As I look around on Pinterest and fellow food blogger sites lately, I see a lot of Paleo recipes and I’ve been wondering…what the heck is Paleo? To answer that question, I decided to do a little research to find out more about the Paleo diet.
Paleo is short for Paleolithic, which is the premise of the diet (also referred to as the caveman diet or stone age diet). The concept of the Paleo diet is to eat as our paleolithic ancestors did, with a diet consisting primarily of meat, vegetables, nuts and seeds and small amounts of starch and fruit.
Paleo diet proponents believe that the processed and mass produced foods that weren’t available during Paleolithic times work against us genetically, and getting back to the basics-the foods our cave dwelling ancestors consumed-will allow us to be healthier since we’re eating foods that are naturally in tune with our bodies. Critics of the program say that while eliminating processed and refined foods is a great idea for improving health, removing grains, legumes and dairy from your diet can leave you deficient in vitamins, proteins, fiber and calcium that your body needs for good health.
According to proponents of the Paleo diet, the advent of agriculture and grain farming has led to a modern diet consisting of processed, refined and grain heavy foods that make us unhealthy, unhappy, and more prone to disease; following the Paleo diet will lead to weight loss, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and lower blood sugar,
With the Paleo plan, all processed and refined foods are removed from the diet. Basically, if the cavemen didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t either. This means no processed foods, refined sugar, grains, legumes, alcohol or dairy. It also means no processed vegetable oils or industrially raised meats. Examples of acceptable foods on the Paleo plan could include grass fed meats, fish and seafood, nuts and seeds (almonds, sunflower seeds), fresh vegetables and fruit, eggs (free range), olive oil, and coconut oil.
The Paleo diet has merit in that most nutritionists and experts will agree that reducing or removing processed and refined foods from your diet will improve your overall health; these processed foods have likely contributed to many of the health and obesity issues that have become prevalent in our society. Where the debate arises is on the focus of eating a diet consisting largely of meats and removing dairy, grains and legumes from the diet.
The debate over grains is certainly a subject of discussion in its own right. While whole grains have typically been considered the staple of a healthy diet (at least in American society), many believe that the gluten found in grain products causes negative health effects. Whatever your particular beliefs on the subject of grains in your diet, whole grains are a big source of fiber, and removing grains from your diet means you need to get fiber from other sources, which can be a challenge with the Paleo diet.
Removing dairy and legumes from the Paleo diet is also a concern among nutrition and dietary experts. Dairy is a big source of calcium which keeps our bones strong and prevents conditions such as osteoporosis. Legumes (beans) are also a great source of protein and fiber, so if grains and legumes are removed, fiber might be hard to fit in to the Paleo diet.
While I agree with the notion that reducing or removing processed and refined foods from your diet is beneficial, the thing that strikes me about this diet is the limitations on what a person should eat if they’re following the Paleo diet as it was intended; this diet would likely require a lot of dedication to follow and maintain. I relate this concept to the Atkins or low carb diets that were popular many years ago. People lost a lot of weight on these diet plans, but limiting themselves to only low carb foods was not a sustainable eating plan for many and often they gained weight back when carbs were added back to their diets. And in some ways the Paleo diet is similar to a low carb plan as both diets include lots of meats and vegetables and little to no carbs (which are primarily found in grain based products), or fruit.
Another point to consider with the Paleo diet is that while many claim that following the diet will lead to weight loss, lower cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure, there has been little scientific research to prove that the diet will actually cause these outcomes. However, many who follow the diet say that it has been very successful for them. This could be due more to the removal of processed foods from their diet and the overall reduction of calories and not necessarily due to the removal of all of the other foods in the diet plan.
Now that we have a better understanding of what the Paleo diet is…is it worth trying? Eating more natural, unprocessed food is always going to be beneficial to our health and well being, whether it’s for weight loss benefits or better overall health and fitness, and the Paleo diet definitely promotes this concept. But following the diet would require giving up a lot of food items, and that may not be a commitment some are willing or able to make, and according to some experts, may cause people to give up foods essential to their health. Like many other diets, the answer to this question is a personal one, and the decision to try a new diet should be an informed one. Ultimately, fad diets don’t work…a long term commitment to healthy eating is the best way to achieve lasting results.
Sources for this article: The Paleo Diet: For and Against; What to Eat on the Paleo Diet; David Katz MD: Can We Really Eat Like Our Ancestors Did?; Practical Paleo Living ; What is the Paleo Diet; Paleo Diet-What You Need to Know
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