Paleolothic, Caveman Diet, the Hunter-Gatherer Diet. A few terms used to describe the most commonly referred to Paleo diet, a way of eating that is touted to best resemble that of our ancestors. The Paleo diet has gained widespread popularity over the past couple years, most notably with the rise of the Cross Fit exercise craze. The two appear to go hand in hand like bacon and eggs or steak and potatoes.
So what does a nutrition professional think of the Paleo Diet? Are we all better off going back to our roots and living off the land? Here’s the inside scoop.
The theory behind the Paleo diet is that emphasizing pre-agricultural revolution foods is the optimal way of eating to prevent “disease of civilization” such as heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. By eliminating refined sugars, dairy, legumes and grains, Paleo advocates believe that we can live a disease-free life and lose a few pounds too. The diet includes plenty of grass-fed meat, poultry, fish and seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds, fruits, vegetables, and plant-based oils (olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, coconut).
As the description states, the Paleo diet emphasizes many healthful foods. Most anyone would benefit from a diet rich in whole-foods and low in processed foods, specifically refined carbohydrates. Concerns arise in the sustainability of the Paleo diet. Paleo diet resources including the website and book offer countless meal and recipe ideas, however if one can’t get over the idea of saying goodbye to pancakes, bread, and pasta, it may be a challenging feat to take on. Enjoying a meal at most restaurants can be done with ease by sticking with meat, chicken or fish and vegetable sides. Just say “no” to alcohol, coffee, and most condiments; our ancestors didn’t have access to them, so nor are they Paleo-approved. A nice feature of the Paleo diet is the inclusion of up to three “cheat” meals per week, so you can have your cake and eat it occasionally too.
Another concern of the Paleo diet is the lack of guidelines with selection of protein-rich foods. Saturated fat intake can become a concern if too many eggs, steaks or slices of bacon are consumed. However when consumed in moderation with a healthy mix of leaner cuts of skinless poultry, pork, and fish, the Paleo diet may provide cardiovascular benefit, particularly with the elimination of sugars and refined carbs. It tends to be naturally low in sodium thanks to the focus on whole foods.
A protein-rich diet like that of Paleo is good for those who don’t like feeling hungry while on a diet. If you’re looking to lose weight, however, there does have to be a limit on the bacon. Following a Paleo diet, or any whole foods diet for that matter will not produce weight loss unless a calorie deficit is achieved.
Other nutritional concerns arise when one eliminates grains and dairy, good sources of B-vitamins and calcium. However, with a high intake of meat, poultry, fish and vegetables on the Paleo plan, B-vitamins shouldn’t be a challenge to consume in sufficient amounts. Research on the calcium intake of Paleo dieters shows that there isn’t much difference in comparison to the typical Western diet.
So what does the RD think? I believe anyone can thrive on a whole foods, I mean, Paleo diet. Replacing processed foods, many of which tend to be grains, with whole, natural plants and animal proteins is a good thing. If it just happens to align with Paleo, then so be it. Will the occasional whole grain cause harm to ones’ health? Not likely, so go ahead and have that bread-rich sandwich once in a while
One of my favorite Paleo approved breakfasts.
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Heather Petraszko MS,RD