Perhaps you’ve heard about the “paleo diet” that’s gained so much popularity over the last several years. If you’re not familiar with the approach, then it will be helpful to know that proponents of the paleo diet lifestyle eschew the major agricultural influences of the Neolithic Age or “Agricultural Revolution,” in particular: dairy, grains, pulses and legumes, and processed sugars. Instead, the paleo diet encourages consumption of meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, tubers, fruits, nuts, seeds and quality fats.
While not everyone can adopt this diet fully, there are a number of principles that are supported by many of the leaders in the paleo movement that everyone can agree on.
Here are 5 Great Paleo Principles that we believe anyone can benefit from:
1- Eat More Fresh Produce
We hear it all the time: eat more plant foods… well, maybe we should really start listening.
Modern science estimates that the human body contains upwards of 50 trillion cells, and in order for them to do their job in the body, each one must be fed macronutrients, vitamins, micronutrients, and micro-minerals in addition to the basic elements hydrogen, oxygen, carbon & nitrogen.
This is why it’s so important to provide the body with sound building materials. Food is about life. One of the key principles that paleo advocates recommend is to eat LOTS of fresh growing things. Some enthusiasts like to brag they pack down more produce than the average vegan, so how’s that for a throw-down?
When it comes to flooding the body with micronutrients, water, and anti-inflammatory enzymes, plants are definitely a winner. Thanks to the work of Dr. Terry Wahls, a female physician who suffered from multiple sclerosis (MS), we know that indulging in lots of green leafy vegetables works in our favor to feed our mitochondria, our tiniest “cellular power plants”. Healthy mitochondria produce chemical energy in the body, grow new cells, kill off the damaged ones, and keep us young and vibrant.
So there’s step one. Eat Plants. Lots of them: abundant, unbridled amounts of them. Experiment with new vegetables. Eat berries. Eat Nuts. Eat your greens, golds and purples. Eat salads in the summer, soups in the winter. Stretch your palate. Find a way to embrace new flavors, make your meals tasty and beautiful.
2- Avoid Industrial Fats
You may be surprised to discover that the paleo crowd, even for their (misleading and false) “meat-headed” reputation is quite progressive when it comes to simplifying the food system and returning to good clean basics. It’s not only about which kind of paleo blueprint fits your body best, but it’s also about finding common ground on those things we know are better avoided or left alone, period. One to keep in mind is your ability to limit environmental food toxins as much as you are able. And one rule that runs throughout the paleo world with great consistency is this: dump your vegetable oils (also known as Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids or PUFA for short).
Conventional wisdom has led the way for three or more decades, proclaiming PUFAs to be the safest fats for cooking, especially deep-fat frying. Today it’s mighty difficult to find food on the shelves, or even a salad dressing that doesn’t claim one or more of the following: canola oil, soy oil, high-oleic safflower oil, sunflower oil, etc. Turns out, polyunsaturated fatty acids, or vegetable oils, are truly no friend of human health — and have been shown to actually contribute to or cause cancer, diabetes, obesity, aging, inflammation, thrombosis, arthritis, and immuno-deficiencies.
Dr. Ray Peat, a physiologist who has studied hormones and dietary fats since 1968 explains that their only appropriate use is as ingredients in paints and varnishes, which is what they were originally used for to begin with. And Peat is not alone; a growing number of reputable researchers, medical doctors, nutritionists, and health care practitioners share his views. “As soon as a polyunsaturated vegetable oil enters the body, it is exposed to temperatures high enough to cause its toxic decomposition, especially when combined with a continuous supply of oxygen and catalysts such as iron.”
PUFAs are being shown to damage every part of the body, like the endocrine system, and especially the thyroid.
But isn’t canola high in omega-3, you wonder? Why are these oils so problematic?
Here’s the issue: long-chain fatty acids are extremely fragile and unstable, to the point that the unsaturated oils in some cooked foods become rancid within hours, even if they’re refrigerated. It seems that this is what’s responsible for that “stale taste” that leftovers tend to have.
Choose healthy fats like high quality extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, and fresh fish.
We live in boxes. We sleep in them, drive in them, go to work in them, and too many of us eat out of them. One of the most useful principles for an immediate shift in how you feel is to get outside. Be in the sunshine. Play! Move your body!
When seeking to emulate our ancestors, access to the elements and the light of the sun, moon and stars has great benefits on our psyche. So does becoming familiar once again with the full range of human motion.
