The Paleo Diet, otherwise known as the “Caveman Diet,” has been receiving lots of of press lately with its authors touting it as the “world’s healthiest diet” on their website.
But is it really the best diet for us?
Let’s take a deeper look at what the Paleo Diet is, the benefits it promotes, and whether or not it truly works.
What is it?
The Paleo Diet is based on eating what cavemen supposedly ate 10,000 years ago -- a diet rich in plants and wild animals.
The belief is that our bodies are genetically programmed to eat in the same way out Paleolithic ancestors once ate and by doing so, can promote health and decrease the incidence of chronic disease.
According to Victoria Jarzabkowski, RD, LD, the guidelines of the diet are pretty simple.
“Foods that are allowed on a Paleo diet include unlimited amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables (organic is encouraged), meats (preferably grass produced/fed), fish, seafood, nuts and plant based oils such as olive oil or coconut oil. Foods that are eliminated from the diet are grains, dairy, legumes, alcohol, and all processed foods,” Jarzabowski notes.
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The health claims
Supporters of this diet claim it can do everything from reduce body weight to improve digestion, increase energy, and even help prevent diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.
Advocate Amy Kubal, MS, RD, LN states, “With its basis on real, whole foods the Paleo style of eating is nutrient-dense and void of the additives, preservatives, dyes, chemicals, etc. that are present in many of the modern world's processed foods. Eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, high quality proteins, and healthy fats helps to manage weight and prevent many health complications.”
And it appears some of these claims are supported in research as well.
"The Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology found that individuals following the Paleo diet (versus a group that consumed a diabetic constant carbohydrate diet) showed improved glucose tolerance, decreased insulin secretion, and increased insulin sensitivity compared to the diabetic diet group," Jarzabkowski says.
Although there appear to be many benefits to following the Paleo diet, it doesn’t come without some downsides.
Even supporters like Kubal point out the issues.
“Many say that Paleo eating is expensive, restrictive and requires too much time and planning,” Kubal notes.
However, she is also quick to get back to the positives of Paleo.
"After following this eating plan, the rewards in energy, athletic performance, health and over all well being are often so marked that followers cannot imagine going back to the Standard American Diet (SAD),” Kubal said.
Jarzabkowski voices concerns about this eating style as well.
“The Paleo diet is very restrictive, which may lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies such as calcium and vitamin D," she said. She also mentions that, depending on individual protein choices, this diet can also be high in saturated fat, a nutrient linked to increased inflammation.
The bottom line
So what’s the bottom line?
As Kubal mentions, “From a health and longevity standpoint it cannot be argued that vegetables, fruit, high quality proteins and healthy fats will always trump packaged, processed and convenience foods.”
But do we really need to eat as extreme as the Paleo diet recommends? Probably not.
“Cavemen had drastically shorter lifespans, so it’s impossible to know whether they would have developed many of the chronic diseases that are prevalent today,” Jarzabkowski adds.
The best lessons from Paleo
The best bet is to cut out the processed foods. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats. And when purchasing more processed foods, avoid those with more than 5 ingredients -- especially if you can’t identify what those ingredients even are!
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