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What is the paleo diet?

by Irini Christaki, Clinical Dietician-Nutritionist.

The Palaeolithic diet, as its name suggests, puts into practice the habits that man had millions of years ago during the Paleolithic era. Supporters of the paleo diet suggest that our genes have changed very little over the last two million years, and that's why our needs for macromolecules have changed very little. Our ancestors used mainly stone tools and were unable to grow many different plants, but they could hunt a lot and often ate wild fruits and herbs. Those who managed to live a few years longer than others did not eventually die of modern diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, as their diet consisted of lean meat, fish and greens, and they had very intense physical activity to hunt their food.

The paleo diet, therefore, comprises lean meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Fanatic supporters of this diet often have strong opinions on what it includes, and may differ in the way they follow the diet, so there isn't one standard protocol of this diet. For example, the fruits and vegetables we have today are not as "wild" compared to thousands of years ago, making them poorer in antioxidants and vitamins.

The paleo - or otherwise caveman - diet is rich in protein, low in fat, includes carbohydrates that are low-glycemic index and incorporates a lot of fibre compared to recommendations for the general population. Of course, the diet does not include any processed foods like sugar, cereals, dairy products, coffee, salt and processed oils. The unsaturated (beneficial) fat comes mainly from fruits, fish, avocado and olive oil. What is particularly recommended for this diet is the consumption of organic beef, as it is considered to be more rich in omega-3 than conventional beef.

Studies to date show that the paleo diet can contribute to weight loss quickly and effectively, but there are no long-term studies to indicate that it is the ideal diet for weight control and for better health. In more short-term studies, it appears that it can contribute to lowering blood pressure but may increase insulin resistance.

 
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