What Is A Paleo Diet?

Written by Liza Brunell

Adv Dip Health Science Naturopathy, Nutrition          Hi there, my name is Liza, I am a Naturopath, Herbalist, Nutritionist from Brisbane, Queensland. And I’m here to show you how easy good nutrition and healthy living can be.

February 7, 2020

Many people these days think, “what is a paleo diet?”, or have heard of the paleo diet thanks to mainstream media and the likes of Pete Evans. However, if you haven’t yet delved into the intricacies of how the diet works you may have some questions in which I am hoping that I can answer for you in this blog post.

Let’s Start With: What Is A Paleo Diet?

Firstly I would like to mention that many Paleo advocates don’t like referring to the eating plan as a ‘diet’ as such, and instead prefer to look at the change in their eating habits i.e. from eating a normal western diet as being more of a lifestyle change, a long-term commitment to their health and well-being rather than another fad diet.

The Paleo Diet is based on a plan of eating foods that are similar to that which may have been eaten during the Palaeolithic era or Stone Age.

The reasoning being that you return to a way of eating that is more in line with what early humans ate.  What we are saying is that human biology is genetically mismatched to today’s modern diet, which has emerged alongside modern farming practices with the introduction of dairy, grains and legumes.  It is hypothesised that these foods affect the body’s ability to adapt to the environment, with this genetic mismatch believed to contribute to the prevalence of many of today’s lifestyle diseases i.e. obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

So, What Can you Eat on a Paleo Eating Plan?

Fruits, vegetables, nuts & seeds, lean meats preferably grass-fed, organ meats, wild caught fish (with an emphasis on those high in omega 3 fats like salmon, maceral and albacore tuna), and good quality oils – cold pressed olive oil & ghee.  Full-fat dairy can be a healthy addition for some.

Foods to Avoid:

Grains (wheat, oats, barley), legumes (beans, lentils, peanuts & peas), dairy products, refined sugar, potatoes, basically any highly processed foods.

What are the benefits of eating the Paleo way?

  • Weight loss – I have listed some studies below that show the Paleo diet is effective for healthy weight loss.  Weight loss occurs often with concurrent reductions in total fat mass, liver fat, belly fat, BMI, waist circumference, and hip-to-waist ratio.
  • Improved glucose tolerance – Insulin sensitivity refers to how easily your cells respond to insulin. Studies have found that the paleo diet increases insulin sensitivity and lowers blood sugar.
  • In a two-week study, 24 obese people with type 2 diabetes followed either a paleo diet or a diet with moderate salt, low-fat dairy, whole grains and legumes. At the end of the study, both groups experienced increased insulin sensitivity, however, the effects were stronger in the paleo group.
  • Improved Blood pressure – An analysis of four studies with 159 individuals found that a paleo diet reduced systolic blood pressure on average by 3.64 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 2.48 mmHg.
  • Lower triglycerides – Several studies have found that eating a paleo diet could reduce total blood triglycerides by up to 44%. Several studies have also found that eating a paleo diet could reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol by up to 36%.
  • Improved appetite – Protein is an important nutrient for weight loss.  It can increase your metabolism, reduce your appetite and control several hormones that regulate your weight.  Eating protein basically keeps you feeling fuller for longer.
  • Improved energy – eating a more nutrient dense diet will feed the mitochondria of the cells which are the powerhouse of our cells, improving energy production.
  • May reduce Inflammation – Inflammation is a natural process that helps the body heal and fight infections.  However, chronic inflammation is harmful and can increase the risk of diseases like heart disease and diabetes. A paleo diet emphasizes certain foods that can help reduce inflammation.   The eating plan promotes eating fresh fruits and vegetables, which are great sources of antioxidants. Antioxidants help bind and neutralize free radicals in the body that damage cells during chronic inflammation. The plan also recommends fish as a source of protein. Fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce inflammation by suppressing hormones that promote inflammation, including TNF-α, IL-1 and IL-6.

How much weight is it possible to lose following a Paleo Diet?

