The paleolithic, or “paleo”, diet is one of the more popular eating plans among fitness enthusiasts and those looking to get more fit. Its focus on whole, unprocessed foods is well-known and makes it suitable for many different types of goals, but there is much more to paleo than just cutting out regular trips to McDonald’s.
Here are five surprising facts about the paleo diet you need to know in order to get the best possible results.
Paleo Is Not “Low-Carb”
Because paleo advocates talk a lot about eating meat and cutting grains, the diet has gained a reputation as a “low-carb” nutrition plan. If you look at the rest of the principles, though, you’ll see there is plenty of opportunity to keep your glycogen stores topped off.
In particular, most paleo plans call for you to eat lots of vegetables (including carrots), fruits, berries, and nuts. All of these will give you a significant sugar boost, and paleo dieters also sweeten their food with maple syrup and honey.
There Is Not ONE Definitive Paleo Diet
The truth is that we don’t know definitively what our ancient ancestors ate, and it’s almost a certainty that early diets varied quite a bit from region to region.
That variety can be found in modern paleo diets, too.
Some paleo followers are very strict in their adherence to the “no-grains” mantra, but some eat rice. Some focus more on fish and chicken, while others fill their plates with red meat and whole eggs.
As long as you’re eating whole, largely unprocessed foods, there is some room for personal interpretation with paleo.
You Can Drink Milk on Paleo
For instance, some paleo followers include dairy products in their diets. It’s interesting to note that these folks concede we may evolved enough in the last 10,000 years to tolerate lactose — the sugar in milk — but still maintain that our guts can’t handle grains like corn, wheat, and oats.
It’s a distinction that probably needs some epidemiological studies for a clear resolution, but it also gives you the leeway to take advantage of dairy’s benefits. These include essential fatty acids, cholesterol (vital for building testosterone), micronutrients, and protein.
Paleo Is Intent on Protecting Your Gut
The reason that paleo insists you avoid grains is that they contain gluten and other amino acids that have been part of our diets for only a few thousand years. That sounds like a lot of time, but it’s not really very long in terms of evolution, and many folks cannot digest gluten well.
That can lead to bowel irritation, a destruction of healthy bacteria in your gut, and even “leaky gut syndrome.” That’s a condition where the level of inflammation in your intestines is so high that ulcers and holes form, allowing nutrients and toxins to leak into your body cavity.
It’s a bad deal all the way around, though some experts claim it’s more of a symptom than a disease in its own. Nevertheless, paleo is intent on protecting your gut.
Paleo Wants You to Exercise Differently
Because ancient man lived quite a bit differently than we do overall, the paleo diet is not all about nutrition. In particular, most experts in the field advocate that our exercise should also follow a paleolithic pattern:
- Walk about 10,000 steps per day as part of your normal activity
- Avoid long, drawn-out “cardio” workouts
- Strength train on a regular basis
- Lift objects and free weights, but avoid machines
- Get plenty of rest between intense workouts
- Focus on overall strength and conditioning
If some of these ideas look familiar, you should know that CrossFit is one of the most popular training methods for people who follow a paleo diet.
Nothing in life is written in stone, including stone-age diet principles like paleo. This nutrition plan has plenty of flexibility if you dig into the particulars, and, by keeping an open mind, you can devise a paleo plan to fit your goals and lifestyle.