What is Paleo Nutrition

Paleo means “old” and is short for Paleolithic Era or the Old Stone Age. The Paleolithic period began 2.6 million years ago with the invention of primitive stone tools and ended with the beginning of the agricultural revolution about 10,000 years ago.

The Paleo Way

During the Paleolithic Era, all our ancestors lived as hunter-gatherers until the arrival of farming, animal husbandry, and permanent villages. Although 10,000 years ago seems to be historically far away, only 333 human generations have come and gone since the advent of agriculture. Research confirms that our Paleolithic genomes have barely changed in the last 10,000 years. And what we know now, thanks to modern day science, is that what we eat affects our genes in many ways. The Paleo way is about adopting a modern healthy diet and lifestyle consistent with our genetic heritage as hunter-gatherers to decrease our risk of developing chronic disease.

How does Paleo fit into the 21st Century World

Gluten sensitivity is a disorder distinct from coeliac disease, in part because the intestine does not appear to be damaged. It is thought that more than 75% of gluten sensitive patients do not have digestive complaints. Gluten sensitivity has the potential to cause many health problems – whilst it is not a disease, it can trigger disease.

This doesn’t mean giving up electricity, toilets, homes, etc. In means putting the 21st century diet in sync with the Stone Age by mimicking our ancestors in the food groups they ate. Paleo researchers link many disease conditions to the move away from this sort of diet: diabetes, insulin resistance, auto-immune conditions, osteoporosis, arthritis, etc.

The bottom line for Paleo Nutrition: We need to balance our hunter-gatherer genetic legacy with the best technology of the modern world. Those who research and write about the Paleo Diet, see it as a fundamental diet and lifestyle concept based on evolutionary biology and scientific research.

Personally, I do not believe that Paleo Nutrition is suitable for everyone. But there can be no doubt that in many situations, it can be life changing.  I’ve started a daily Paleo blog for my clients following the diet. However, there are some excellent Paleo books and websites out there and I can highly recommend the following:

The Paleo Answer – Dr Loren Cordain
The Paleo Diet – Dr Loren Cordain


10 Ways our diet today differs radically from the diet that best suits our genes

Our genetic heritage and nutrition

Gluten is essentially the main component of wheat, spelt, rye and barley. It is also sometimes found in oats. It is made up of gliadin (which gives gluten-containing breads the ability to be stretched) and glutenin (which gives gluten-contain breads elasticity).

We evolved as hunter gatherers and genetically our bodies run optimally when we eat in line with our genes. Would you feed a rabbit meat, or a lion grains? Many of today’s illnesses exist purely as a result of the mismatch between what we are designed to eat and how we actually eat.

1. The Glycemic Load of today’s diet is far too high

If you are going gluten-free, you must do so under the guidance of a qualified health professional so that you or your child are following a healthy, balanced diet.

The glycemic load of a meal is the blood glucose load from digested carbohydrates of that meal. Imagine you’ve just consumed 1 cup of rice – which when digested gets converted into 10 teaspoons of pure glucose. This floods your blood stream minutes after you eat it. Your blood sugar levels are now high (you literally have sweet blood). In order to reduce blood sugar and send it to the cells your pancreas releases insulin. Neither high blood sugar – which damages the delicate lining of blood vessels and increases oxidative stress, nor high insulin – which causes inflammation and fat storage, are healthy.

Today’s diet is abundant in processed grains, sugars and starches that simply did not exist in our past. A high glycaemic load diet promotes hunger, cravings and overeating, and increases the risk of insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, polycystic ovary syndrome, and acne.

By eating mainly non starch vegetables and fruit with minimal starchy food and no sugar, we dramatically lower blood sugar load. By including lean protein and good fats with each meal we get further blood sugar control.

2. The Fatty Acid Balance- our diets are now very high in Omega 6 and low in Omega 3, plus we have added chemically altered fats

Wild meats and plants have a much higher ratio of omega 3 fats (which are anti-inflammatory) to omega 6 fats (which increase inflammation) than farm raised, grain fed animals and poultry. Wild animal meat is also lower in saturated fat and higher in monounsaturated fat. Today’s diet also contains an abundance of chemically extracted vegetable oils that are high in omega 6, and other chemically altered fats that increase heart disease. These fats are used widely in the food industry.

Paleo diets had a ratio of 2:1 omega 6 to Omega 3. Our diets today are around 10:1 or higher. Consequently we are producing an abundance of hormones that increase inflammation, especially silent inflammation, that cannot be felt, but over time increases risk of heart disease, cancer and dementia. Omega 3 deficiency is also linked with mental health disease including ADHD, bipolar disorder and depression.

To mimic the fatty acid intake from wild meats we need to eat lean meat and add primarily monounsaturated oils to our diet (olive oil, raw nuts, avocado).  A small amount of good saturated fat such as coconut oil may be used.

Avoid chemically extracted vegetable oils which are too high in polyunsaturated omega 6. Totally cut out trans fats – a chemically altered fat found in fast food, commercial baking, deep fried food and peanut butter. Also cut out margarine as it contains the chemically altered interesterified fat, linked to increased insulin resistance.

