The Paleo diet is a return to the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. The term Paleo refers to the prehistoric Palaeolithic period, when humans first appeared (3 million to 12,000 years BC). The diet really began trending in 2001, in the United States, with the publication of The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain, a professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University.
The paleo diet, a simple starting idea
The basic premise is quite straightforward: back to the roots of a lifestyle that didn’t lead to cancer, obesity, or even diabetes… Eating only what nature provides and cutting out processed foods and additives. The goal isn’t so much about being thinner as being healthier, feeling revitalised, sleeping better and having fewer migraines.
Beyond the dietary aspect, the Paleo diet is healthy living that encourages us to get out and get some exercise. Hunting, fishing, gathering… in perfect step with our distant ancestors.
On the menu, then, are meat and fish, seasonal fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts and seeds, etc. The only fats that are allowed are animal fats and olive, avocado, sesame and coconut oils. Spices and herbs make for excellent aromatics.
Game is a highly prized part of the diet, as the animal will have led a full and healthy outdoor life. Failing this, priority should be given to organically farmed meat and short supply chains.
Off the menu
Any product that was not around during the Palaeolithic period, and only appeared after the agricultural revolution. This means the diet excludes all cereal grains (rice, rye, barley, wheat and oats, including flours), legumes (beans and lentils, which are alleged to be inflammatory and to increase blood sugar levels), potatoes (high starch content but otherwise low in nutrients), and dairy products (high in lactose, which is an allergen).
Foods that are tolerated in moderation
Butter (yes, it’s a dairy product, but made from animal fats, so it gets the nod), maple syrup and honey (both too rich in fructose and sucrose), salt, root vegetables (beets, turnips, sweet potatoes)…
Breakfast: scrambled eggs and bacon or green smoothie (avocado, kale, spinach, pineapple, orange, coconut cream) or roast peaches in cinnamon and maple syrup.
Lunch: beef rib and peas in mint or scallops and parsnip or poule au pot.
Dinner: beef stew, prawns in garlic and hot pepper, paleo lasagna (minced beef, aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes, cauliflower white sauce, coconut oil).
Paleo bread: coconut flour, ground almonds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, courgette, egg, coconut oil, cider vinegar.
(Extract taken from the book Recettes Paléo by Amélia and Alex Wasiliev, Marabout publishing, 2016)
Limits of the Paleo diet
The scientific community remains sceptical about the benefits of the Paleo diet. Obviously, cutting down on processed foods and doing away with colourings, additives and preservatives is a good thing, but take care not to eat too much meat (excessive meat consumption is still a major cause of cardiovascular disease).
In contrast, cutting out cereals makes no sense as they are a vital source of fibres, vitamins and minerals, in the same way as dairy products, low intakes of which can result in deficiencies or lead to osteoporosis (insufficient calcium level).
It should be noted that in 2015 the British Dietetic Association ranked the Paleo as the 5th worst celebrity diet! In short, the Paleo diet won’t be ousting the Mediterranean or Cretan diet, which remains the dieticians’ and scientists’ favourite.