There is plenty of evidence out there to suggest that a paleo diet is effective for weight loss. In one study, 14 healthy medical students were told to follow a paleo diet for three weeks. During the study, they lost an average of 2.3 kgs and reduced their waist circumference by (1.5 cm).

Interestingly, some studies comparing the paleo diet and traditional low-fat diets have found that the paleo diet is more effective for weight loss, even with similar calorie intakes.

In one study, 70 obese women aged 60 and over followed either a paleo diet or a low-fat, high-fibre diet for 24 months. Women on the paleo diet lost 2.5 times more weight after six months and two times more weight after 12 months.

By the two-year mark, both groups had regained some weight, but the paleo group had still lost 1.6 times more weight overall.

Unfortunately, most research on the paleo diet is relatively new. Therefore, there are very few published studies on its long-term effects. In saying that it is also worth noting that with the few studies available it would seem that the paleo diet is superior compared to many other traditional diets.

If you are interested in embarking on a paleo eating plan, here are a few tips that may help you lose weight:

  • Eat more veggies: They are low in calories and contain fibre, helping you stay full for longer.
  • Eat a variety of fruits: Fruit is nutritious and incredibly filling, if you are used to eating sweet treats fruit can satisfy your sweet tooth. Aim to eat only 2 pieces per day for weight loss.
  • Preparation is the key: Prevent temptation by prepping a few meals in advance to help you through busy days.
  • Get plenty of sleep: A good night’s sleep can help you burn fat by balancing your fat burning hormones.
  • Move: Regular exercise helps burn extra calories and increase weight loss.

What would a day of eating Paleo look like?

  • Breakfast Two semi soft-boiled eggs chopped over a bed of wilted spinach with olive oil, lemon and garlic. Topped with ½ cup cherry tomatoes, ½ avocado, ¼ cup diced green onion and drizzled with lemon juice, olive oil and a pinch of sea salt and pepper on top. Plus 1 green apple.
  • Lunch Salad made with 100-150g tinned sardines or wild salmon in olive oil or brine, 2 cups rocket salad, 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, 5-6 sliced radishes, 1 medium grated carrot, 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds. Dress with 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon Apple Cider vinegar, ½ teaspoon of Dijon mustard.
  • Dinner 200g grass fed beef steak marinated for an hour in rosemary, garlic, lemon juice, sea salt and pepper, then grilled to medium rare in ghee or coconut oil. Served with a grilled Portobello mushroom and 2 cups of slaw salad made with shredded red cabbage, carrot, Spanish onion, parsley and dressing with lemon juice, 1 tablespoon mayonnaise and 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil. Find out the 7 day Paleo Meal Plan.

There are so many resources available online if are looking for Paleo recipes and are in need of a bit of inspiration.  One of my favourites is Elena’s pantry, her book Paleo cooking is well used at my place, although there are a few ingredients that you will need to substitute in her cook books the recipes are easy and quick, great for cooking for a family.

I’m Vegetarian, can I follow a Paleo diet?

The only foods that overlap when following a paleo or vegetarian plan are fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. In other works, this could be a vegan eating plan, plus eggs, minus grains and legumes. Keep in mind that by following this eating plan it could make it difficult to get enough protein, dietary fibres, iron, zinc and B vitamins,”

I have found a great example of a meal plan from model Renee Peters this blog may help with any questions you have around animal protein alternatives.

Lastly let’s see how following a Paleo eating plan fits in with the hCG diet?

A Paleo eating plan is a lifestyle plan, and one that fits in perfectly with the hCG diet plan in that it continues the great start that you have made to eating real foods. You will continue to sleep well, move more and reduce inflammation (yes, less aches & Pains).  Once you have completed Phase 3 of the hCG diet plan you could begin to incorporate a Paleo eating plan into your daily routine to maintain your weight and your newfound health & well-being long-term.

Keep in mind that by focusing on portion control and understanding the traps that can lead us to eat far more than we really need (yes, this can also be an issue on a Paleo eating plan), we have a good shot at spontaneously reducing our energy intake and losing weight without the hassle of counting calories, weighing food, or stressing about every bite of food that goes into our mouths.


Liza Brunell

Adv Dip Health Science Naturopathy, Nutrition

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