Paleo diet: how to lose weight by going back to basics

Otherwise known as the Caveman diet...
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  • The Paleo Diet is a weight loss plan which encourages you to change your eating habits for life, so there's no need for any more extreme diets.

    Also known as the Caveman diet or the Paleolithic diet, the Paleo diet and works by restricting you to only eating foods that were available in the Stone Ages. But don’t worry, you are allowed to cook it all using modern technology!

    What is the Paleo diet?

    The diet excludes any foods with modern toxins, limiting you to food you could literally hunt and gather (if the mood took you). The theory behind it is that our bodies haven’t really changed since the Stone Ages and we aren’t designed to cope with a modern diet, which is why there is an obesity epidemic across the world.

    A big fan of The Paleo Diet is Dr Loren Cordain who believes that processed and artificial foods have had a terrible effect on our health and that they are responsible for many of the diseases of modern civilization such as diabetes and cancer.

    Dr Cordain’s book, The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy By Eating The Food You Were Designed To Eat is the most popular book on the subject on Amazon and it breaks down how you can incorporate caveman eating rituals into everyday life.

    Who is the Paleo diet good for?

    It has been reported that people on the Paleo diet feel less tired so this could be a good one to try if you suffer with energy levels. It’s also a steady, long-term diet so ideal if you’re after a lifestyle change, rather than a quick, extreme diet.

    Plenty of celebs, such as Uma Thurman and Jessica Biel, swear by the Paleo lifestyle, and if it’s good enough for them, we’re not going to complain.

    And the good news, if you’re a big meat fan, is that you can eat as much steak as you like!

    What does a typical day look like?

    Due to its strict nature, The Paleo Diet encourages a gradual adjustment, so a typical day shifts as time goes on. To make the transition easier, Dr Cordain has developed 3 stages to help the body adjust, giving you an idea of how your days might look.

    Stage 1 – Entry level

    Dr Cordain explains that on average we eat 20 meals a week, so to start The Paleo Diet he suggests leaving 3 of the meals ‘open’. In other words, you can eat what you like. The open meals, he says, provide a good opportunity to taste some of the foods you may miss the most. This also helps the body adjust to the gradual removal of major food groups.

    Also, during this stage you may still have salad dressings, sauces, coffee, alcohol and sugar-free soft drinks. Start using them in moderation to assist with the transition.

    Stay on this stage until you feel comfortable with the adjustments and then move on.

    Stage 2 – Maintenance level

    For the second stage the ‘open’ meals are reduced to 2 per week. At this level you should restrict all transitional foods to these 2 meals.

    Stage 3 – Maximum Weight loss Level

    This stage leaves only 1 ‘open’ meal per week. Dr Cordain says: ‘This is the highest level, designed for true Paleo Diet aficionados who wants to maximize health and wellbeing, or for individuals suffering from true obesity or high levels of chronic disease who need to maximize the therapeutic effects of the diet.’

    Once you know what you can and can’t eat with The Paleo Diet you can make your own meals, Dr Cordain offers a few suggestions in his book and we’ve picked a few of our favourites to give you an idea of what you can expect.

    Paleo diet recipes ideas


    Steak with peach salsa

    • 1 cup fresh peaches, peeled and finely chopped
    • 1⁄4 cup red onions, chopped
    • 1⁄4 cup yellow or green peppers, chopped
    • 1tsp lime juice
    • 2tsp fresh cilantro
    • Cayenne pepper to taste

    In a medium-sized bowl, stir all ingredients together. Cover and chill for up to 6 hours. Makes 2 cups. Serve with steak.


    Shrimp stuffed avocado

    • 4 large avocados, peeled and halved, seeds removed
    • 11⁄2 cup small salad shrimp, cooked and washed
    • 1tsp lemon juice
    • 1tsp onion powder
    • 1tsp black pepper
    • 1tsp paprika

    Set avocados on serving plate with cut side facing up. Combine shrimp, lemon juice, onion powder, and pepper in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Spoon shrimp mixture onto each avocado, covering generously. Sprinkle top of each stuffed avocado with paprika before serving. Serves 4.


