Sunday, 15 September 2013

The Paleo Diet – what’s it all about?

The Palaeolithic diet, or ‘paleo diet, is based upon eating what we would have done a hundred generations or so ago, when we were hunter gatherers. Before we became farmers and harvesters, and processed food became a norm in our everyday life. It promises weight loss, healthy skin and nails, and a reduced risk of many common diseases. So what does it include? And what are the benefits?

Well the Paleo diet is based around the following basic principles; if you could have hunted or gathered it, you can eat it. So let’s take a look at the basics and what they include:

1.       High Protein Intake – This diet recommends that protein should account for an average of 20-35% of our daily intake of calories. This is traditionally much higher than in the current western diet, and can come from grass fed meat, eggs, fish, nuts and seeds.

2.       Low carbohydrate Intake – foods such as potatoes, pasta, breads and cereals are all on the do not eat list in this diet. Carbohydrate intake should never be eliminated completely as it is essential for glycogen storage in the body, however some carbohydrates can be found in the fruits and vegetables in this diet, so they do not call for complete elimination of all carbohydrates

3.       Moderate to higher intake of fat – unlike most other diets that eliminate fat altogether, which is needed for the absorption of some vitamins, the paleo diet recommends a good intake of fats, provided that they come from mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated sources such as oily fish, nuts and seeds. This recommendation also includes a generous intake of omega 3 and 6 oils which can be found in these sources. These types of fats are more commonly known as ‘the good fats’, which are not harmful to the body. For more information on fats, see my blog on ‘Cholesterol – the good and the bad’.

4.       Low sodium and high potassium intake – due to the low intake of processed foods in the paleo diet, and the high fruit and vegetable intake, the intake is naturally lower in sodium and higher in potassium. Low sodium intakes are associated with lower blood pressure and lower risk of heart disease and strokes.

5.       High intake of fruits and vegetables – fruits and vegetables are included in generous amounts at every mealtime in this diet, with this comes good fibre, vitamins and minerals intake.

6.       Higher alkaline load to balance acid intake – lower intakes of grains, legumes, cheese, dairy and salt which produce an ‘acid load’ and claimed in this diet in the long term to promote bone and muscle loss, and increased risk of kidney stones. However this is not confirmed.

As you can see, this diet is naturally high in protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and low is processed sugar, fat and carbohydrates, so you can see where all of the claims for health benefits come from. Dietitians are still slightly hesitant on the health benefits and claims made by this diet, there is research out there to suggest that some of them may be true, however these trials are not especially well validated. But in the meantime:

·         Obesity – The healthy fats, lower sugar and lower calorie content than your average western diet should lead to weight loss, so can lead to weight loss dependant on portion sizes.

·         Gout – this diet is lower in certain high purine foods, such as grains which can lead to gout, but with the high meat and oily fish intake, this could be argued. Also more commonly known low purine foods such as milk, breads, cereals and pasta are eliminated in the diet.

·         Lower risk of cancer – the high antioxidant and fibre content of this diet, and the grass fed meat could be responsible for a lower risk of certain cancers

·         Lower risk of heart disease and stroke – the lower intake of saturated fats and salt could certainly lead to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke

·         Many other claims including preventing autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, acne, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, gastric reflux and myopia are made in this diet, with very little or no research  to back it up, but having a healthy diet can impact on these conditions anyway.

And finally to finish up with some recipes! Here is a take on a normal recipe adjusted to fit this diet to try in your own time:
The Paleo Correct Meatloaf

·         2lbs of extra lean minced beef

·         2 red onions, finely chopped

·         4 garlic cloves, crushed

·         ½ red pepper chopped

·         ½ cup of cilantro, chopped

·         ½ cup of parsley, chopped

·         2 tsp cumin

·         1 tsp pepper

·         3 free-range eggs

·         2 tsp flaxseed oil

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl, then spoon into a lined loaf tin. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes.


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