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How to protect your gut health with the paleo diet

Our ancestors who lived between 2 million and 12,000 years ago lacked the food security we enjoy today - security that’s come as a result of large-scale agriculture and distribution systems. But our ancestors weren’t necessarily less healthy: some studies show that not only did they have a more diverse diet, they also showed signs of excellent health through stronger bones and teeth.

But what were their diets like? Typically, due to being hunter-gatherers, they survived off meats, fish, nuts, and other wild-gathered foods, like purslane leaves.1 These eating habits, which have become commonly known as the paleo diet, have gained popularity over recent times with some studies linking this way of eating to greater overall health, in addition to aiding weight loss, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. But if the paleo diet isn't undertaken properly it can quickly lead to nutritional and digestive system deficiencies.2, 3Here we'll take you through what the paleo diet is and how it can benefit your health as well as the potential health pitfalls of the diet and what you can do to protect your gut health along the way.

Paleo diet philosophy

Is your body designed to cope with the diet of our distant ancestors? Paleo diet adherents who argue yes typically reason that, because the human race existed for a long time hunting and gathering for food - 35,000 years compared to 10,000 years in the agricultural era - our bodies have evolved based on the foods our palaeolithic ancestors ate.4 These foods include:

  • Wild game
  • Lean, and preferably free-range, grass-fed meats
  • All seafood
  • Free-range eggs
  • Moderate amounts of olive, flaxseed and coconut oils
  • All fruits
  • Vegetables, including root vegetables
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Herbs and spices
  • Honey

Whereas, the foods that our ancestors didn't have access to (as a result of a lack of modern agricultural practices), and thus those on the paleo diet should avoid, include:

  • All grains: wheat, oats, rice, rye, corn, barley, spelt and amaranth
  • Dairy products
  • Some high-starch vegetables, such as potatoes
  • Legumes
  • Processed meat
  • Packaged and canned foods
  • Sugar and artificial sweeteners
  • Added salt

The benefits

A well-planned paleo diet can be highly beneficial for your overall health. It is high in fibre, antioxidants, mono- and polyunsaturated fats, and protein. It also supplies potassium, which is typically deficient in people consuming a Western diet. The diet also boasts a low glycemic index, in contrast with the Western diet which typically includes carbohydrates that spike blood sugar.5, A recent study revealed that the low glycemic index of the carbohydrates sources in the paleo diet, which includes beets, sweet potatoes and squash, promoted a reduction in overall glucose levels by 36% and reduced insulin secretion by 30% in comparison with a conventional diet.6

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Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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