modern supermarkets shouldn’t be food for us in the first place, and Paleo offers guidance in avoiding those products that do more harm than good.
As it is, the modern human body is assaulted on all sides by environmental pollutants that are toxic to our basic chemical processes; avoiding these contaminants, in addition to the many additives found in foods, assists our body to reach vibrant wellness on its own, often without the help of medicine or invasive surgery.
What to eat on the Paleo diet?
The Paleo diet advises the avoidance of grains, gluten, legumes, low-fat pasteurized and homogenized dairy, corn, soy and sugar. Instead, fill up on grass-fed meat from ruminants like cattle, bison, goats, lamb or wild game. Seek out pastured chicken, eggs and pork, and prioritize wild-caught fish and seafood whenever possible.
Do your part to support your local economy and agricultural system by consuming local, organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible, or grow your own to be even more sustainable. Try your hardest to limit your exposure to rancid seed oils like canola, corn, soy, sunflower or safflower oils, and instead use pastured animal fats like lard, tallow or schmaltz, coconut oil, grass-fed ghee or cold-pressed olive oil for your cooking, baking and drizzling needs. Nuts and seeds are also included in a Paleo diet, and offer a healthy alternative in a diet devoid of conventional snacks.
Many people find that chocolate, some dairy, some alcohol or other such items fit nicely into their personal Paleo template—and this is fine. The Paleo diet offers an evolutionary framework for the most nutritious way of eating, but the fact remains that everybody—and every body—is different. Try the Paleo template at its most basic before adding or subtracting. You may discover food intolerances, reactions, or new favorite ingredients along the way that could shape how you eat for the rest of your life.
Along with the diet component, Paleo seeks to address serious ailments caused by modern living. With a focus on stress reduction, community engagement and support, fitness and play, exposure to nature and honoring the body’s circadian rhythms, Paleo encompasses so much more than just food:
Move and Play
When it comes to “exercise,” there’s no right or wrong way. To reap the research-backed health benefits of exercise, the key is to simply move – as often as you can. Go for a run or hike, take the stairs, engage in your favorite team sport, surf, lift heavy things, or whatever else sounds fun. Just be sure to move, and enjoy yourself while you’re at it.
Connect With Others
The way we communicate matters. The fact is, most human communication consists of body language and paralinguistic cues, less from actual words. Only when connecting in person can we truly hear what is being said by seeing the accompanying facial expressions and body language that help us more fully grasp the other’s meaning.
Without careful consideration for how, and how often, we use our ever-expanding technologies, we have the potential to do at least as much harm as good. Trading facetime for screen time hinders our development and impoverishes our capacity for empathy and compassion. Regularly unplugging helps us engage in deep genuine relationships. Step away from your screens on a regular basis.
Our hormones and circadian rhythm demand we be active during the day and restful at night. When we interrupt these biorhythms with poor sleep, we risk a host of health problems. To ensure proper sleep, follow a consistent and relaxing bedtime routine; avoid screens and exercise at least two hours before bedtime; manage temperature and light levels; and address stress.
We have decreased our exposure to the sun. Unfortunately, hiding indoors can negatively affect our health. Sunlight regulates human physiology, activating numerous biological processes that are key to maintaining good health, including our internal clock. This rhythm in turn influences the immune and endocrine systems, our eating habits and digestion, and body temperature.
We believe there are three equally important components that make up the Paleo lifestyle – Diet, Movement and Lifestyle. If it sounds simple, it’s because it is. There may seem like a lot of complicated information to take in at the beginning, but once you start your Paleo journey, it’s easy to see how our bodies, minds and spirits quickly adapt to the changes.
Why? It’s because we are created to move often and with joy and a sense of playfulness. We are meant to eat whole foods found in nature, properly raised and free of additives and chemicals. We evolved to live in close community with others, to share our resources and experiences with close friends and family. All the rest falls into place as we learn to listen to our bodies for what they really are: intelligent, finely tuned machines that require the right fuel for optimum performance.