What does it mean to eat “paleo”?

That is a loaded question. “Paleo” is short for Paleolithic, which is the era that began about 2.5 million years ago and ended about 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture and grain-based diets. Therefore, a “paleo diet” is a pattern of eating based on the presumed diet of the hominid species living during that era.

Sounds easy enough, but it is much more complicated than that. For one thing, there was no single “paleo” diet. Our caveman and cavewomen ancestors ate wildly different foods depending on where in the world they lived and what was available to them. For another, our environment and therefore the foods available to us today are dramatically different. And most of us are too busy doing modern world things like holding down jobs and living in cities to be able to devote a good portion of each day to hunting wild animals and gathering wild plants for our dinner!

So the goal is not historically accurate reenactment, but to eat the foods that most closely resemble the ones our ancestors ate and eschew the ones that are relatively recent modern inventions. This way of eating is an effective strategy for weight loss and for improving physical performance, so the paleo diet has gained a lot of mainstream attention in recent years. It also promotes general health and offers protection from many of the so-called “diseases of civilization” like heart disease, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders.

At its simplest level, the paleo framework looks like this:

Do eat Don’t eat
Meat, seafood, eggs Grains
Vegetables and fruits Legumes
Fats and oils Dairy
Nuts and seeds Processed “modern” foods

Of course, there are many variations to this. Some people find that they can consume high-quality dairy without problem (and they might call themselves “primal” eaters rather than “paleo” but the terminology really doesn’t matter). Other people discover that nuts and seeds do not agree with them or need to be limited in quantity. Some don’t eat white potatoes, others do eat white rice, and still others make room in their diet for pseudo-grains such as buckwheat or quinoa or even “properly prepared” grains and legumes that have been soaked or sprouted to remove some of the damaging anti-nutrients.

Food quality is also important. When eating meat or eggs, what the animal ate and how it was raised matters too. Eating grass-fed, pasture-raised, organic-fed, or wild-caught fish and seafood is best. Vegetables and fruits that have not been sprayed with pesticides or genetically modified are preferred. Foods that are in their natural form are better than ones that have been processed in some way.

The bottom line: Eat whole foods. Eliminate refined foods.

Isn’t paleo just a fad diet?

Paleo might be popular but it is not a fad diet. In fact, there is an astounding amount of research that shows how an ancestral diet promotes excellent health. If you are interested in learning more, you can start with the work of Dr. Loren Cordain and his popular book The Paleo Diet Revised, or if you are more scientifically minded, his published research papers.

Why is a paleo a good diet for someone with Crohn’s disease?

I intend to write on this topic over the coming weeks and months and will update this page with appropriate links when I do. For now, here are the broad reasons.

  1. A paleo diet eliminates gluten containing grains. Read my post about why people with Crohn’s disease should not eat wheat gluten, even if they do not have confirmed celiac disease.
  2. Anti-nutrients that cause leaky gut, which leads to autoimmunity and chronic inflammation, are eliminated on a paleo diet.
  3. With autoimmune modifications, a paleo diet helps regulate immune dysfunction that is the underlying cause of Crohn’s disease and other autoimmune diseases..
  4. With the inclusion of fermented foods, a paleo diet promotes healthy gut flora.
  5. A paleo diet promotes an optimal ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids, which can help put Crohn’s disease into remission.
  6. A highly nutrient dense paleo diet provides the macro and micronutrients necessary to heal the gut after years of active disease have damaged it.