Paleo Diet Resources & Recipes:
Note: Before I start I will say the resources I am listing in this are just ones I have seen be helpful, I am not making any money out of them and I don’t necessarily recommend them. Always consult with your physician or dietitian prior to adopting a paleo diet or making intensive dietary changes, especially if you have a medical condition or are pregnant. In addition to a health professional if you want to track your calories and nutrient intake yourself check out Cronometer which is free and very easy to use. https://cronometer.com/
Meal plans and recipe resources:
Meal Plan (pdf): Dietitian designed, 1000 calories per day, one week long meal plan with Macronutrient Profile (pdf)
- Please note: Whilst this meal plan is dietician designed, it is for general information only and is not tailored to your specific medical needs. It is recommended this is used in conjunction with your doctor or dietitian and is not designed for long term use
Other Paleo Resources:
- Recipes = https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/paleo
- Online nutrient calculator = https://nutrientoptimiser.com/
- CSIRO total wellbeing diet recipe book (~$30)
- CSIRO total wellbeing diet online program = www.totalwellbeingdiet.com/au/
- Just google “paleo recipes” and see what takes your fancy. If it follows the common principles I mentioned above/below = whole and real food with a good portion of vegetables etc then it is probably fine.
Paleo diets are a common term that is thrown around in the social media realm and more and more in food marketing. Despite the certainty that people pretend to have about defining it, it is not at all a clear thing. The theory is that we should eat like our palaeolithic ancestors because they didn’t have the chronic diseases we have today. This is most commonly interpreted as don’t eat carbohydrates of any kind including fruit and instead eat lots of protein like meat and nuts and some non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens.
This sounds like a reasonable theory and it has strengths to it that I agree with as common sense – eat more vegetables, eat nuts and other forms of whole and real food and massively reduce or cut out processed foods like sugar and bread. But there are also some major aspects that one should question about it, especially in the way modern food companies have marketed it and internet zealots have portrayed “paleo”.
The first major issue we should be aware of is that modern big food companies are selling products labelled paleo that are low carbohydrate and high protein but the truth is these products are so far from true paleo and often, but not always, very unhealthy. So please be aware. These products like paleo bars and paleo powders are often high in refined and processed animal or plant protein, low in fibre, and high in processed oils. This is not how palaeolithic people ate! So please avoid them until you really understand how to analyse food products!
The second major issue with this popularised concept of “paleo” is that there is no such thing as a single “paleo way of eating”. Different cultures had extremely different styles of eating depending on the climate and region. Some cultures ate large amounts of carbohydrates in the forms of honey, fruit, roots, yams and tubers like in tropical and subtropical parts of the world, and some did not like in the arctic regions. Evidence suggests that some cultures have been eating grains like sorghum for over 100,000 years. Even in Indigenous Australians, there is evidence that yams and other carbohydrate root crops were cultivated for many thousands of years before European arrival and influence.
So it is impossible to define the “one paleo diet” because there is not just “one”. The lesson we can takeaway is that the common ground amongst all palaeolithic people is that they all were eating whole foods and no processed food. And that all known palaeolithic peoples ate some form of whole food carbohydrates like fruits, yams, potatoes and honey. Even the Inuits, who are the Indigenous people of Canada where fresh plant food is scarce during winter, were known to have traded food with the people of the South and eat some forms of plant carbohydrate. Paleo cultures also often had a very high intake of fibre from the plants they were eating. The traditional Hadza people of Africa living today are having over 100 grams of fibre a day vs only 15 grams a day for the average American.
The next point I will make is that in palaeolithic times the food was scarce, which is the complete opposite to today where “food”, or at least processed food, is everywhere. So it was normal to go for periods without eating, which is called fasting. If you have ever been out and tried to live and hunt in the wild for a few days without food prepared already there is absolutely no way you are eating three meals a day. If you get one meal a day you are lucky.
So, taking all of that into account what is the evidence that eating one type of palaeolithic way will help with weight loss? In 1984 Professor Kerin O’Dea in Australia followed 10 Aboriginal men who went from living an urban lifestyle to their traditional way of life for 7 weeks. Over that 7 weeks, they all lost of average 8kg or ~18 pounds and they had other improvements as well like in their blood sugar levels which is very impressive.
There are three large caveats to make to this though.
As I said before – there is no one paleo diet. Hadza tribal diets are 70% plant-based including lots of starchy roots and vegetables and 30% animal based, whereas in the study above it is almost the reverse. Despite two-thirds of their calories being due to animal sources and one third due to plant sources, their diet was still very low in fat. Only 13% of their calories came from fat due to the very low-fat content of wild animals. This is actually much lower than the average person has today and is even quite a bit lower than recommended low-fat diets which is about 30% of calories. So there is a common misconception that paleo diets were high in fat but it is often not that case. Today we eat a lot of cow, pigs, chicken and sheep that are often fed on a mix between grain and grass. These are not active wild animals and this is not what wild animals eat. Hence the composition of the animal protein and fats can be very different and the effects of these on us may not be the same as wild animals.
Note in this study that the average caloric intake was 1200 calories a day, which is a reasonable aim to lose ~3-4kg/month and you can compose this of any whole and real food.
This brings me to the next caveat is we have to be very careful of high animal protein diets especially if you have heart disease. There have been many studies showing that high animal protein diets may worsen heart disease which I have put links to below. And one huge study of over 450,000 over 25 years from around the world showed that low carbohydrate dietary intake favouring animal-derived protein and fat sources, from sources such as lamb, beef, pork, and chicken, were associated with higher mortality, whereas those that favoured plant-derived protein and fat intake, from sources such as vegetables and nuts, were associated with lower mortality. So please be careful not to mortgage your long term health for short term weight loss.
The next caveat to this weight loss is that that paleo is not just about what food you eat. So when we look at palaeolithic cultures and if we see a lower burden of chronic disease and obesity we know it is due to their entire way of life. They eat whole and real foods, they move regularly, they hunt and forage, they live in tribes and support each other, they sleep when the sun goes down and wake when it comes up and so on. So really it is a lifestyle.
When we look at the modernised interpretation of high protein diets like the Atkins diet, we once again see that after 12 months they are about as effective as many others. So what we need to look at is your entire lifestyle, how well you can continue that lifestyle and its long term effects on your health, not just your weight.
So if we summarise all of that here is my interpretation of the paleo diet. The first it is a lifestyle, not a diet, focussing on whole and real food, periods of fasting, moving regularly and surrounded by those that support you. I agree with these principles absolutely. Specific components mean having wild game meat, roots, yam, nuts, seeds, vegetables especially leafy greens, eggs, seasonal fruit and occasionally honey for something sweet. If you do this you are likely to get good outcomes. I would say for the best long term health outcomes you probably want to reduce your animal intake and replace it with plant forms of protein like nuts, seeds and so on. And of course, stay away from the modern marketing of paleo bars!