Low carbohydrate diets are nothing new. The Atkins diet, the South Beach Diet, the Dukan diet, and many others have been popular, and controversial, for decades. Advocates and health experts have debated their benefits and risks from the beginning. And while it’s generally agreed that most of us would be well served to restrict the amount of carbs we consume, some people strive to eliminate them altogether.
The Paleo Diet
Until a few years ago, the Paleo diet was limited to a few dedicated followers. Recently, however, it has worked its way into the mainstream, as many people have experienced significant weight loss in relatively short periods of time. It’s built around the idea that eating like our Paleolithic forefathers is more appropriate for our genetics, and therefore healthier. You can essentially eat anything you want, as long as it was available to our caveman ancestors.
That means meats, fish, fruits, and vegetables are on the menu. Grains, refined sugar, processed foods, and legumes are not.
In practice, most of us don’t have time to pick wild berries, spear fish, or chase cage-free chickens around the neighborhood in hopes of collecting an egg for every meal. But Paleo dieters do focus on lean proteins, vitamins and minerals, and healthy fats to help reduce weight and build muscle. And though today’s options may not be exactly the same as what our ancestors consumed, they’re close enough.
Cut the carbs
The diet centers on drastically cutting carbohydrates, rather than strictly limiting food consumption. Paleo dieters don’t need to count calories. They generally eat until they’re full! Yet they still loose weight and build muscle. How? By eliminating grains and processed foods, which can turn into carbohydrates and, ultimately, become sugars. When our bodies have more sugar than they can burn, it turns to fat.
On the Paleo diet, our bodies have fewer carbs to burn, so all that stored-up fat finally has something to do, other than making it hard to button our jeans! It burns, through a process called ketosis, to provide energy.
There are carbs in vegetables and fruits, but at much lower levels than in grains. And fruits and veggies pack in a ton of nutrients along with the carbs.
What about dairy?
Humans are the only animals to consume dairy beyond infancy. A strict Paleo dieter would avoid it…after all, our caveman ancestors would not have had access to a fancy cheese plate or a Greek yogurt smoothie.
So what can and can’t I eat?
- Lean meats
- Nuts & seeds
- Healthy oils and fats
- Processed foods
- Processed sugar
What can go wrong?
Although approved foods are low in carbs and sugars, some are still high in calories. If your idea of a Paleo diet is a pound of cashews and two sweet potatoes for every meal, you’re not going to see the results you want. And you’re not going to feel great, either. The goal is to balance the proteins, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and oils.
In addition, there is a risk of not getting enough calcium and vitamin D, both of which are essential for bone development and strength. Supplements may be necessary. And those who stick to the diet for long periods face a potential increase in cholesterol, a known contributor to heart disease.
But if you’re looking to shed weight and build muscle, or just want to unleash your inner caveman, the Paleo diet may be worth considering. Just remember to consult with your physician or nutritionist before making any drastic changes to your diet.