Paleo Diet: Good or Bad?

Raw tenderloin steak with seasoning, garlic, and asparagus

The insanely popular Paleo diet cuts out dairy, legumes, grains, and processed junk foods in favor of nuts, meat, and other foods said to be preferred by our ancient ancestors.  The concept behind the Paleo Diet is that Humans evolved on a diet very different from today. Therefore, it is argued that to be healthier, leaner, stronger and fitter, we must change our diet and remove foods that the cavemen couldn’t eat. The diet promises that you will have more energy, weight loss, and clearer skin. While the Paleo Diet might have good qualities let’s take a closer look to see if it is actually good for you.

Paleo Diet Guidelines

Following the paleo diet should be high in fat, moderate in animal protein, and low to moderate in carbohydrates.

  • Eat good amounts of animal protein including red meat, poultry, pork, eggs, wild caught fish, and shellfish.
  • Eat generous amounts of saturated fats like coconut oil and butter or clarified butter.
  • Eat lots of fresh or frozen vegetables.
  • Eat low to moderate amounts of fruits and nuts but it is suggested to cut out all fruits and nuts.
  • Cut out all cereal grains and legumes. Including but not limited to: wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, brown rice, soy, peanuts, kidney beans, pinto beans, navy beans and black eyed peas.
  • Cut out all vegetable, hydrogenated and partly-hydrogenated oils including margarine, soybean oil, corn oil, peanut oil, canola oil, safflower oil, and sunflower oil.
  • Eliminate added sugar, soft drinks, all packaged sweets and juice (including fruit juices).
  • Eliminate dairy products other than butter and maybe heavy cream.

Pros

Quality Nutrients. The diet really stresses eating food full of nutrients. It emphasizes vegetables and fruits so that you are getting plenty of fiber and healthy carbs. Also, it emphasizes consuming the highest quality proteins you can find which research shows is healthier for you.

No Preservatives. You are more likely to eat a clean diet without additives, preservatives, or chemicals.

More Iron. If you are eating more red meat, you will get more iron.

May eat less. You may see improved satiety- a feeling of fullness between meals, due to the higher intake of protein and fats.

Weight Loss. Many people lose weight primarily due to the limited food choices.

Cons

It’s restrictive. It can be difficult to follow and almost impossible to eat out anywhere.  It also may be hard to sustain long-term because it cuts out so many food groups. Also, the amount of carbohydrates may be inadequate for athletes. The diet does allow some carbohydrates, but it is still fairly restrictive.

Too much protein. The diet is higher in protein, which is an important nutrient to build and maintain muscle. But too much protein usually means too little carbohydrate, which is the energy source for exercise.

Is it Necessary? It forgets that we have evolved, including our digestion system, since the cavemen. For the majority of the population these foods are ok to eat and don’t cause problems.

No legumes. The Paleo diet says we shouldn’t eat legumes because of their high concentration of anti-nutrients like lectins and phytates. Research suggests however that the benefits of legumes outweigh their anti-nutrient content. Cooking eliminates most anti-nutrient effects, and some anti-nutrients (like lectins) may even be good for us.

No grains. As for grains, Paleo say grains can lead to inflammation and related health problems. This can be true for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. But research suggests that eating whole grains improves our health. At the least, whole grains appear to be neutral when it comes to inflammation.  

The Verdict

Bottom line: eliminating legumes and grains from our diet (minus the exception of those with celiacs or gluten sensitivity) is probably a bad idea.

If you want to follow the Paleo Diet be sure to cater the diet towards your health needs. A one-size-fits-all diet approach is probably not the best for you.

If you take away foods and nutrients and don’t find suitable replacements, you can create a nutrient imbalance.

You might want to consider a diet that includes protein, grains, and a little fat at every meal.

Sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-berardi-phd/paleo-diet_b_5774200.html

http://www.prevention.com/weight-loss/weight-loss-tips/health-pros-and-cons-paleo-diet

http://share.upmc.com/2016/04/pros-cons-paleo-diet/