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Understanding the Paleo Diet

The Paleo Diet, also known as the Caveman diet, has been around awhile and is still popular among some dieters and athletes.  But, is it a healthy diet and is it one that is good for you?  As with any diet, it’s important to understand what the diet is, the foods it includes, the foods it avoids, the benefits, and risks or concerns of the diet.  It’s even more important to determine if this diet is right for you by speaking with your doctor and a registered dietitian. 

What is the Paleo Diet?

The paleo diet is based on what cavemen and cavewomen are presumed to have eaten thousands of years ago.  Why eat like a caveman you ask?  The premise is that our bodies are genetically programmed to eat as our stone age ancestors did.  True or not, let’s take a look at what foods they had access to back then.

Since our stone age ancestors existed before modern agriculture became a thing, the foods they ate would have been ones they hunted and gathered for.  Wild animals, fish, and uncultivated plants, such as fruits, berries, eggs, and roots, rounded out the diet.  As such, the diet was high in protein and fiber, and low in fat.

If a food did not exist back then, it would not be an authentic paleo food item.  In modern times, we have many more cultivated healthy food choices available.  Additionally, most meats and plants are domesticated, thus making a true paleo diet difficult to follow.  What this means is, at best, a modified version of the paleo diet that is organic and gluten free would be one that a dieter could follow.  But that doesn’t alone make it good either.

Foods of the Paleo Diet

While there are many versions of the Paleo diet, with some stricter than others, below is a list that most paleo diets are made up of.

·  Grass-feed meats and poultry (versus corn fed) as the nutritional quality would be closer to what our stone age ancestors would have had available.

·  Wild-caught fish and seafood (salmon, haddock, trout, shellfish, shrimp, etc.)

·  Low carb vegetables (such as leafy greens, peppers, celery, asparagus, broccoli, cucumbers)

·  Pasture-raised eggs

·  Fruits (sometimes)

·  Tree nuts (only in moderation)

·  Raw cacao (high in polyphenol antioxidants)

·  Coconut milk

·  Organic green tea

·  Cold pressed avocado, coconut and olive oil

Foods not included in the Paleo Diet

·  Legumes

·  Grains

·  Starches (potatoes, corn, refined cereal, etc.)

·  Dairy

·  Alcohol

·  Sugar

·  Processed foods

·  Processed oils

Potential Benefits of a Paleo Diet

·  Fast weight loss

·  Improved blood markers (cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin)

·  Lower blood pressure

·  Reduced risk of chronic diseases

·  May benefit patients with type 2 diabetes

Potential Risks/Concerns of a Paleo Diet

·  Lack of energy (from carbohydrate restriction)

·  Vitamin and Mineral deficiencies (from legume and grain restriction)

·  Calcium deficiencies (from legume restriction)

·  Increased risk of chronic diseases (from legume and grain restriction)

·  Mental fatigue (from carbohydrate restriction)

·  Muscle loss (from carbohydrate restriction)

What’s The bottom line?

A well-formulated paleo diet may be beneficial for weight loss and improving overall nutritional health.  A major drawback may be the restriction of healthy legumes and grains in the diet, as well as other nutrient rich items like many fruits and vegetables.  Always seek the advice of a doctor and registered dietitian to determine if a paleo diet is good for you. 

In the long term, having a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meats, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and unprocessed foods, is easier to maintain and provides needed nutrients for optimal health.