Following the Paleolithic diet, or Paleo for short, requires you to consume a diet rich in meats, fruits, vegetables and nuts. The term “Paleolithic” refers to the Stone Age era when cave men had to hunt for food while the women and children gathered nuts and other foodstuffs for meals. Proponents of Paleo believe that our bodies are not meant to digest grains, legumes and dairy. Since your diet is somewhat restricted, you can only use certain types of fat for cooking. If you are new to Paleo, talk with your physician before making any drastic changes to your diet.
Lard is a Paleo-friendly cooking fat that works well at high temperatures. Although by definition lard is pig fat, when people speak of lard today they also include beef tallow and duck fat, which, like pig fat, are highly saturated, making them very stable for cooking. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, but render into liquid form during cooking. Even though animal fats may be ideal for cooking while following the Paleo diet, too much saturated fat can be harmful. A diet rich in saturated fat can increase your chances of cardiovascular disease by raising your bad low-density lipoprotein, or LDL cholesterol, according to MayoClinic.com.
Coconut oil or butter is allowed on the Paleo diet, although the foods you cook will take on the strong coconut flavor. Similar to lard and animal fat, coconut oil or butter is also rich in saturated fat. Other heart-friendly fats may be healthier options on your Paleo diet.
If you love nuts, cooking with nut oils gives your food a rich nutty flavor. Peanut, macadamia and walnut oil are just a few of the Paleo-friendly types of nut oils. These types of fats provide monounsaturated fats, also known as MUFAs. Monounsaturated fats are especially beneficial since they help improve your cholesterol levels, thus reducing your risk of heart disease. MUFAs are also tied with stabilizing your blood sugar levels, which is important if you suffer from diabetes. The high MUFA content in nut oils gives them a lower cooking stability than saturated fat options and you need to cook with them over a lower temperature than you do with lard.
Avocado and Olive Oil
Other types of cooking fat you can use while following the Paleo diet include avocado and olive oil. Both of these oils are loaded with MUFAs and are super healthy for your heart. If you decide to work with either of these oils, cook at a medium-low to medium heat for a short time. These oils can burn easily, which can give your food a bitter taste.
Why Are Legumes Not a Paleo Food?
The Paleo diet weight loss is based on foods your hunter-gather ancestors ate during the Paleolithic period, before the introduction of agriculture. The foods allowed on the Paleo diet include seasonal fruits and vegetables, ethical protein sources from wild-caught fish, free-range chicken and their eggs and grass-fed meat, as well as fats from coconut oil, olive oil, avocado and occasional nuts and nut butter. The Paleo diet encourages you to eliminate all grains, legumes, dairy, sugar and processed foods from your diet. Because peanuts took too long to grow, they were not consumed by early humans. Proponents of the Paleo diet also avoid peanuts due to their potential negative heath effects.
Legumes, just like grains, contain lectins and other compounds that were developed by plants to fight off insects. These lectins increase intestinal permeability and may trigger your immune system to turn against your own body, leading to autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus and vitiligo, according to Dr. Loren Cordain. One of the world’s leading experts on Paleolithic diets, Cordain is a member of the faculty of the department of health and exercise science at Colorado State University, and author of “The Paleo Diet.”
Protease Inhibitors and Anti-Nutrients
Legumes contain substances called protease inhibitors as well as anti-nutrients, which can prevent you from getting enough nutrition from your foods. This is according to Robb Wolf, former biochemist, student of Cordain and author of “The Paleo Solution.” Cordain claims that these anti-nutrients, or phytates, prevent the proper absorption of B vitamins, iron, zinc, copper and calcium in the intestines.
Soy is abundantly consumed and is present not only in tofu, but also in soy burgers, soy sausages and other vegetarian alternatives. Soy is rich in phytoestrogens, a compound similar to estrogen, a female hormone. In your body, the phytoestrogens from soy can either stimulate or interfere with the role of estrogens and are associated with a more painful and longer menstrual cycle in females and lower sperm count in males.
If you want to give the Paleo diet a try, try eliminating all legumes for a period of 30 days to see if you feel any difference. Legumes not only include beans and lentils, but also soy and all soy-based products. Don’t forget that peanuts and peanut butter also belong to the legume family and are not recommended on the Paleo diet. Before making any changes though, it is recommended to consult your physician and get some blood work done to ensure the Paleo diet is safe for you.