Getting started with a health and fitness journey isn’t always easy. Sometimes we don’t even know where to begin. As I’ve said before, the first step is the most difficult, and part of the reason why is because of the limitless variety of healthy lifestyles that people can choose from. But finding the lifestyle that will work best for you is the key to beginning your transformation.
The Paleolithic (Paleo) Dietary Lifestyle
Yes, a Paleo diet does sound rather archaic, even daunting. Perhaps the initial thought when this way of life is brought up, is that a person resorts to grazing on grass and eating raw steaks. Well thankfully, that isn’t what this lifestyle encompasses and many people tout the health benefits of living a ‘Paleo lifestyle’. As with anything, there are pros and cons to living Paleo, and it’s important to have some base knowledge of what these are, before consulting your primary care provider about beginning a new health regime of any sort.
A Paleo diet means consuming foods that our ancestors, way, way back when, (circa cavemen-in-loin-cloth era) would eat. This means eating only things which they could hunt or gather. Fish, meat, nuts, berries, leafy greens, seeds and the like. Paleo foods are also as minimally processed as possible, if at all.
Our evolution as humans in each area of life means advancement and changes in dietary patterns. As a result, foods high in fiber, vitamins and minerals are unfortunately sometimes switched out in lieu of more convenience based foods which themselves are high in hydrogenated fats, and sodium for example. Our faster paced lifestyle in today’s world means that we tend to reach for a microwave meal or fast food over preparing from scratch, meals teeming with fresh ingredients containing higher quality nutrients.
Many people are under the impression and studies suggest, that as a result of our progression out of a ‘hunter-gatherer’ way of life into an agricultural one, we became more prone to ‘modern’ chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes to name a few. On both a wider and more detailed scale, some research suggests that in certain hunter-gatherer tribes in rural communities, that the microbiota found within the gut of (and in one study) Tanzanian Hadza tribe members is far more diverse than microbiota found in a first world control group. It was also observed that these modern day ‘Paleo eaters’ have an increased ability to digest and absorb important nutrients from the foods they consume. Perhaps this is an indication that urbanization has meant an adaptation of our intestinal flora and microbiota, and maybe not for our benefit all of the time. The premise behind eating a diet akin to that of hunter-gatherers, a modern-day ‘caveman’ lifestyle so to speak is that:
- Fiber is increased but not in the form of whole grains, but rather in non-starchy vegetables
- Making the diet moderate to high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats
- Decreasing carbohydrates and obtaining carbs from non-starchy, low glycemic index foods which allow for a steady release of sugar into the bloodstream, which helps to prevent sugar spikes and slumps
- Increasing protein in the daily diet as this helps with cell regeneration and keeps hair, nails, and skin as healthy as possible
So with these very basic concepts behind a Paleo lifestyle in mind, there are obviously benefits which those eating in this manner can find themselves privy to and on the receiving end of. These include, but certainly not limited to:
- Ingesting a wide range of nutrient rich plant based foods
- Eating foods that are minimally processed, eliminating potential allergens and unnecessary additives
- Avoiding refined sugar and excess sodium – two major contributing factors in conditions such as elevated blood pressure and type 2 diabetes
- Inspiring creativity in the kitchen, which helps you get in touch with your health and fitness goals, allowing you to be conscious of what you’re putting into your body
It isn’t just about what you’re putting into your body but the ‘vehicle’ by which the nutrients in the food item are transported there. The way food is prepared can absolutely play a role in how much food is enjoyed and whether or not a health and fitness regime is going to be successfully adhered to long term. The entire process from preparation to ingestion is important. You gain knowledge of the fundamental things that fuel your body, and you also are able to discover potential brand new likes and possible dislikes that may otherwise have been unknown.
While it is healthy to eat meals prepared from whole, often organic ingredients, there are a few drawbacks to living a Paleo life:
- The Institute of Medicine recommends 45 to 65 percent of a person’s energy be derived from carbohydrates. Eating Paleo means a reduction of these percentages which can adversely affect energy levels.
- A Paleo diet isn’t as diversified as it initially seems, in that there are many restrictions and grains, starchy vegetables, and legumes are often cut out of the diet entirely. It can become tiresome looking for substitutions and this can mean interest in the lifestyle has potential to wane.
As with everything we undertake, it should essentially start with the well informed, committed decision to do it and in the case of embarking on a healthier and fitter lifestyle, this means deciding to be the best version of ourselves possible, whatever that looks like to each individual.