By Alexa Romagnolo
With health buzzwords like “vegan,” “organic,” and “GMO” thrown around every day, it’s easy to become confused. “Paleo” is one of those buzzwords I had heard a hundred times, but never really knew what it was or if it was worth trying.
What is the Paleo Diet?
The basic idea behind the Paleo diet is eating whole, fresh foods.
“Our genetics have not changed much since we evolved as humans, but the food industry has changed dramatically,” says Monica Bravo, pre-med student at Louisiana State University and author of the Bravo for Paleo blog. This method of eating takes the diet back in time to a period before processed food, and even common food groups like grains and dairy, which is why it is often referred to as “the caveman diet.” In a nutshell, transitioning to a Paleo diet means cutting out all processed foods, added sugar, seed oils, grains, legumes and dairy. Though that may sound limiting, there can actually be great variety and color in this diet if you do it right.
Does the Paleo Diet meet all my nutritional needs?
Those who follow the Paleo diet do not consume grains, which may seem restrictive, but that may not always be the case.
“All the vitamins in the grains are also contained in all the other things that are mentioned in the diet,” according to Robert Besen, M.D., president and chief physician of Doctor B Clinic in Aventura, Florida. Though Besen always recommends that his patients still take supplemental vitamins, he maintains that the vitamins in grains “can be made up in other aspects.”
He also makes the point that the period in which our genes were being developed was a pre-agricultural era–in other words, there were no grains. Therefore, eating as the cavemen did is going back to the way our bodies were designed to process food.
Is it practical?
One of the most common stereotypes associated with clean eating is that it is unaffordable and unrealistic. Looking at the experiences of two college students, however, neither of those stereotypes proves to be an issue. The only struggles they encountered came from food availability outside of the house.
“I think it could definitely be practical for college students with access to a kitchen,” says Lindsay Foreman, sophomore at Liberty University, who follows the Paleo diet. “When they can’t make their own food it will be much more difficult to find Paleo friendly options in a food court.”
Similarly, Abbie Jo Schlechter, a junior at the University of Tennessee, eliminated eating out altogether. “I was really particular about not eating out in order to stay within the Paleo realm,” she says.
Will I experience results?
The Paleo diet meets all nutritional needs, and seems pretty practical. But does it actually work? According to Schlechter, the magic of the Paleo diet is in the way it makes her feel.
“I felt so much better on the Paleo diet,” she says. “I had a lot of energy and my body just felt like it was processing food the way it was created to.”
While Foreman lost a fair amount of weight because she was only exercising moderately, Schlechter did not lose as much because she was lifting heavy weight at CrossFit regularly, and gained a lot of muscle.
If the Paleo diet sounds like it’s worth a try, Monica Bravo gives some staple swaps you can make to get started on making the switch. First, you can use spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles as a replacement for pasta. Instead of bread, you can use Paleo wraps, which are made of coconut and can be found on Amazon. Finally, almond flour or coconut flour serves as a great replacement for regular flour.