Three years ago, I would have been all-in. Yes, you should absolutely be eating Paleo. It just makes sense!
Nowadays, my answer is more of an extended “Weeeeelllll…” (which is basically me deciding how long an answer the asker actually wants). I have not changed my mind much about how people should be eating; what changed is what the word “Paleo” now represents, elicits in people’s minds, and delivers in search engines.
So here, I’ll offer my full answer.
[To be clear—I love to be clear, if you couldn’t tell—the answer to this would obviously start with “That depends: what are your goals?” But to save time and space, we’ll assume the answer to that is “Improved health and fat loss.”]
Paleo, to me, was never meant to be a dogmatic list of forbidden and permitted foods. It was not a simple, drag-and-drop, eat-this-not-that-and-all-your-dreams-will-come-true concept. It was a lens through which to view our food choices and overall health.
The principles of Paleo nutrition were simple and sound: eat real, whole foods; and if any foods were not available to our hunter-gatherer forebears (e.g., our human ancestors before the agricultural revolution), then they were suspect.
That’s right, suspect. Not banned, outlawed, or forbidden: just subject to a little more scrutiny.
- Is this food actually healthy?
- When did we start eating it, and how has doing so affected our health as a species since?
- And most importantly, How do I feel when I eat (or avoid) it?
There are plenty of foods that started on the Don’t List and made their way to the Do (If You Tolerate Them Well) List after some more observation and experimentation. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Dairy, for instance, seems to be perfectly fine for those who tolerate it. As seem to be white rice and some legumes.
The jury is still out on gluten, though. Despite myriad articles claiming to be “the truth about” or “the final word on” the subject, those are really just to make some attention-grabbing headlines. Some folks say gluten is totally fine, some say it’s still an issue. The best thing for YOU to do is simply remove gluten-containing foods from your diet for a time (30 days or so) and then reintroduce them to see how you feel. (Just make sure this is the only change you’re making in order to properly assess the results. Science.)
Overall, yes – I recommend and support a Paleo approach to your nutrition. But before typing the word into a search bar and devouring the results, some words of caution:
What You Eat vs. The Ingredients
The emphasis is still on eating real, whole foods and not food-like products. Finding new recipes to provide variety to your meat-and-veggies-based meals is fantastic; finding new recipes that use “Paleo” ingredients to make “Paleo-friendly” versions of the junk you used to eat is only going to lead to frustration. Try to think “How will this food benefit me?” rather than “What can I get away with?”
Take almonds, for example. Those would be considered Paleo, right? Sure thing! Have a handful between meals or throw some sliced ones on a salad or in a stir-fry. Good stuff! But those brownies made with almond meal instead of wheat flour? Don’t kid yourself. Sure, they’re probably marginally better for your overall health than the ones from a box, but for fat loss? Nope.
Paleo Specifically For Fat Loss
It’s important to realize that Paleo is not inherently a fat loss diet. The improved health most people will experience after switching from the Standard American Diet to a Paleo-style approach will in many cases lead to some fat loss, but for a lot of people to see any significant (or continued) changes, there could be some other tweaks that need to be made.
Jason Seib’s new diet protocol, AltShift, uses the same evolutionary lens that originally guided the principles behind Paleo, but he took it a few steps further and developed a really great method that’s targeted specifically at healthy, lasting fat loss. I’ve read it, and so should you.
An Unregulated Term
Paleo is not, to my knowledge, a term regulated by the FDA (or anyone else, for that matter). As far as I’m aware, anyone could throw the word onto any packaging or recipe they’d like and have no real recourse if it failed to meet a customer’s expectations.
In fact, with no specific guidelines on what Paleo actually means, there’s really no way to even argue over who’s using it correctly and who’s not. So be wary.
Due to its popularity, Paleo has become an excuse to write cookbooks and recipe blogs. It’s a way to quickly grab someone’s attention and add validity to what's being said just by using a special word. Basically, it’s a way to sell stuff. This is what we call "Internet Paleo." The resources and information meant to sell more so than to teach.
So don’t be sold, be informed. Scrutinize your source. If the overall theme of what you’re reading seems to be “How to eat whatever you want at any time because the ingredients are from this very special list,” then you know it’s not going to be something on which to base your entire diet. Treats are fine, but make sure treats are treats and not a daily occurrence.
Paleo is no longer the quaint, succinct term it once was, but it’s still useful as a starting point. Type it into a search bar, find some information, some recipe ideas, maybe even some treats. Just don’t take it all at face value.