What is the diet?
The Paleo diet theory is based on citing the errors in current Western eating patterns, and how different these consumption patterns are from the eating design of the Paleolithic period. The Paleo diet advises us to eat similarly to how our Paleolithic ancestors once did; consume foods as close to a natural state as possible, which includes meat and produce. Avoid foods that would not have been available during that time period; grains, dairy products and sugar. The Paleo diet claims that “this is how humans were designed to eat.”
What is good about the diet?
- Focus on whole foods and eating foods in a natural state. Our Paleolithic ancestors consumed foods as close to fresh as possible. This is sound advice, as the nutrients in foods are typically highest when the food is the most fresh. To find out what produce is in season, check here
- Eating grass-fed meat. 100% grass-fed beef comes from cows who have grazed in pasture year-round rather than being fed a processed diet. Grass feeding improves the nutrition of meat making the beef richer in omega-3 fats, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and healthy fats. For more information on grass-fed meat visit world’s healthiest foods
- Recommends eggs, nuts, and healthy oils. Some of the recommended fat sources in the Paleo diet are rich in nutrients, mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids, and antioxidants.
- Limits alcohol and diet soda. Limiting alcohol consumption (< 1 drink/day for women and < 2 drinks/day for men) is recommended for heart health . While the health verdict is still out on diet soda, consuming less of it may be a good idea.
- Recommends cooking for yourself. Learning how to prepare meals for yourself and your family is tremendously beneficial; it enables you to control the additives in your food, to season food without adding salt, and generally eat less total calories.
What isn’t good about the diet?
- Elimination of major food groups. A Paleo dieter can be categorized by what they have removed from their diet; Paleo dieters generally do not eat dairy or grains of any kind, peanuts, lentils, beans, peas and other legumes are eliminated, and added sugars are prohibited.
- Whole grains. Whole grains are associated with healthy digestion and metabolism, and a reduced risk of heart disease. Removal of whole grains makes it harder to get your daily recommendation of fiber.
- Dairy. Consumption of dairy products (low fat and fat free) is associated with satiety, bone health, reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension in adults. Removal of this entire food group makes it hard (if not impossible) to get some of the health benefits that dairy provides.
- Legumes. Beans are high in minerals and fiber without the saturated fat found in some animal proteins. Eating beans may reduce blood cholesterol, a leading cause of heart disease. Adding beans to your diet may help keep you feeling full longer. Removal of legumes will make it harder to get the recommended daily fiber intake, as well as providing a vegetarian protein option.
- Starchy vegetables. No more crunchy carrots for a snack. No more corn on the cob at a cook-out. No more baked potato, soup with potato, or even baked potato chips! Reducing the amount of starchy vegetables may be OK for weight loss, BUT to eliminate completely is hard (if not impossible) over the long-term.
- Diet can be hard to follow, hard to maintain over time, and very expensive. Imagine a life without a sandwich, ever. No more cereal, rice, bagels, or whole grains. Say goodbye to peanut butter. No more milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice-cream. If you enjoy chili, you are out of luck. And like any eating plan, it can indeed be expensive – especially since Paleo relies so heavily on the produce section and meat counter.
- Not highly researched/without long term studies /making unsubstantiated health claims. “Loren Cordain, PhD, who literally wrote the book on The Paleo Diet, claims that by eating like our prehistoric ancestors, we’ll be leaner and less likely to get diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other health problems” . Many of the health claims made in the Paleo diet books are either not supported by research or have not been studied (1, 2).
- Hard if not impossible to meet RDA of micronutrients. Research has shown that micronutrient deficiency is high in individuals who are overweight or obese (2/3 of the U.S. population), and it is unlikely (if not impossible) to correct any micronutrient deficit following any food based diet (3).
- Can have very high consumption of saturated fat with high meat consumption. Meat is consumed in large quantities, often cooked in animal fat of some kind which is very high in saturated fat. Eating foods that contain saturated fats raises the level of cholesterol in your blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood increase your risk of heart disease and stroke (4).
U.S. News ranks Paleo low for overall diet credibility; not guaranteed weight loss or weight loss maintenance, health claims are unsubstantiated, higher than recommended levels of fat and protein, not adequate in fiber, micronutrients (5).
Any diet plan that is very restrictive, hard to follow, expensive, unbalanced in nutrients and even unpalatable doesn’t seem like a sustainable lifestyle choice… My advice is: take the good ideas from Paleo, and modify to fit into a well-balanced, healthy, happy, and enjoyable eating plan!