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What Is Paleo?

WHAT IS “PALEO”?

Once upon a time there was a …

Ok, so we’re only joking, but the whole concept of the Paleo (short for Palaeolithic) nutrition and lifestyle actually did come about by reflecting on the evolution of our human ancestors and the “once upon a time” imaginings of the ways of life – the diets, the activities and the general exposure to stimuli –  of the early cavemen, or palaeolithic man.

This is why the Paleo diet has also been referred to as the ‘caveman’ diet, the ‘ancestral’ diet or the ‘primal’ diet – all synonyms denoting the idea of the diet (and, for our purposes, lifestyle practices) of our predecessors.

And yet, as with everything that becomes more ‘mainstream’, and as with every ‘movement’ that itself evolves – the beginnings of Paleo are rather different than what Paleo is today, and where it may be heading.

In truth there has both been a major commercialisation of ‘Paleo’ coupled with a dismissal of Paleo concepts with the accusation that those who follow anything vaguely ancestral are pining after the times pre-agricultural revolution (and therefore pre-technology, pre-internet etc.).  To us, both the commercialisation and the criticism of Paleo have missed the point entirely.

The idea and the impetus behind anything Paleo was to look at human biology in the context of where we have come from evolutionarily, understanding ‘best practice’ in terms of nutrition, lifestyle and behaviour in this evolutionary context.

As far as we here at Paleo in the UK are concerned, Modern Paleo is about understanding how the human body has evolved and evaluating the diet and living the lifestyle which is best suited to our biology.  Some other terms that have been coined to reflect this approach are, “species appropriate” and “genetically/biologically aligned”.  If you want to read about what we mean when we use the word Paleo, check out our ‘manifesto’ here.

BUT WHAT DOES “PALEO” ACTUALLY INVOLVE?

 

The word “Paleo” has come to represent the way of eating and living that is in tune with the way our genetics and biology have evolved.

This means that modern lifestyles, with fast- and processed- food filled diets, countless stressors and stimuli from every conceivable angle, has evolved massively when compared to the evolution of our physical bodies.  Our bodies seem poorly suited to the modern environment.

A Paleo approach attempts to live more in tune with what our human bodies are suited to, i.e. eating a whole foods, minimally processed diet and living in tune with the seasons and circadian rhythms of the sun, exercising using functional movements with regular, low-level activity throughout the day and occasional sprinting and fast-paced activities, lots of laughter, support of our families and loved ones and pleasure at life.

The genesis of this idea of looking to ancestral communities and so-called hunter-gatherer ways of life was rooted in attempts to understand the modern epidemic of chronic, debilitating, preventable illnesses.  Man used to die of infectious diseases, viruses, or, to be frank, brutal accidents.  In our modern world we have treatments for these conditions so we are living longer – but we are acquiring countless degenerative, metabolic, ‘lifestyle’ and preventable diseases instead.  All of these diseases have been linked to inflammation, chronic stress and behaviours which are mismatched to our biology.

This means that chronic, preventable diseases are the result of modern lifestyles that are at odds with our physiology.  Our bodies simply haven’t evolved at the same rate as our world and when we use (and abuse) all of the amenities of this high-paced, processed and manufactured world, illness is the result.

However, whilst Paleo began as a hypothesis that modern man’s biology was poorly suited to our nutritional, social, psychological and chemical landscape it has evolved.  “Modern Paleo” is a much more rigorous evaluation, from every conceivable angle, of how well our biology is actually adapted to the world around us.  This is not just about hypothesis and conjecture upon ancient history.  This is an evaluation of the mechanisms of interaction between foodstuffs and lifestyle practices and the modern human digestive system, immune system, hormonal system and overall biology.

What results is a diet and lifestyle which may resemble a more ‘primitive’ time, perhaps – but it does so because it removes the inputs which have been scientifically and clinically proven to be the most stressful inputs to human physiology.  What the Paleo diet and lifestyle includes is that which heals, nourishes and nurtures our beings.

Using modern scientific methods Modern Paleo understands mechanisms, interactions and clinical/epidemiological experience and arrives at a mostly whole foods, nutrient dense diet filled with variety and seasonality and respect for the farming/rearing methods of food sourcing.

This is not because we’re evangelists or fantasising purists longing for some ancient halcyon reality… but because the macro- and micro- nutrient profiles of real, good, wholesome foods will far exceed the health of the modern, westernised diet every single time.

 

WHAT PALEO IS NOT…

 

Paleo is not a religion, it is a TEMPLATE OR AN OUTLINE based in understanding human genetics and evolutionary biology whilst grasping that low-inflammation, nutrient-dense eating and living is good for the body and will be good for our health in both the short- and the long- term.

 

Paleo is also not a weight loss regimen, a legitimisation of disordered eating or an emotional crutch with which to feel a sense of belonging to a tribe… which sounds harsh but more detail can be found on that in our “Purpose, Macronutrients & Weight Loss” Page.

 

Want to know what’s on the Paleo Table specifically?  Our “Paleo – Foods That Are In” List is here…

Want to know what’s off the Paleo Table? That’s in our “Paleo – Foods That Are Out” List…

But because this is science and not fairy-tales, there are Grey Areas and questionable foods – all found in the “Grey Area” list here.

 

If you’re the type of person who needs to dig deeper into the science behind the formation of the above lists – head on over to our “Deeper Science” pages.

Lastly, if you’re contemplating Autoimmune Paleo Protocols for a specific health condition, do visit our entire Autoimmune Paleo Area dedicated to your needs.

Some of our sections are still under development, but we are working hard behind the scenes to complete these for you and fresh content will be coming very, very soon!