Our bodies require sunlight for all kinds of basic functions, like the production of Vitamin D3 in our skin. We can manufacture in minutes more IUs than would ever be safe to take in a pill. It kills harmful bacteria. It’s actually beneficial for all manners of skin ailments from acne to psoriasis. It helps children grow! There are even some studies that show it is beneficial for heart disease, particularly arteriosclerosis. As for cancer, it seems that the sun is useful in their prevention and treatment as well. The Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives released in 2008 what many studies have shown: cancer-related death rates decline as one moves toward the lower latitudes, where the sun is more intense! And that “the levels of ambient UVR in different municipalities correlate inversely with cancer death rates there”. Today, people are directed to receive sunlight or heliotherapy.
The sun is especially important for our overall wellbeing. It’s too bad that what has always been considered the life giver on this planet is feared today and we are recommended to stay out of it, or slather ourselves with toxins found in conventional sun block.
But it’s not just about the sun, remember – it’s also about movement and using the human body as it has been wonderfully designed. So much of our days are spent sitting and stagnant, and basic human kinetic function has atrophied. Even our children no longer get to experience regular recess during the school day and Physical Education has been lopped from several school districts for any number of reasons.
The best recommendation is to find new ways to re-incorporate play and movement into your day, and do it outdoors. Investigate your local hiking trails. Pack picnics. Get invested in functional fitness. Need a cool resource? Check out the work or Erwan Le Corre and his Mov Nat program.
While the paleo movement isn’t truly interested in recreating Paleolithic life across the spectrum, they are about getting in touch with aspects of our biology that will benefit from “pre modern” thinking in the here and now.
When it comes to sleep, one of the key things to understand is: we need it. And a lot more of it than we think we do. Part of the problem with our sleeping patterns stems from our current lifestyle and modes of interaction and interconnectivity.
Ever heard of the pineal gland? This is a neuroendocrine organ located in the midline of the brain that produces melatonin, a hormone that regulates our circadian rhythms. Our circadian rhythms coordinate all of our processes, be they psychological, our behavior, and our physical bodies. We are genetically programmed to experience night and day in a synchronized manner approximately every 24-25 hours, and yet, we’re messing with our chemistry.
In March of 2013, the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, released a study explaining how “exposure to light from self-luminous displays may be linked to increased risk for sleep disorders because these devices emit optical radiation at short wavelengths, close to the peak sensitivity of melatonin suppression”.
In other words, our addiction to being plugged in to our iPhones, iPads, computers, tablets and televisions is taking a huge toll on our ability to catch some Zzz’s and this is having a huge impact on our circadian rhythms, and so many things other things in the body.
Lack of proper sleep can lead to:
- Higher risk for heart disease, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes.
- A dip in critical thinking and memory
- Low libido
- Weight gain
As other recent studies come forward to show that nearly a third of all Americans are getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night, and more than two thirds of us report that our sleep needs just aren’t being met during the week – we need to pay attention. In light of the 2013 study, what we’re all in great need of is darkness, plain and simple. For our ancestors, when the sun was down, the world was dark. Today, we suffer from a chronic and excessive use of communication technology!
So tonight, make a commitment to turn out ALL the lights nearby, including your cell phones. Consider removing all electronics from the bedroom and focus on creating an environment that is dark, quiet, serene, and built for sleep. It may take some getting used to, as we’re all pretty conditioned by our techno-savvy environment, but chances are we’ll find it’s all worth a good night’s sleep.
5- Life is About More Than Just Diet and Exercise
Here’s the thing: food and fitness are only part of the picture here. Another aspect of hunter-gatherer communities to take into account is knowledge around nourishing true human connection. Ritual, togetherness, and education about who we are in the scheme of the world happens best in person. Our ancestors knew that food, while essential for survival, was not the end-all-be-all, and neither was carving out that six pack. What makes humanity so incredible is its ability to experience compassion, creativity, innovation, empathy and inspiration. We all have a story to tell. We all have a gift to give back to our communities and the world, so if you’re getting stuck in all the other principles and forget to do an inner check, you’re missing a very important aspect of what human beings have been evolving towards. Whether we’re speaking as individuals, or as increasingly disjointed societies, in our age of instant communication, some of the human experience falls to the wayside.
So, when it comes to trying on some aspects of the Paleo diet or lifestyle, don’t get caught up in the nutritional science, and don’t lose yourself in physical competition just for the sake of it, although seeing what your body is capable of is incredibly empowering.
In the end, remember that you have a purpose for being here and becoming healthy is a beautiful vehicle to help us accomplish our larger purpose in life.
We hope this was helpful, and that you will enjoy your experimentation with these Paleo principles! Please note, here at The Institute for the Psychology of Eating we do NOT endorse or promote any particular diet or nutritional lifestyle, but we do believe there’s a nugget of wisdom to be found in just about any diet that’s been designed with care in mind for people and planet.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2018