Eat like our ancestors

Dr Loren Cordain is the founder of the modern Paleo movement.  In his popular book The Paleo Diet (2010), he proposes that we should all be eating in a more Paleolithic way, like our ancestors, in order to achieve optimal health.

Our ancestors evolved by adapting to their environment – eating meat, fish, nuts, seeds, plant starch, wild fruits and vegetables.  Our bodies are therefore genetically programmed to eat these foods and so the Paleo way of eating makes sense.  We did not evolve eating processed sugary foods, unlimited farmed grains or processed fats and our bodies are not adapted to this  modern diet.

5 ways to eat in a more Paleo way

  1. Include Meat

We are omnivores and our bodies and digestive systems can deal with both meat and vegetables.  If you are avoiding meat for health reasons, then you might like to reconsider as our bodies are perfectly designed to deal with meat.  Meat is a good source of vitamin B12, zinc and iron, all of which are hard to obtain in sufficient quantities from a vegetarian diet.  B12 is also important for the absorption of folates from food, which is why some vegetarians are also lacking in this important anti-ageing nutrient.  However not all meat is healthy so the idea is not to start eating processed burgers and sausages.  Eat good quality meat, ideally eat grass fed, which has better quality fat, such as Angus beef.  Everyone is different but if you find meat hard to digest it might mean you need to see a qualified nutritionist to address your digestive health.

  1. Reduce Grains

Since the agricultural revolution grains have been freely available and tend to make up a huge part of our diet.  Many of us eat toast and cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and pasta or rice dishes for supper.  My advice to clients is to switch to wholegrains, as these contain important fibre and nutrients, and reduce intake to a maximum of two fist sized servings a day.  Wholegrain options might be brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat noodles or whole oats.

The full Paleo diet doctrine prohibits all grains and legumes but this is rather extreme and difficult to follow.  However it is interesting to experiment by reducing these food groups to see how your body responds.  You can obtain vegetable starch from sweet potato, butternut squash, carrots and parsnips.

  1. Increase Diversity of Vegetables

The Hadza tribe in Tanzania has been studied extensively as this is one of the few remaining hunter-gatherer tribes in existence.  The women of this tribe gather plants and berries and dig for tubers, resulting in a huge diversity of vegetables as the seasons change and the tribe is constantly on the move.  It is thought that this diversity accounts for the tribe’s healthier and more varied gut microbe population.  To improve gut health make sure you are eating a wide variety of vegetables, try and select a different vegetable every time you shop.

  1. Avoid Sugar

This is not news but as sugar is so addictive it is extremely difficult for some people to cut it out of their diet.  Start by cutting out added sugar, watching out for hidden sugars in fruit yoghurts and salad dressings etc. and by avoiding processed foods that are frequently loaded with sugar.  A true Paleo follower avoids all fruit except berries, as these are lower in sugar, but if you are currently eating a packet of Hobnobs a day this might be a bit of a stretch and fruit would be a good alternative whilst you wean yourself off added sugar.

  1. Reduce Dairy

Strict Paleo followers avoid dairy but again this is extreme.  I often advise clients to go on a two-week dairy free trial to see how their bodies respond but if this seems a step too far you could try reducing your intake as, at the very least, it will force you to increase the variety of your diet.  It is very easy to eat dairy throughout the day with milk on your cereal, cheese in your sandwich and milk in your coffee and teas.  I recommend having eggs for breakfast, salad and soup for lunch and switching to herbal teas – you are the best judge of how this makes you feel and it is well worth trying to see if you feel healthier.

I know much of this advice is in line with last week’s Mediterranean Diet guidelines.  Both diets have their followers who are almost religious in their adherence but my advice is to take a helicopter view – if you eat traditionally you will be on track – don’t eat anything your Grandma wouldn’t recognise!