    Broiled tenderloin of pork with spicy rub

    • 1 minced garlic clove
    • 1tsp paprika
    • 1tsp dry mustard
    • 1tsp ground coriander
    • 1tsp canola oil
    • 1tsp flaxseed oil
    • 1tsp red wine
    • 1lb very lean pork tenderloin, trimmed of all visible fat and cut butterflied down the middle

    Mix garlic and dry spices with a mortar and pestle. Add in the oils and wine to make a paste. Rub the paste on the butterflied pork one hour before broiling. Broil pork 2 to 3 inches from heat source for about 6 minutes per side or until it is cooked to desired condition. Serves 4.

    Fresh fruit, homemade beef jerky, raw vegetables, nuts, sunflower seeds, avocado or tomato slices, cold slices of beef or chicken.

    What are the pros of the Paleo diet ?

    Most people who have followed a Paleo diet have reported weight loss – so that’s the obvious pro. Aside from maintained weight loss it’s also good for people with big appetite, because there’s no calorie counting or portion-size restriction.

    With its restrictions it cuts out additives, preservatives, or chemicals so would be perfect if you’re concerned about these in your diet.

    What are the cons of the Paleo diet?

    The Paleo Diet is quiet an extreme eating plan to follow and there are a few drawbacks you should consider before starting on it.

    The Paleo Diet is very restrictive and some people find the strict rules difficult, or even impossible, to stick to. The food could also become boring without any of your familiar treats allowed.

    The diet eliminates some vegetables, too, so if you’re a picky eater it could be tricky to find healthy, nutritious options that you still enjoy eating. Plus, by excluding various different types of food, some claim the diet is very low in nutrients like calcium and dietary fiber.

    Sad news for vegetarians, this one isn’t for you. The diet cannot be followed by vegetarians or vegans as protein is gained through meat and maintaining a healthy and balanced diet on fruits and veggies alone would be tricky.

    Some critics of this weight loss method think that the diet contains too much meat, which they say isn’t good for you.

    So what are the Paleo foods I should avoid?

    To get you going here’s a quick list of the top foods to avoid…

    • Processed foods
    • Refined vegetable oils
    • Dairy – all processed foods made with any dairy products including butter, cheese, cream, yogurt and milk
    • Fatty meats – bacon, ribs, chicken legs/thighs/wings/skin, pork/lamb chops, etc
    • Cereal grains – barley, corn, oats, rice, rye, wheat, etc
    • Legumes – beans, chickpeas, peas, lentils, peanuts, soybean products etc
    • Refined sugar and honey
    • Starchy veg – potatoes and all potato products, cassava root, tapioca pudding, yams
    • Overly salty food – salad dressings, condiments, ham, olives, processed meats, sausages, smoked/dried/salted meat, canned meats and fish, chips, pickled foods
    • sweets, crisps and other processed food
    • Fruit juice
    • Soft drinks
    • Alcohol

    And what Paleo foods can I eat?

    And here’s a quick reference guide to what you should be eating lots of while following a Paleo diet…

    • Fresh fruit – all non-dried fruit
    • Fresh veggies – all non-starchy veg
    • Fish and seafood – any commercially available fish: bass, cod, salmon, tuna, trout etc
    • Grass-fed meat – beef and pork trimmed of visible fat, but nothing processed
    • Game-fed meat – goose, wild boar, wild turkey, pheasant, quail etc
    • Lean poultry – chicken or turkey breasts, skin removed
    • Eggs – limited to 6 a week
    • Nuts – no salted nuts
    • Seeds
    • Healthy oils (use in moderation – less than 4tbsp a day)- think olive, flaxseed and coconut

    The above recipes are reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Food You Were Designed to Eat, by Loren Cordain. Copyright © 2002 by Loren Cordain. New edition featuring updated content was published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. November 2010.