To Paleo or Not to Paleo?
It seems the most popular fad diet of today is the Paleo, or Paleolithic diet. Yes, my friends, I said it, it is a fad diet. The definition of a diet is “to restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight,” and the definition of fad is “an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, esp. one that is short-lived; a craze.” The Paleo diet restricts not one, but two food groups, and is super popular and the people who I’ve come across who participate in it are super intense. If you were to ask someone who eats straight Paleo, they would inform you that its the best way of eating that you can find. Here are some pros and cons of this fad diet so you can decide for yourself.
Definition: “The world’s healthiest diet, is based upon the fundamental concept that the optimal diet is the one to which we are genetically adapted.” (thepaleodiet.com). The basic idea is that we should only eat foods that were available to our prehistoric ancestors. The things that were available were apparently meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, roots, nuts, and seeds. The only fluids allowed in the diet are water, coconut water, and organic green tea. If you are paying attention, you’ll notice that dairy and grains (and legumes, or beans) are absent from this list. The diet claims that these cause cellular inflammation and chronic disease. (Fad diets always have something that is supposed to scare you into following them).
- Any diet that promotes more fruits and veggies is a good one. The author, Loren Cordain, claims that the American diet is lacking in these things. He is right about this one! Everyone needs to add more fruits and vegetables to their diet.
- The diet tells you to cut out refined sugar. Yes. Do that. Those cookies and cakes that are loaded in sugar and saturated fat are doing you no good.
- The Paleo diet promotes a more active lifestyle. That’s just plain, old-fashioned, good sense. You want to lose weight? Work out more!
- Processed food is cut out. Eat fresh! Also a good rule of thumb. (So far, this isn’t any different from what a registered dietitian would tell you. There is nothing new in eating more fruits and veggies, exercising more, and cutting refined sugar and processed foods.)
- You do lose initial weight on the Paleo diet, there is no denying that. Cutting sugars and processed foods will usually do that for you. Also, you cut back on two food groups, so there go those calories. Cutting calories will make you lose weight, but do you need to cut those food groups?
- There are good substitutes for those who are gluten and lactose intolerant.
- The Paleo diet cuts out two food groups that are included in the dietary guidelines set out by the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) and the HHS (the Department of Health and Human Services). The RDA (recommended daily allowance) of dairy is 2-3 cups a day, depending on your age and gender, and the RDA of grains is 3-8 oz equivalents, depending on your age and gender. (choosemyplate.gov) You are missing out on some essential nutrients by cutting these out of your diet.
- The diet claims these two food groups are related to chronic diseases and cell inflammation, yet they are cornerstones of the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stopping Hypertension) diet. There are numerous peer-reviewed studies out there that support the inclusion of whole grains, legumes, and low-fat dairy in your diet reduces blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels.
- There is no scientific evidence that the Paleo diet reduces cell inflammation or chronic disease, or even acne (as it claims). There are a lot of studies on their website and most of them support the claims that cutting sugar helps you lose weight, or exercising more helps you lose weight. We know this already. There is a study about the use of milk, but it only included 9 people and that is not enough to transfer to the whole population.
- This diet is low in calcium and Vitamin D. As a planet, we are Vitamin D deficient, and that vitamin is crucial to calcium absorption in our bodies. Where do you get Vitamin D? Sunshine, fish, milk, yogurt, cheese, orange juice, eggs, etc.
- Not everyone is lactose and gluten intolerant. Those really are the only people who should be cutting those two food groups out of their diet. Only your doctor can tell you if you belong in those categories.
- The diet claims that the Paleolithic era man didn’t die of cardiovascular disease as much as we do now. Well, the lifespan of the Paleolithic man was 30-35 years. Due to starvation, exposure to the elements, infectious disease and injury, he didn’t live long enough to succumb to heart disease.
Final thoughts: Paleo has some great ideas that you can take away and adapt to your own lifestyle, however, those great ideas are not anything new. Any dietitian worth their stuff will tell you to eat more fruits and veggies, cut refined sugar, cut processed foods and cut down on sodium. You can do those things without having to sacrifice two whole food groups. Low-fat dairy will cut out unnecessary saturated fats and whole grain will cut out simple carbohydrates. Also, make sure that the meat your eating is lean meat! I see a lot of Paleo followers talking about all the steak they eat. Well, red meat is loaded in saturated fat and its is a carcinogenic. You are allowed to follow whatever diet you want to, but just know, something like this is hard to keep up with for the rest of your life. Eating a balanced diet and exercising on a regular basis is the best and easiest way to lose weight and keep it off. You don’t need a fad diet with lots of rules to tell you that.
Stay sweaty, my friends!
Sources: thepaleodiet.com, The Cooper Institute’s Providing Dietary Guidance, choosemyplate.gov, “Should You Eat Like a Caveman? The Paleo Diet” written by Steve Farrell, PhD, about.com