In the last year or so, the “Paleo Diet” has exploded in mainstream culture. Like all things that get big fast, there is a trend and then there is a cooling off. We are now riding the wave of Paleo, but that doesn’t mean it’s not here to stay in one form or another. Whenever something gets mainstream enough, corporate America takes notice and people try to get in the game from all angles. This leads to mixed messages and a dizzying array of products labeled “Paleo.” The original intent of a Paleo Diet becomes PaleoTM, with an array of “Paleo-friendly” processed and packaged food that big business can market and sell at a premium. The problem is this packaging, processing and target marketing goes against the very nature of what it means to eat or live as a Paleo man or woman. Here is Paleo 101 as I see it— and why it’s important.
Eat real foods
This message has been around for a while and it’s a good one. This means stay away from processed and packaged foods. Shop on the periphery of your grocery store, or better yet, get your food from a local farmers’ market. Eating real food is getting back to the basics of what it means to live in harmony with nature. It is stepping outside of the industrial food paradigm of highly processed, calorie-rich and yet nutritionally void food-like products, and eating real food with no additives, coloring, preservatives or artificial flavorings. It means knowing every ingredient that goes into the food. Eating real food is eating food in its natural state.
If you are eating locally, you are eating seasonally fresh food that should be consumed in the region where it was grown, during that time of year. Eating locally means growing your own food if you can and maybe even foraging, hunting or fishing for food. It means connecting food to place and giving it context, a story, a sense of interconnectedness and a deeper value. When we eat locally, we shop at farmers’ markets and support smaller, more personal communities. It means not paying into the corporate food system and making conscious decisions of where we spend our money. Eating locally means taking the power back in our own hands.
Eat organic, grass-fed, cage-free, or wild meat and seafood
Paleo is about going beyond organic in the conventional sense, and eating food that is grown or raised as close to how nature operates at possible. Like the way Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms raises his livestock, with grazing cattle, chickens that follow the herd, pigs that root and roam. It doesn’t mean to forsake basic technology and go back to living without modern luxuries, but to live more in line with the natural cycles of nature.
Fundamental to a Paleo diet is eating lots of vegetables. Animal meats and seafood are secondary. Eating nuts, seeds, fruits and eggs are also a big part of the diet. Paleo is as much about what you should limit or not eat as it is what you should. A good Paleo diet stays away from processed foods and grains. Dairy is a no-no, or at least severely limited, as are starches and legumes.
All these rules are good to a certain extent, but I don’t adhere strictly to them. For me, it’s as much about listening to your body and how you feel, and responding in a way that best serves your greatest potential. For me a limited amount of dairy, grains and legumes work well, but I don’t need to completely avoid them. Eating lots of quality vegetable are the foundation of my diet. My Paleo is much more than rigid rules with specific dos and don’ts—it looks underneath the rocks and soil to what it means to be human and live in line with how nature designed us to eat, sleep, move and relate.
Paleo is much more than eating like a caveman, acting primal, or overindulging in meat. For me, Paleo goes beyond any dietary label, it’s a lifestyle. It is a way of operating in the modern world while staying mindful of how we evolved to get here. It is about connecting the dots in all areas of our lives, from what we eat, the quality of our food, water, soil and air, how we work, exercise, and sleep, and our relationships with our environment. Although Paleo will continue to get watered down and misinterpreted, the basic tenets of the movement are sound. We are all better off to have more people who live this way in our larger community, whether they call themselves Paleo, Primal, or go by no titles at all. I look forward to evolving as the Paleo movement does.