What is Paleo

We all like to think that we eat a good diet and I thought I was pretty much eating perfectly until quite recently. My motto was ‘everything in moderation’, I generally felt pretty good and appeared to have no outward signs of illness. I’d taken up running & finally achieved my goal of completing a marathon, I even ran a second marathon in a time of just over four hours which I was delighted with. Everything was good – I was slim, fit & I was careful when choosing my food. I love to cook & I never buy processed food, my shopping basket was always full of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy & minimal red meat; exactly the kind of things we’re told are good for us by the government, magazines, newspapers & cooking programs on the television.

I had never questioned what I was eating in any great detail until my friend, and co-blogger, starting researching the health benefits of various diets after his wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. We train together and quite often talk about his latest research, it’s something that interested me so I was happy to hear his latest recommendations. One day he told me about a way of eating that I’d never heard of before, the ‘paleo diet’, he went on to tell me that it’s a diet based upon choosing the foods we eat based around the foods our paleolithic ancestors ate, yes paleolithic as in cavemen and cavewomen! It immediately grabbed my attention & I decided that I would start investigating the benefits of this prehistoric way of living for myself.

My research has proven to be very fruitful, there are many books on the subject and some great online resources, two of which I now visit on a regular basis; Robb Wolf’s site and Mark Sisson’s ‘Mark’s Daily Apple’, both based in the US. It seems like there are very few in the UK which is one of the reasons why we decided to start this web site. I’m hoping we can build a strong blog which will be accessible for everyone but will also feature UK-centric articles and links to UK producers & sellers of paleo-friendly foods such as grass-fed meat and line caught fish.

For those who don’t know what the paleo diet is about let me try and explain what it means to me:

‘It is a diet based upon the foods that, through the process of natural selection, our paleolithic ancestors adapted to survive upon; and, as genetically speaking, we are very similar to them, the foods that we are best suited to eat also. It is fundamentally a low carbohydrate diet’

Well, what foods were around during the paleolithic era? Fruit & vegetables for sure, meat & fish obviously and, well nuts & seeds too; but that doesn’t mean that all modern (neolithic) foods are bad and need to be avoided! Many people who follow a paleo diet, including myself, occasionally eat chocolate high in cocoa (90%), drink red wine, use extra virgin olive oil on their salads & drink tea & coffee.

This, then, begs the obvious question of what foods aren’t allowed or are largely discouraged by the paleo diet. The three food groups that have been scientifically proven to be problematic are; grains, legumes and dairy, but there is a spectrum of acceptability within each group. For grains wheat is a big problem, mainly due to its high gluten content, whereas white rice (not wholemeal) is considered fairly benign; for the legume family beans are a problem, whereas green lentils are lower in carbohydrate and higher in protein and therefore not so bad; as for dairy, milk is a poor food choice as it contains a gluten-like protein called casein whereas grass-fed ghee is free from casein & is largely OK. The caveat to these exceptions would be to anyone who has some kind of auto immune illness which could be exacerbated by the inclusion of any food from these three problematic groups!

This might all sound a little restrictive but I have been following the paleo diet for several months now & find myself enjoying the food more & more. Perversely I have found that the food I eat has become more varied and interesting even though I have removed certain foods completely from my diet. Whereas before I would pile the plate high with bland foods such as pasta, rice and bread I now get most of my carbs from fruit and vegetables and therefore make more interesting and varied choices than I used to. I now regularly enjoy avocado, kale, pak choi, spinach and sweet potato (generally after exercise) whereas previously I would stick the the obvious staples of peas, broccoli and carrots, etc. I have also found that I enjoy meat much more since I started sourcing it from an online grass-fed, organic farm. I have to watch my money so I place one order per month and freeze a lot of the produce & eat it sparingly, choosing cheaper cuts wherever possible. Recently I have found a good supplier of grass-fed offal which has the double benefit of being both nutrient rich & cheap so I am hoping to economise even more in the future. Meals can be as easy as steak with some steamed vegetables or a hearty omelette with a big salad, the kind of things that even the most maladroit cook would have trouble getting wrong!

Probably just like you, I have so much more to learn & experience about the paleo lifestyle but I am sure that this is the way we should all be living for a healthier and longer future. Combining the diet with a good exercise regimen, decent sleep & minimal stress is the key to a happy and active life. No one is trying to kid you into buying a potion or a tablet with the promise of being able to fix all of the problems that come with a bad lifestyle and diet, the choices are yours to make and the future is yours to enjoy.