What actually is the Paleo diet?
“When a patient is sick, treat with diet first – if that doesn’t work then use medications.” Now this sounds like brilliant advice for the 21st century. But this comment is attributed to an individual who lived quite a few years back – as in more than 2,000 years back. His name was Hippocrates, and he was a Greek physician considered one of the greatest minds in the history of medicine – and in fact the father of modern medicine.
Yet this simple concept – this ever so simple statement – is ignored entirely by too many doctors today. I have no problem with pharmaceuticals when needed, but I am dead set against treating the majority of the main non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that are so prevalent in society today only with pharmaceuticals. Without looking at diet as well, we are not helping our sick clients get better, and we are quickly leading our healthy clients towards sickness.
For me there is little variation when it comes to what is good to eat and what is not good to eat. And if I had to sum up in a word how we should all be eating, that word would be Paleo. As in the Paleo Diet.
What is this thing called Paleo?
Humans like to label things. But I will start off by saying that the term Paleo Diet is, for me, just a quick way to get everyone talking about the same thing – which is healthy eating. And healthy eating is as much about avoiding the bad foods as it is about eating the right ones.
The term Paleo Diet references the diet our hunter-gatherer Paleo ancestors ate. Here we are talking about whole foods in their natural form that have not been tampered with by man. Think meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, eggs, and healthy oils. That was how we ate for about two million years, and it is a diet that is suited to our genetic makeup – which has changed very little in that time.
The Paleo food pyramid as shown below and taken from my book “Reversing cardiometabolic disease with the original Paleo Diet” gives you an idea of how we need to be eating. In a nutshell, we are talking about getting 35% of your calories from proteins such as meat and fish, 35% from fats such as oils and nuts and eggs and avocados, and 30% from the good carbohydrates that you find in a lot of vegetables and fruits.
While there is plenty more to be discussed when it comes to the foods of the Paleo Diet and the best way to prepare them, for the sake of space I have to stop here. But what I will encourage is that you send an email to email@example.com and request a copy of my book in digital form. For the sake of the health of my loyal readers, I will send this to you at no cost.
Why it works
Our Paleo ancestors were hunter-gatherers who appeared to suffer no obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, or cancer until they adopted grains, which they started to do at the beginning of the agricultural revolution around 10,000 BC.
And just as that happened, they started getting sick. Research has revealed how rapidly the health of those early farmers and the people they fed deteriorated since the start of the Agricultural Revolution.
What we know is that the macronutrient composition of the Paleo Diet appears to trigger an ideal hormonal response in our bodies. And by eating those bad foods – the grains and the sugars and the dairy – a process called “silent inflammation” occurs in our body, and this is the specific cause of the ballooning rates of NCDs that are claiming far too many lives far too young.
Diseases here include diabetes, cardiovascular, autoimmune, cancer, Alzheimer’s (type 3 diabetes), and others. What is happening with silent inflammation is that our bodies overproduce inflammatory chemicals. These chemicals go to work on the walls of the blood vessels throughout our bodies – essentially “scratching” and damaging the inner lining. This will eventually lead to restricted blood flow and a myriad of devastating health problems.
For the Gulf States this is now a big problem. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), NCDs are causing more than 70% of all deaths in GCC countries – with half of those deaths occurring in those less than 60 years of age. If I had to put a figure on how much of the blame falls on our poor diets, I would put it at about 95%.
What to do?
To stay healthy, then, a pure, Paleo-style diet is an absolute essential. And no one should have a problem with the Paleo Diet variety. There are plenty of ways to put these foods together to make great meals. Vegetarians also do not need to stay out of the discussion. As I mentioned above, this is about healthy eating, which is as much about eating the right foods as it is about avoiding the wrong ones. So if you don’t eat meat, you still have the other Paleo food categories to choose from, and you will want to stay within those boundaries.
I’ll end with a question: What is your motivation level? I’m not going to pretend it is easy to switch from a diet high in refined carbs and sugars to one that is based on my Paleo food pyramid. But I am not going to tell you there is another way. If we take medications we are not curing disease, but rather treating symptoms. And that is only when those pharmaceuticals work, which often they do not.
Graham Simpson, MD is Chief Medical Officer and Founder of Intelligent Health, a preventive medical centre located in Jumeirah. Dubai. He graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand Medical School in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is board certified in Internal Medicine and Emergency Medicine. As a founding member of the American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA) Dr Simpson is also a licensed homeopath.