The Paleo Diet Premise:
The Paleo diet, which has also been called the Caveman diet or Primal diet, is based on following the eating styles of our hunter, gatherer ancestors. Although it may seem simple, it is much more scientific than just avoiding grains and refined foods.
The Paleo diet supports the proper acid/base balance in the body, the idea that certain foods will cause the environment of your body to be either too acidic or too basic. The kidneys have the physiological burden of recognizing our foods as acid or base and balancing it in the body as needed. A diet that leads the body to be very acidic, or one high in meats, salty foods, legumes, hard cheeses and cereal grains, will require minerals to offset the pH.
Fruits and vegetables are the foods that promote a more basic environment in the body. If the diet is lacking in fruits and vegetables, the kidneys pull calcium salts from the bones to counterbalance the acidic pH. Asthma, hypertension, and stroke may even be related to this balance in the body. Interestingly enough, Americans have one of the highest rates of osteoporosis, yet we intake more calcium than most other countries. The founder of the Paleo diet movement, Dr. Loren Cordain, hypothesizes this lack of acid/base balance in the traditional American diet may be the underlying cause.
Considerations About Going Paleo:
The Paleo diet restricts cereal grains and dairy, but does emphasize intake of fruits as a carbohydrate source. If you are obese or insulin resistant, consider limiting some of the fruit portions as you begin the Paleo diet until your weight decreases and your insulin sensitivity improves.
Since the diet recommends avoidance of dairy, it may be difficult to obtain enough vitamin D; a vitamin great for bone health, immunity, muscle aches, and fatigue. It is known as the sunshine vitamin since time outside in the sun can help boost your levels, but with concerns on skin care, our exposure is often limited. Some fatty fish and mushrooms can help boost your dietary vitamin D, but consider testing your levels through your doctor to see if you are in need of extra supplementation.
It is highly difficult to meet the recommended intakes for dietary calcium on this diet, but the Paleo diet emphasizes the balance of calcium in the body. Low calcium in the diet and blood stream provokes a hormone cascade to encourage synthesis of vitamin D from the kidneys and absorption of calcium from the intestine and resorption from bone. Essentially, if you have a diet low in calcium, your body can adapt to increase the absorption of what you do get from foods. Foods that cause more calcium excretion from the body are high sodium diets, high alcohol intake, and foods that create an acidic load for the kidneys.
There are arguments against high protein diets because of excessive cholesterol and protein and potential harm to cardiovascular health. The cholesterol that causes cardiovascular disease actually starts from the liver. It is cholesterol that we make ourselves rather than the kind we eat in our diet. Healthy, normal individuals can also adapt to a high protein diet. However, if you have a pre-existing kidney condition it is best to re-evaluate a high protein diet with your physician or dietitian.
So what can I eat?
Percentage of total calories on the Paleo diet:
- 27.5% Lean meats
- 27.5% Seafood
- 15% Fruits
- 15% Vegetables
- 15% Nuts and Seeds
What to Eat:
- Grass fed meats
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthy oils (olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, coconut)
What to Avoid:
- Legumes (including peanuts)
- Refined sugar
- Processed foods
- Refined vegetable oils
Sample Menu in the life of a Paleo:
Breakfast: Veggie omelet
Lunch: Large, green leafy salad with loads of veggies, fruits and nuts/seeds. Add grilled chicken and toss with olive oil and lemon
Snack: walnuts and an orange
Dinner: Grilled salmon with spaghetti squash and roasted Brussel sprouts
Dessert: Fresh berries
By Anna Dean, MS, RD, LD