What Is The Paleo Diet? Is It Unhealthy? Unveiling The Truth

Written by Dr. Amber Jones
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The paleo diet is based on simple, unprocessed foods like our Stone Age ancestors. It includes lean meats, fish, and fresh foods. The diet cuts down on carbs, sugar, and salt. However, there are some risks involved with this diet.

The paleo diet can be healthy, and many find it effective for weight loss. It focuses on whole foods and lean proteins. But it cuts out grains and dairy. This can cause nutritional gaps. It’s best to balance the diet and talk to a health expert for personal advice.

What is the Paleo Diet?

The Paleo diet means eating foods similar to what was eaten in the Paleolithic era. This includes meats, fish, nuts, leafy greens, regional veggies, and seeds. It avoids processed foods, grains, dairy, and sugar. We aim to eat more natural, whole foods, like our ancient ancestors.

Is The Paleo Diet Unhealthy

Since our bodies haven’t changed much from the Stone Age, the diet focuses on what they ate: lean meats and plants. They hunted, fished, and gathered food, staying active, which might have helped avoid diseases like diabetes and cancer. But remember, they lived shorter lives than people do today.

How Does the Paleo Diet Work?

Here’s how the Paleo Diet works:

1. Food Choices: The diet includes foods that can be caught or found, like lean meats, fish, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds. It emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods.

2. Excluded Foods: It doesn’t have new farm tools and ready-made meals. This means no cereal (like wheat and rice), milk, white sugar, or anything with added fats.

3. Nutritional Approach: The Paleo Diet, which uses whole foods, usually has a lot of protein and fiber. It usually has little carbs but not a lot of fat. This balance can help keep blood sugar steady, reduce swelling, and improve the use of nutrients.

4. Weight Loss and Health: Many people on the Paleo Diet lose weight because they stop eating fast and high-calorie foods. Concentrating on light proteins, fruits, and vegetables in the diet can also help muscles get bigger. It makes the heart healthier and gives more energy all around.

What is Included in a Paleo Diet?

The Paleo Diet’s specific recommendations vary slightly in books and online resources. However, it typically adheres to certain dietary guidelines.

Foods to Include

  • Fresh fruits and a variety of vegetables.
  • A range of nuts and seeds
  • Eggs
  • Lean meats, with a preference for grass-fed or wild game options.
  • Fish packed with omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, mackerel, and albacore tuna.
  • Natural oils extracted from fruits and nuts, including olive and walnut oil.

Foods to Exclude

  • All grains, including wheat, oats, and barley
  • Legumes, which encompass beans, lentils, and peanuts
  • Dairy products, like milk and cheese
  • Any form of refined or added sugars
  • Excessive salt
  • Certain starchy vegetables include corn, jicama, peas, and white potatoes
  • Highly processed items, such as chips and cookies.

Is the Paleo Diet Healthy?

Limited long-term studies make the paleo diet’s health still uncertain. This diet emphasizes naturally raised meat, fish, vegetables, and fruits. It suggests avoiding dairy products and grains. While it could be a healthy eating approach, there are some concerns. One significant risk is the potential for deficiencies in calcium and vitamin D. These nutrients are vital for bone health.

Moreover, the paleo diet often produces high saturated fat and protein intake. This is mainly from consuming meat. This excessive intake may elevate the risk of kidney and heart disease, as well as some cancers.

Carbohydrates are essential for optimal brain and muscle function. Complex ones from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are particularly important. However, it’s advisable to moderate the intake of refined carbohydrates. These include desserts, chips, and sugary beverages. These items add calories. They lack beneficial nutrients like fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Additionally, many processed foods are artificially fortified to enhance their nutritional profile.

People consuming less dairy may need calcium and vitamin D supplements. This is especially true if they don’t eat other calcium-rich foods. Some advocates of the Paleo diet argue that dairy can cause inflammation. Research indicates that low-fat dairy may decrease inflammatory markers in the blood.

Some Health Benefits of the Paleo Diet

Weight Loss and Heart Health

Those taking the Paleo Diet for 12 weeks lost weight. They also saw better waist size, blood pressure, and cholesterol. This can be helpful for the heart.

Better for Diabetes

In a different study, people with type 2 diabetes switched to the Paleo Diet for 12 weeks. They saw better body fat levels, improved insulin sensitivity, and blood sugar levels. People who also exercised got even better results.

Helps Insulin Sensitivity

Research shows that the Paleo Diet made it easier for people with type 2 diabetes to control their blood sugar. It also helped them work better with insulin.

Autoimmune Diseases

The Paleo Diet has been used to lessen swelling in autoimmune diseases. A report on those with bowel disease found many felt better after using this diet.

Is the Paleo Diet Right for Everyone?

The Paleo Diet works differently for each person. It’s important to see how you feel about the diet and check with your doctor about your health. Some people might need to tweak their diet a bit for it to work well for them.

The diet isn’t just about eating lots of meat. It’s also about eating plenty of vegetables, which are really important for good health. Remember, not all processed foods fit this diet, even if they don’t have sugar, grains, or legumes.

Starting the Paleo Diet means you’ll spend time buying fresh food and cooking at home, plus you need to be active. This can be hard for some people. It’s especially tough for vegetarians or vegans because they rely on legumes for protein, and the diet doesn’t include them.

Conclusion

The Paleo Diet focuses on lean meats, fish, and fresh produce. It cuts down on processed items, grains, and dairy. This approach can prove successful for weight loss and improving certain health aspects. However, it may leave some nutritional gaps, especially in calcium and vitamin D. Seek personalized advice and research before starting this diet. You might need to adjust your diet for balanced nutrition to stay healthy.

References

  • Wrangham R., Conklin-Brittain N. Cooking as a biological trait. Comp. Biochem. Physiol. Mol. Integr. Physiol. 2003;136:35–46. doi: 10.1016/S1095-6433(03)00020-5.  [CrossRef]
  • Milton K. Hunter-gatherer diets—A different perspective. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2000;71:665–667. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/71.3.665. [PubMed]

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Amber Jones is a sought-after dietitian nutritionist with expertise in public and community health. She holds a Masters in Public Health from Yale University and completed her dietetic internship with the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center

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