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The Paleo Diet, also called the Caveman or Stone Age diet, continues as a hot trend in the weight loss world. The good news is that some preliminary research shows eating like our ancestors can have other health benefits beyond weight loss.
The bad news is that, like other types of fad diets, there can be risks to eating this way.
Lots of lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and healthier fats make up the Paleo eating plan. Foods to avoid include dairy products, grain-based foods, legumes (dried beans and peas), processed foods, salt, alcohol and coffee.
This way of eating was first proposed by Dr. Walter Voegtlin in his 1975 book named the “Stone Age Diet” and popularized more recently by Loren Cordain in his 2002 book, the “Paleo Diet”. It is based on a theory of evolutionary medicine. That is, that the foods we’ve eaten since agriculture was introduced 10,000 years ago are responsible for chronic diseases since there hasn’t been enough time for our bodies to evolve to be able to digest and use these foods property.
No definitive data to date supports this theory, yet that doesn’t mean that eating paleo-style to some extent isn’t beneficial in some ways.
1. Simple eating. An emphasis on lean protein, fruits and vegetables fits what many countries’ dietary guidelines recommend. The modern-day industrialized nation diet represented by an over indulgence on calories, fats, sugars and salts clearly isn’t the optimal way to eat or there wouldn’t be epidemics of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Instead, a simpler way of eating that calls for shopping the perimeters of the supermarket (produce, meat and seafood) instead of the middle aisles (cookies, chips and processed food) is recommended by many government health agencies.
In fact, U.S. researchers published an article in the “Journal of Nutrition” earlier this year that showed eating styles that are Paleolithic- and Mediterranean-like are associated with lower levels of chronic inflammation that can cause cancer and other chronic ills. Also, since the Paleo diet doesn’t allow added salt, it can help people with or who are prone to high blood pressure.
2. Weight loss. Research shows that diets with plenty of lean proteins, fruits and vegetables can create a feeling of satiety (fullness) that can indeed curb overeating and lead to weight loss.
Beyond this, Swedish scientists published an article in “Diabetes Metabolism Research Reviews” this spring that showed eating Paleo-style may help those with Type II diabetes to better control their blood sugar.
However, when Australian researchers looked at blood sugar control, weight loss and heart health indices in 39 women who ate the Paleo way compared to recommendations of the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, their article published this year in the journal “Nutrients” reported no significant differences between groups. Australia’s guide, like that of the U.S. and other countries, includes rather than excludes dairy and whole grains as the Paleo diet does.
1. Dollars and time. The sheer amount of protein called for in this diet can put a strain on the pocketbook. The strict forbiddance of processed foods means every meal is a cook-from-scratch effort.
2. Risk of deficiencies. Eliminating any basic food group such as dairy or grains can lead to a deficit of vitamins and minerals. In fact, the British Dietetic Association in its review of Top 5 Worst Celebrity Diets to Avoid in 2015 called the Paleo Diet a Jurassic fad, especially because without careful planning, the lack of good groups such as dairy can lead to a lack of calcium and compromised bone health.
Other research shows that Vitamin D, also found widely in dairy, as well as the B vitamins and folate available in grains, can also be dangerously lacking. Therefore, if you definitely want to go Paleo, take a multivitamin-multimineral daily.
Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and freelance health and nutrition writer. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.