Have you heard of the paleo diet? What is this about eating like cavemen? Here is the ultimate guide to the paleo diet, plus tips on how to go about this way of eating in Hong Kong.
What is the Paleo diet?
The paleo diet is a dietary plan that basically involves eating like a caveman from the paleolithic era – from 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. The diet emphasizes eliminating foods that have been processed using methods characteristic of modern human society. Instead, it focuses on eating whole foods that are naturally grown and sourced, what would have been available to hunter-gatherers.
This approach was developed on the idea that the modern-day diet has had a negative impact on the human body and has led to diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart problems. The mass production and industrialisation of food was a huge development for the growth of food sources but it has also brought about the presence of substances that are harmful to the body.
Following a paleo diet involves eating lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Any food that would have emerged as a result of the advancement of farming are excluded. This means grains like rice, wheat (flour) and dairy products such as cheese, milk and yoghurt. To follow a lifestyle that resembles a caveman’s, it is also encouraged that we drink plenty of water and stay active, just as they would have done back then.
On the paleo diet, legumes are also excluded. What counts as legumes? Apparently, lentils and beans, although massively considered ‘healthy’ by modern society in comparison to the highly processed diets we are familiar with now, are actually not as beneficial to our bodies as we think.
This is because of a substance called phytic acid, present in high quantities in grains, nuts and legumes, that binds to nutrients and hinders our absorption of them. However, because nuts are consumed in smaller quantities, they are less likely to lead to a high intake of phytic acid but that is not the case for legumes and grains. Grains and legumes, on the other hand, we use as our main source of carbohydrates and energy so we consume them (and phytic acid) in large amounts.
What are the benefit of this diet?
The paleo style of eating supposedly can benefit anyone hoping to lose weight, increase their insulin sensitivity, improve overall heart health, as well as reduce levels of inflammation in their bodies.
As the paleo method of eating rules out processed foods and grains which are common sources of simple carbohydrates, the increased intake of vegetables and protein will use up more energy to break down. This diet means eating a wider range of nutrients and whole-foods which means better nutrition for the body and the optimisation of overall bodily functions as well as improving the processes of removing bodily waste.
Having a reduced carbohydrates intake will mean that the pancreas will not have to work as hard to produce a sufficient supply of insulin. The insulin produced will also be more effective on the paleo diet. Processed foods are often linked to high glycemic index (GI) levels. High GI foods are more likely to cause inflammation in the body, so eating less of these on the paleo diet will likely be effective in bringing down any inflammation symptoms.
What should you eat?
As mentioned above, the paleo diet primarily involves eating a ‘carnivore diet’; here is a list of foods that fit into that criteria, these include lean meats, fish, fruits and vegetables, and limited portions of nuts and seeds.
Meat – Chicken, Beef, Lamb, Turkey, Pork (some people may even emphasize grass-fed).
Fish and seafood – Salmon, trout, haddock, shrimp, shellfish etc.
Eggs – Ideally free range
Vegetables – Broccoli, kale, peppers, onions, carrots, tomatoes, etc.
Fruits – Apples, bananas, oranges, pears, avocados, strawberries, blueberries and more.
Tubers – Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, turnips, etc.
Nuts and seeds – Almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and more. Ideally ‘raw’ or simply ‘dry roasted’ as they are the least processed with no added flavours or artificial ingredients.
Healthy fats and oils – Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil and others.
Salt and spices – Sea salt, garlic, turmeric, rosemary, etc.
Paleo vs keto
At first glance, it may seem that the paleo diet and the keto diet are quite similar. With the keto diet, there are little to no carbs involved and you majorly eat meats, nuts and vegetables. The key difference between the keto diet and the paleo diet is that the paleo diet allows for whole-food carbs. Whole-food carbs are non-processed foods that have not been farmed for mass human consumption this means starchy vegetables or naturally occurring sugars (in fruit for example) but eliminates grains as well as other processed sugars.
The paleo diet focuses more on the concept behind eating, and puts emphasis on eating naturally produced foods that has as little steps as possible between the soil and our plate. On the other hand, the keto diet focuses on macronutrients and eliminating the body’s supply of carbohydrates to change the source of energy being used. While the paleo diet is more like a lifestyle change, going keto is very much a strict ‘diet’ that may involve calories counting and close management.
What to expect
Switching to the paleo diet from a regular ‘modern society’ diet means that you may experience the following effects:
- Feeling down or unenergized: due to cutting carbohydrates down you are likely to lose out on the mood-boosting effects that a carb-heavy diet gives you. It may take some time to get used to, but staying hydrated and trying to exercise more can really help make the process easier.
- Craving sugary foods: similarly, because the body is used to glucose as a main source of energy, that sudden shift may cause strong cravings for a while until the body has a chance to adjust.
- Working out may be tougher: since it will take some time to get used to different energy sources, workouts may temporarily be harder to get through. However, once the body adapts to this new diet, you may notice that workouts bring better results that before. This is due to improved nutrition as well as a higher intake of protein from eating more meat instead of grains.
- Changes in bodily odours: according to research, people have reported that they smell better when they consume a diet mainly consisting of fruits and vegetables. This is explained by the reduced amounts of processed foods in our diets leading to less toxins in our bodies. This will make the body more alkaline rather than acidic, reducing odour linked to perspiration.
Going paleo in Hong Kong
As grains are a huge part of Chinese eating culture, it may be difficult to know how to go about switching to a paleo diet. According to paleo Hong Kongers, they often go to steakhouses to eat out. Even in Chinese tea houses, they will order the steak options and switch out the rice for a side of vegetables. As for stocking the house with paleo-based foods, local grocery chains as well as local markets are open bright and early to provide the freshest products from local suppliers. It is also great to have frozen fruits and vegetables as they are picked and frozen when they are at their freshest, plus, they are convenient to cook.
An even more convenient option is having paleo meals delivered directly to your doorstep through these two Hong Kong based meal delivery services:
Switching to paleo can make us more conscious about where our food comes and how processed the food we eat today is. Would you be interested in giving the paleo diet a try? Check out our other articles on healthy eating, and subscribe to our newsletter for more updates.