Ways of Eating: Paleo

Throughout the month of January, we’re going to look at several different types of popular contemporary diets, and share a few recipes that illustrate that particular way of eating.

This week we’ll look at the Paleolithic (Paleo) diet.

Stone (Age) Soup. Sometimes also called the Stone Age diet, or the “caveman diet,” Paleo is a high-protein, very low-carb eating regimen based roughly on the kinds of foods we presume to have been eaten by early humans: consisting chiefly of meat, fish, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and fruit.

A paleo diet uses none of the “modern” foods that were introduced to our diet when farming emerged (about 10,000 years ago), transitioning us from nomadic hunter-gatherers to settled agricultural lifestyles. What’s more, the Paleo diet largely avoids all processed foods as well. These restricted foods include dairy products, legumes (peanuts and beans) and grains. Oh! And caffeine and sugar.

(For a quick-but-detailed breakdown of what you can and cannot eat on the Paleo diet, the website Everyday Health has a good list).

The rationale of the Paleo regimen is that, by eliminating modern-era foods (like highly-processed carbs, trans fats, and dairy), you can avoid or limit “diseases of civilization” like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and possibly lose weight in the bargain as well.

Indeed, there is some evidence that following the Paleo diet may lead to improvements in terms of body composition and metabolic effects compared with the typical Western (“modern”) diet. (There is no good evidence, however, that the diet helps with weight loss, other than through the normal mechanisms of calorie restriction. As with all diet programs, “your mileage may vary.”)

Pros and Cons: The benefit of paleo is that the focus on increasing consumption of whole foods, fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats and decreasing intake of processed foods, sugar and salt is indisputably good for you. However, the paleo diet also advocates cutting out grains, dairy and legumes, and this has caused controversy among scientists. [Food writer Michael Pollan explains the arguments against Paleo in this article and podcast.]

While there is wide variability in the way the paleo diet is interpreted, the diet typically includes vegetables, fruits, nuts, roots, and meat and typically excludes foods such as dairy products, grains, sugar, legumes, processed oils, salt, alcohol or coffee.

What does an average day of “eating Paleo” look like?

  • A vegetable omelet (no cheese!) for breakfast rather than a bowl of cereal.
  • A meat-and-vegetable “wrap” for lunch, using lettuce instead of a tortilla. Fresh fruit and veggies on the side.
  • Meatballs (w/o breadcrumbs) or a chicken breast over zucchini or butternut squash “noodles” (pictured). Pair with a spinach salad with bacon crumbles, topped with your favorite olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
  • Snack throughout the day on nuts (not peanuts, which are technically legumes) for protein; raw vegetables, or apples to satisfy the need for “crunch;” and berries and stone fruit (peaches, nectarines, plums) to satisfy the need for sweets.

Does my paleo food have to be unseasoned? Heavens, no! Just because we’re eating like cavemen doesn’t mean we have to be eating like cavemen.

Eating whole, unprocessed foods is a perfect opportunity for really tasting the ingredients that have gone into in your meal. Your go-to favorite herbs, chiles, olive oils, vinegars and salt-free spice blends can be incorporated into Paleo recipes.

To spark your imagination of how you might cook paleo-friendly meals, here are a some Paleo recipes from our recipe database:

Photo credit: Elisabeth