There’s been a lot of discussion recently about whether we’d be healthier eating more back-to-very-basics food staples similar to that of our Paleolithic kin — hunter-gatherers who lived mainly on a diet of freshly killed meat, fish, fruits and freshly picked vegetables.
Proponents of this “back to basic” Paleo diet plan follow the food habits of ancient people 10,000 years ago, before agriculture and industry existed, in a time when humans picked berries and tubers, and hunted for red meat and organ meats for protein.
Obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and many other “modern” diseases, the reasoning goes, result primarily from the incompatibility of our stone-age anatomy to metabolize today’s fast foods and genetically modified products.
(Perhaps, but modern multivitamins, blood pressure machines and Pilates certainly benefit consumers and their battles against modern-day diseases.)
The popular Paleo-related food plan – reinvented every decade or so with a different name — still frames sugar-packed carbohydrates (simple sugars and packaged breads and desserts) as the main dietary culprits. That much is probably true.
“The biochemistry that causes us to eat too much gets knocked out of whack by simple carbohydrates,” says researcher John J. Ratey, MD, associate clinical professor at Harvard Medical School and co-author of “Go Wild: Free Your Body and Mind from the Afflictions of Civilization.”
“Eliminating carbohydrates resets the body’s own internal self-regulation, meaning you don’t have to count calories or starve yourself in order to lose weight,” Ratey says.
What a Paleo Diet Looks Like
Our bodies – plus the animals and plants we devour – have evolved over the last 10,000 years, say experts.
To follow a Paleo-inspired diet for weight loss, first:
- Limit carbohydrates to those you get from fruits and vegetables. (No rice, no cereal, no crackers, etc.)
- Eliminate corn, pasta products and all potatoes.
- Take sugar, in all forms, out of your diet (except the fructose sugars in fruit).
- Ban Trans fats – the manufactured form of fat linked to inflammation and heart disease that’s packed in greasy burgers, hot dogs and fast-food meals.
- Omit all pre-packaged and processed foods. If it didn’t exist when your ancestors were roaming the Earth, skip it.
Then, focus on consuming more of these:
- Vegetables and fruits – 6 to 11 servings of per day, but go heavier on the veggies.
- Seek out the healthiest fats (avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, ghee and nuts) and eat small amounts to replace calories from eliminated carbohydrates.
- Consume omega 3 fatty acids daily to add satiation to your diet and boost brain development. “Fatty acids are present in eggs, grass-fed beef and cold-water fish like salmon,” says Ratey.
- Incorporate colorful variety. “A mix of foods from an array of sources supplies the complex micronutrients we need for dietary health,” Ratey says.
- Looking to take your diet back to prehistoric times? Start by clearing all of the processed foods out of your fridge, freezer and pantry. Then make a shopping list filled with fresh foods — grass-fed meats, cold-water fish, fresh produce.
- Before starting any new diet regimen, it’s a good idea to discuss it with your doctor and schedule an annual physical to assess your overall health and fitness.
- To eat prehistorically for weight loss and optimal health benefits, home cooks should empty their cabinets and pantries of simple sugars immediately (zap the jelly and desserts). Make sure your family eats more salad, eggs, raw fruits and veggies as our ancestors did.
- While our brethren had no inkling of treadmills or elliptical machines, survival probably required plenty of exercise. To that end, try exercising as a family to drop excess pounds and become healthier. “Modern diseases are rooted in excessive calories and carbohydrates, (and) the resulting insulin resistance and inflammation,” says Ratey.