5 Hacks to Upgrade Your Paleo Diet

Dr. B.J. Hardick DR. B.J. HARDICK

Here at Food Matters we're all about choosing the diet that suits you best and supports your body.For those who feel best on a paleo-style diet, here are some tips to make it even better by Dr. B.J. Hardick.

As a doctor who helps patients lose weight and gain health, over the past few years I’ve noticed the Paleolithic diet – more commonly called the Paleo diet – has become a household term as people become aware of the health-wrecking problems with sugar, gluten, and other modern-day foods.

While no one true definition exists, most followers agree a Paleo diet entails a variety of meats and vegetables with small amounts of fruits and nuts, but no grains or processed sugar.

In other words, a Paleo diet consists of foods that mimic what your pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors ate that you might hunt, gather, pluck, or otherwise forage in the wild (even if that modern-day “wild” means Whole Foods and your local farmers' market).

This becomes important when you consider the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stats show approximately 35 percent of American adults are obese, paving the way for heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

When you eliminate sugar, gluten, dairy, and other ubiquitous modern-day foods for a whole food, unprocessed, nutrient-dense, low-sugar Paleo diet, you stabilize blood sugar to reduce hunger and cravings. In the process, you may lose some weight and reduce your risk for chronic disease.

One study found for folks with Type 2 diabetes, even a short-term Paleo diet improved glucose control and lipid profiles better than the American Diabetes Association (ADA) plan that contains Paleo no-no’s like low-fat dairy, whole grains, and legumes.

And a systematic review found a Paleo diet improved metabolic syndrome better than guideline-based diets that often contain gluten, dairy, and other non-Paleo foods.

To get those and other benefits, I use these 5 principles to help my clients upgrade those Paleo benefits.

1. Choose Quality Meats

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t contend with hormones, antibiotics, and other problems commonly found in modern meat.When you shop for meat, grass-fed and wild – which mimic what our ancestors ate – proves superior to conventional meats. Studies show grass-fed beef contains a superior nutrient profile compared with grain-fed beef. Another found farm-raised fish contains fewer nutrients like Vitamin D compared with wild fish.

2. Buy Organic

Studies show organic foods, which aren’t treated with pesticides and other potential toxins, contain more nutrients like vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus compared with their non-organic versions. They might cost a bit more, but they’re usually worth it. For a list of must-buy organic foods (and ones you can get away with buying conventionally), see the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) most pesticide-ridden produce chart.

3. Don't Be Afraid To Deviate

You can marry the benefits of Paleo foods with a few nutrient-rich sources our ancestors didn’t have, including legumes and dairy (if you can tolerate them). These are just suggestions to add a little more variety, however some people will do better without dairy, legumes, and other staples.

4. Beware Of Paleo Comfort Foods

Cookies and bread weren’t available in the wild, but manufacturers have cashed in on “Paleo” versions of comfort foods. If you occasionally indulge, scrutinize labels for artificial sweeteners, excessive amounts of sugar alcohols, and other decidedly un-Paleo ingredients. You can find plenty of delicious, satisfying Paleo recipes on my own site and right here on Food Matters.

5. Boost Your Fiber

Studies show Americans get less than half of the recommended fiber levels, and that folks who do low-carbohydrate diets fare even lower. A well-designed Paleo diet includes tons of leafy and cruciferous veggies, low-sugar fruit, nuts and seeds, and other nutrient-dense, fiber-rich plant foods.

If you’ve ever done a Paleo diet, what benefits did you see? Do you ever have trouble maintaining your plan? Share your thoughts below.

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