Everything You Need to Know About the Paleo Diet

Make the switch to processed-food-free living

Paleo Living may seem like the newest diet fad on the health scene, but really this lifestyle literally dates back to the Stone Age.

“Paleo” is short for “Paleolithic era,” which is the period in history where this lifestyle derives its eating habits. Not merely an homage to our caveman predecessors, it’s all about going back to a time prior to extensive agriculture for guidance on creating a template of foods that are optimal for our bodies. That means: no bread, no processed food, and no soft drinks or dairy.

As with all diet and nutrition lifestyles, paleo has its pros and cons. A definite pro is that, by cutting out processed foods from your diet,  you’re also majorly cutting your sodium intake -- as the vast majority of salt in the standard American diet comes from the consumption of processed food -- as well as cutting the amount of additives and preservatives in your diet.

Also, because paleo living calls for an infusion of veggies and fruits, you’re loading up on many of the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that you might not get otherwise. Not to mention, since processed food often contains tons of unhealthy fats, acids, and very little protein, including more fresh produce in your diet often results in an increase in protein and healthy fats. Almost instantly, your satiety signals slow down and your hair, skin, and nails improve.

And yes, paleo living does call for ingesting healthy fats. Olive oils, the fat from grass-fed animals, certain nuts and seeds, avocados, and the oils from other pressed give you healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and also give your food tons of flavor!

But what does paleo eating require you to ditch? For starters, gluten. Paleo eating maintains that gluten results in fatigue, bloating, heartburn, constipation, abdominal pain, and irritable bowel syndrome. Basically, that means: No breads, cakes, cookies, cupcakes, pies, or pastries. No sugar, especially considering the mounting research that sugar could be what’s truly causing heart disease and high blood pressure. No dairy, because paleo advocates believe it is highly unlikely that humans have adopted the ability to consume dairy without an adverse reaction. No beans. No oatmeals. No artificial sweeteners. No, no, no.

So besides cutting out some of your favorite snacks, what are the cons?

The paleo diet tends to be high in protein, to the point where almost half of some people’s calories wind up coming exclusively from protein. Eating like this is untenable long term, and can easily wreck your insides – specifically your kidneys. High protein diets – diets where the amount of protein is above 50% or so – wreak a special kind of havoc on your body, and if you’re not careful with your paleo eating, this could be you.

Paleo also has a tendency to be expensive, but we make space for the things we want – or, in some cases, need – in our budgets. Sites like Mark’s Daily Apple and Nom Nom Paleo help cut through the fluff and break paleo living down to the simple and delicious, and help you save money.

But overall, an eating lifestyle that trends in this direction is viable – it cuts out the stuff that’s the worst for us, while simultaneously encouraging us to eat the stuff that’s best for us and best-prepared for us. Though I may not cut out bread and dairy (or anything other than processed food, for that matter), I trend towards a diet that leans heavily on fresh produce and properly raised meat, with the occasional breaded delicacy. If you consider doing the same, take my word for it – your body will thank you for it!

Erika Nicole Kendall is a trainer certified in women’s fitness, fitness nutrition and weight loss coaching who also chronicles her own 160-pound weight loss journey on the award winning blog, A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss. Hit her up on Twitter, or check her out on Facebook.