It seems I can't browse my Pinterest feed lately without coming across numerous recipes being touted as "Paleo" friendly. The Paleo diet is "The Diet" to be on right now, and it's popularity is lasting much longer than I expected it to. But it's still going strong, and my guess is that many of you have thought about trying it at one point or another, either to assist in weight management or just to improve your health. And of course, if you type "Paleo diet" into Google, you will find a myriad of sites, all listing the seemingly endless benefits of the diet, but no drawbacks. That's where your trusty dietitian blogger comes in - I'll give you an unbiased list of the pros and cons of the diet to help you decide if you want to try it or not. Because, after all, no diet comes without it's drawbacks.
What is the Paleo Diet anyway?
The Paleo diet is based on what our caveman ancestors would have eaten long, long ago during the paleolithic era. This time span lasted for roughly 2.5 million years and ended around 12,000 years ago. The thought behind this diet is that humans' nutritional needs evolved to match the foods available during this time period, and that we should continue to follow the same type of diet today to avoid the many diet and weight related chronic diseases that are becoming so common today (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc.) After all, these conditions did not exist in the caveman days.
But does that even make sense? There is no evidence that our current nutritional needs are based on food availability of any time period. Also, think about the lifestyle of a caveman: physical activity levels would have been much higher and a much greater energy expenditure would be required to even obtain food. And getting food would never be guaranteed, so there would likely be long time intervals between meals at times when food was difficult to come by. Life has definitely changed, so it makes sense that our diet should have changed too. Unless of course, you want to actually live in a cave and hunt and forage for your food full time.
What Can I Actually Eat on the Paleo Diet
Foods allowed on the Paleo Diet
- grass fed meat
- seafood and fish
- fresh vegetables and fruits
- nuts and seeds
Foods not allowed on the Paleo Diet
- grain products (the Paleo diet is Gluten Free)
- processed foods
- coffee and alcohol (deal breaker alert!)
Pros and Cons of the Paleo Diet
- reduced intake of unhealthy processed foods (this may mean a reduced caloric intake for many), including sugar and salt
- avoidance of a perfectly healthy (and necessary) food group (grain products) which could lead to inadequate fiber intake (especially since legumes, also high in fiber, are not allowed either)
- many people miss the point of the diet, and find "creative" ways to include their favorite foods, like desserts (do you really think cavemen were baking cookies and blending smoothies in their caves?)
- expense and time involved in following a restrictive diet
- difficulty of eating (and drinking) in restaurants and social settings (ahem, no alcohol)
The bottom line
While I do really appreciate that the Paleo diet gets people to reduce their intake of processed foods, I think that that is where the benefits pretty much end. You would be just as well off if you just consciously reduced your intake of processed foods. There is really no evidence to support that the Paleo diet is any healthier than any other diet. And one major red flag of any diet is if it recommends the complete avoidance of a food group. This one does (grain products), which could lead to complications arising from nutrient deficiencies over time. Skip the hype and don't bother with the Paleo diet. If you want to make a healthy change, just cut back on processed foods, sugar and salt.