3. The Macronutrient Balance-the ratio of protein, carbohydrates and fat has changed

Dr Cordain and his researchers have analysed the balance of carbohydrate, protein and fat in the diets of many different hunter and gatherer races, and found that protein was 19 – 35% calories, carbohydrate 22- 40% calories and fat 28 – 47% calories. The typical US diet contains protein, 15.5%, carbohydrates, 49% and fat 34%.

By increasing protein and decreasing carbohydrate we decrease the risk of disease associated with high blood sugar, plus we get better appetite control and increased metabolic rate so weight loss is far easier.

The best way to hit this ratio is to have a palm size of protein at each meal, plus a lot of non starch veggies, a piece of fruit, and a little olive oil, avocado or nuts.

4. Trace Nutrient Density – a number of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals in the food we eat today is very poor

In today’s world we are well fed yet undernourished. This is because the nutrient content of our most commonly eaten foods is extremely poor per calorie. White rice, bread, pasta and sugar are low or devoid of vitamins and minerals. Eating foods which mimic paleo choices mean that every calorie you eat is full of nutrients. Today’s dietary advice to eat lots of whole grains to get B vitamins is misplaced. When analysed and compared to fruits and veggies, cereal grains are B-vitamin lightweights. An average 1,000 calorie serving of mixed vegetables contain 19 times more folate, five times more vitamin B6, six times more vitamin B2 and two times more vitamin B1 than a comparable serving of eight mixed whole grains. On a calorie-by-calorie basis, the niacin content of lean meat and seafood is four times higher. By choosing lean meats, seafood, fruit and veggies, nuts and seeds, you will get a stack of minerals, vitamins, phytochemicals and antioxidants that far exceeds the recommended daily intake.

5. The Acid/Base Balance -every food reports to the kidneys as either acid or base, we now have a high acid load diet

Once digested foods either report to the kidney as acid or alkaline. Foods that increase acidity are protein, grains and salt laden foods. Fruit and vegetables are alkaline foods. When you have a high acid load diet, calcium is pulled from the bones to buffer it – leading to osteoporosis. It can also raise blood pressure and aggravate asthma. The average South African diet today is predominantly acid forming, with inadequate alkaline forming fruit and veggies.

As protein is an essential nutrient, important for muscle repair and blood sugar control, you can’t reduce this. However you should avoid processed meat and cheese which contain large amounts of salt and increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Instead of choosing grain based carbohydrates like bread, pasta and rice, choose vegetables and fruit.

6. The Sodium/Potassium Balance – We eat far too much sodium and too little potassium

The imbalance in today’s diet of high sodium and low potassium promotes or aggravates diseases due to acid-base balance, as salt increases the net acid load to the kidneys. These diseases include high blood pressure, osteoporosis, kidney stones, asthma, stroke, and certain forms of cancer. Excess salt in the diet also impairs sleep. A low salt diet can help you sleep better.

By cutting out processed & commercial foods and added salt, and eating potassium rich fruit and vegetables, this imbalance is corrected.

7. The Fibre Content – we eat a fibre poor diet

Fibre is absolutely essential to health and at least 13 illnesses can result when you don’t get enough fibre in your diet. The Paleo diet is naturally high in fibre because of it’s abundance of fruits and vegetables.  In fact it is 3 – 5 times higher than a typical American diet. Non starch vegetables contain 8 times more fibre calorie for calorie as whole grains. Common digestive problems typically disappear using Paleo food choices: constipation, heartburn, indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, and gallbladder problems.

8. The addition of large amounts of gut irritant foods that did not exist in our diets in Paleo times

Grains, legumes (includes soy and peanuts), and dairy foods were not part of the ancestral diet and have a number of problems, they irritate the gut, interfere with digestion of food and absorption of minerals. 1 in 10 people are known to be sensitive to gluten and most don’t know it, they have sub optimal health such as brain fog, depression, bloating and indigestion. Cereal grains, legumes and dairy are suspected in auto-immune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Try cutting out these foods completely for a month to see if this makes a difference to your health.

9. We eat a chemical cocktail of additives

Today’s food – especially processed food has a plethora of chemical additives that did not exist even 200 years ago. Synthetic flavours, sweeteners, preservatives, colours, not to mention chlorine and other chemicals in water, and the leaching of plastics from packaging. These chemicals are being linked with a vast array of health issues like behaviour problems in children and decreased sperm count in men. Eat fresh, organic, in season, non packaged, non processed food wherever possible. If you use protein powders for convenience use pure whey or egg white.

10. We eat too much food

When humans had to chase down animals and forage far and wide for edible plant foods, there was no place for gluttony as procuring food consumed much time and energy. Today food is far too easy to come by and we are surrounded by it. Most of us use little time and energy to get the calories we need for fuel.

Obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, increased oxidative stress, inflammation, declining health and early death result from overeating.

Nutritional Therapy takes the above-mentioned factors into account when considering modern-day lifestyle eating habits. Contact Hannah Kaye if you’re considering the Paleo approach to eating healthy.

Cordain, Loren. The Paleo Diet. John Wiley& Sons, 2002
Sears, Barry. Enter The Zone. Regan Books, 1995
Tyalor, Julianne. 10 Ways our Diet Today Differs Radically from the Diet that Best Suits our Genes., 2010