This real food way of eating that seeks to imitate the way our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate, known as the paleo diet, has been getting a lot of press recently, both good and bad.
People who "go paleo" report everything from significant weight loss to reversing or controlling many chronic conditions from asthma to autoimmune and depression.
But some dietitians and nutritionists warn it's too restrictive and hard to follow, such that people can't stick with it long term.
So, how do you get the benefits of "going paleo" without becoming overwhelmed and overly rigid in your eating and lifestyle? These eight tips will have you getting 80% of the results with only 20% of the effort:
1. Cut out processed food.
If it comes in a package and can sit on a shelf for weeks, or even years, then it should be eliminated from your diet. In many cases that item is at-best a food-like product full of preservatives. Cook real food at home using fresh ingredients.
2. Quit sugar.
This includes fake sugars, like aspartame and those found in diet sodas, and sugar alcohols, which are typically used in low-carb foods and protein bars. Sugar, and all its imitators, can affect everything from insulin sensitivity to balance of gut bacteria, both of which have implications for long term metabolic health. The more you read labels and prepare your own food, the easier it will be to recognize hidden sugars and get over sugar cravings.
3. Eliminate gluten.
Increasing research indicates that gluten may increase gut permeability, cause allergies and food sensitivities and be a factor in autoimmune conditions and Alzheimer's. If you want the best results when eliminating gluten from your diet, don't just replace everything with the gluten-free alternative. Try to eat more naturally gluten-free sources of complex carbohydrates like starchy vegetables, potatoes and sweet potatoes, and occasionally rice and quinoa.
4. Eat fermented foods.
Nearly every indigenous culture around the world has some form of fermented food, such as kimchi, sauerkraut and kefir. Fermented foods help balance and restore gut bacteria and support immune health. When you're getting store bought, make sure they're fresh, refrigerated and un-pasteurized to ensure the probiotics are still alive. Or, better yet, make it at home.
5. Get at least 7 hours of sleep.
Sleep is critical to healthy metabolic function. In controlled trials, it beats almost any diet in terms of weight loss, reduced belly fat, and ability to make healthier food choices. It is also essential for the repair and rebuilding of the body, as well as productivity, focus and managing stress. Cavemen were definitely not kept awake by cellphones, TVs, or computers, so turn off those devices earlier for a better nights rest: aim for at least 7 hours.
6. Get some sun.
Our ancestors would not have spent all day indoors and applied sunscreen for a 10 minute walk outside. Our bodies are used to some sun exposure, and actually benefit from it. Sun helps the body produce Vitamin D, which does everything from influence the immune system, improve mood to help build bones. One to two 10-15 minute exposures per day should be sufficient for most people.
7. Move naturally.
The body was designed to move and not in the restricted way of treadmills, elliptical machines, or other exercise equipment. Walk, run, dance, lift, carry, drag, squat, climb, crouch, these are natural, ancestral styles of body movements. Do them barefoot, if possible, to strengthen all the little muscles in your feet and improve balance and posture. For inspiration on natural, instinctive movement, watch kids play.
8. Find community.
Throughout history our ancestors have lived in communities, relying on each other for survival, but also for work, play and celebration. They connected face-to-face and had tight bonds of support, friendship and care. Find a group of people that you connect with in your area (not just online) and get together often to improve longevity.