The Reality of the Paleo Diet
Last updated on : July 26 2016
Diet trends are popping up every other day. From the MIND Diet to Atkins - dieting has become a chore and hobby for many women. If you have tried dieting or have researched dieting trends, you likely have heard about the Paleo Diet—a much-discussed topic in this area.
As with any other plan, there are arguments for and against the Paleo diet. So let’s take a look at the reality of this diet plan, the good and the bad, and how you to make it work for you.
What is the Paleo Diet?
The essence of the Paleo diet is to return to a caveman diet. Loren Cordain, PhD, a researcher at Colorado State University, developed the Paleolithic diet (commonly referred to as the Paleo diet, caveman diet, or stone-age diet). This diet is a modern-day version of the diet from the Paleolithic era, which was more than 10,000 years ago, prior to the agricultural revolution.
Historical evidence demonstrates that cavemen discovered fire and built tools to help them hunt and gather for food. According to Cordain, this is the way human beings were genetically designed to eat and that is why this diet is recommended for more natural and holistic eating choices and selections. Cordain explains that food has evolved and changed at a more rapid pace compared to the human body. He argues that human beings have yet adapted to digest many of the common contemporary foods and thus chronic diseases and other health problems are on the rise today.
While it is true that the Paleo diet does not have any of the modern-day junk food that causes a number of health ailments, the feasibility of following a diet similar to what our ancestors ate is a question posed quite often during discussions on this diet. There are many debates and interpretations to what foods to eat and what to avoid according to the Paleo diet (as no one can say for sure what specific foods humans ate during the Paleolithic age). For sanity we have covered the very basics of the Paleo diet below.
- Meat, stick to lean meats such as chicken, turkey, buffalo, and lean beef
- Fish and other seafood such as crab, shrimp, and mussels
- Non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, green beans, cauliflower, cabbage, asparagus, and spinach
- Fresh fruits such as apples, oranges, and grapes
- Seeds such as sunflower and pumpkin
- Nuts such as walnuts, pecans, cashews, and almonds (avoid peanuts)
- Healthy, plant-based oils like walnut, coconut, olive, sunflower, and grapeseed
- High-fat and processed meats, examples of which are salami, pepperoni, bologna, ground meat, ribs, and hot dogs
- Starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn and products made from these vegetables such as chips, popcorn, etc.
- Beans or legumes such as soy foods, peanut and by-products, tofu, hummus
- Grains such as rice, wheat, oats, and barley. This means avoiding bread, cereal, pasta, crackers, and even granola bars
- Dairy and dairy products
- Refined sugar — so anything with added sugar (soda, syrup, cookies, energy drinks) are to be eliminated from your diet
- Processed food or things that contain trans-fats. Examples are French fries, doughnuts, fast food items, packaged foods, etc.
- Salt, avoid foods with high salt content such as chips, crackers, pretzels, and similar items
What are the Benefits and Disadvantages of the Paleo Diet?
In his 2002 book, The Paleo Diet, Loren Cordain claimed that by eating like our ancestors, we not only keep our weight in check but also protect our bodies from developing “diseases of civilization” such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular ailments, and autoimmune diseases. Whether or not the Paleo diet works in today’s age has been a matter of much debate, so here are some of the pros and cons of this diet.
Pros of the Paleo Diet
Weight loss. Since the diet advises eating high-protein, low-fat foods, it promotes healthy eating and subsequent weight loss. In fact, as compared to the average modern-day American, the Paleolithic humans consumed more fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamins and minerals, and unsaturated fat, with less sodium and
Eat clean. Eating similar to cavemen in the Stone Age means that you are less likely to consume preservatives, chemicals, or additives in your food—resulting in truly eating clean.
More iron. By eating more quantities of red meat, your body gets higher amounts of iron.
Anti-inflammatory. Since the diet is rich in plant nutrients from fruits, nuts, vegetables, and seeks you derive anti-inflammatory benefits of these foods.
Appetite control. Due to the high intake of healthy fats and proteins, you may have better satiety—a feeling of fullness more quickly between meals, which keeps you from unhealthy snacking.
Simple. There is no hassle about counting specific calories or trying to make appropriate portions of food. There are simply foods that you eat and ones that you avoid.
Cons of the Paleo Diet
The Paleo diet excludes certain food groups altogether, which has raised arguments that you may be missing out on important vitamins and nutrients when exploring this diet. Grains, dairy, and legumes are eliminated from the Paleo diet, but there has been research in recent times which say that these foods may not be all bad for our body. Below we’ve highlighted some of the arguments against the Paleo diet.
Nutritional deficiencies. Strictly following the Paleo diet may lead to nutritional deficiencies of calcium and vitamin D, which may affect the strength of your bones.
Toxins. Fish is consumed in large amounts in this diet, which increases a risk of toxins in your body.
Whole foods. Whole grains were not included in the diet of prehistoric men, but it was due to the lack of modern farming. In the present day, research has shown that the consumption of whole grains is in fact good for your health.
Not vegan friendly. The Paleo diet does not allow any dietary preferences, and with its strong emphasis on meats and seafood, following this diet may be impossible for vegetarians or vegans.
Not athlete friendly. This diet may be difficult to follow for athletes too, since such people require 3-6 grams of carbohydrates daily for every pound of their body weight. Achieving this with carbs just from fruits and vegetables may be tough.
Inconvenient. Since the diet restricts you from eating any kind of packaged and processed food, you are required to do a lot of cooking and preparing on your own. You also need to plan in advance and stock up on specific food items.
Costly. The Paleolithic humans ate a diet laden with meat since hunting was the primary way of gathering food, but in the present day having to eat so much meat and seafood daily means excessive grocery bills. Calculating the food expenses is necessary before committing to this diet.
Getting the Best out of the Paleo Diet
According to the original description of this diet in Cordain’s book, he advised a diet similar to what the Paleolithic people ate, in which you get 55 percent of your daily calories from lean meat and seafood, divided into even quantities and 15 percent of calories from vegetables, fruits, seeds, and nuts.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of following this diet is the complete elimination of refined sugar, junk and processed foods, chemicals, and refined salts. Those who follow the Paleo style of eating are considered to have benefited the most from cutting out such foods from their diet. However, the fact remains that sticking only to the foods mentioned in this diet plan may not be easy or even viable in today’s society.
The truth is that even in the Paleolithic age, there was no single diet. What people ate depended on where they lived, as availability of local food was the basis of all they could consume. Farming was not yet invented and the reality is that we cannot live or eat like foragers today. To make the Paleo diet work in your favor requires that you incorporate simple lifestyle changes. Here are some tips:
- Include more fresh fruit and vegetables into everyday meals.
- Be selective about less-healthy foods; if avoiding processed food altogether is not something you can do, start off by reducing the quantity and frequency of consuming such products.
- If you are eating out, order a salad or lean meat/seafood with lots of veggies.
- Although our ancestors did not really ‘exercise,’ they were constantly on the move (remember that motor vehicles did not exist then), which may have played a role in keeping them healthy. Add some form of exercise to your daily routine.
- Go out and get some fresh air and sunshine.
- Limit alcohol intake to an occasional glass of wine or some beer. If you are trying to shed a few pounds, staying off alcoholic drinks is the best way to go.
Incorporating the doable parts of the ancestral, Paleolithic lifestyle may go a long way in improved eating habits, even if the changes you are making seem small. Remember that consistency in following good habits is more effective than making drastic and inconsistent lifestyle changes.
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