Unless you’ve been living in a cave (ha ha), you’ve probably heard of the Paleo Diet. You might even know someone following it, be following it yourself, or maybe you’re considering giving it a try. Here’s what you need to know about this popular diet.
The Paleo Diet is named after the Paleolithic period and is also called the Caveman Diet. Basically, it’s a diet that focuses on foods that were available during the Paleolithic period, about ten thousand years ago. The main rules of the diet are that you eat the foods that can be hunted, fished, and gathered — fruits, veggies, fish, meat, poultry, seafood, nuts, and seeds.
The diet doesn’t include grains (even whole grains), beans, potatoes, dairy, sugar-added foods, or processed oils. Like most popular diet plans, there are many versions floating around — so you may run into Paleo plans that recommend primarily raw foods, encourage planned fasts, and/or require organic fruits and veggies and organic/free range/grass-fed meats and poultry.
This diet certainly delivers some positive attributes. Primarily, you’ll be eating less refined foods and that means an increase in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Because you’ll be opting for less refined foods, you’ll likely be eating a larger volume of food and that can make you feel more satisfied.
That can work to your benefit, weight loss-wise, as long as a majority of that volume is coming from fruits and veggies. The diet’s attention to grass-fed beef has increased attention to the nutritional differences between beef from cows fed their natural diet of grass versus those fed grain. Grass-fed beef is richer in healthier fats than beef from grain-fed cows.
The Paleo Diet also encourages sourcing animal products from organic, free-range producers, which can also mean morenatural environments for the animals and less pesticide use. However, unless you’re buying your animal products locally and you know the farmer or rancher, the terms free-range or organic don’t guarantee well-cared-for animals or land.
As we mentioned above, if the majority of your meals is coming from fruits and veggies — with nuts, seeds, and lean proteins thrown in for balance — then it’s likely you’ll lose weight by cutting out many of the high-calorie, high sugar, and/or high sodium refined foods.
However, if nuts, seeds, and meat start to become the bulk of meals, your calorie intake can quickly surpass your needs and that can spell weight GAIN. And speaking of weight, a large part of the Paleo premise is based on getting back to the basics of our ancestors, but the exercise component is certainly missing. If we’re expected to eat like people ten thousand years ago — wouldn’t we also be expected to exert the same amount of energy each day hunting and gathering? The cave people most likely weren’t sitting at desks all day or driving to work. We have a lot of food at our fingertips these days, and that can mean weight gain — even if what we’re overeating is nuts, seeds, and everything else on the Paleo plan.
Finally, cutting out entire food groups (grains, dairy, beans) raises a red flag. There is plenty of research — piles, in fact — to support the fact that people who eat some of the foods the Paleo Diet cuts out, tend to weigh less and have decreased risk of diseases like heart disease and certain types of cancer.
The bottom line
This can be a healthy, sustainable way of eating if you are willing to try a modified version of the plan that includes beans, whole grains, and possibly dairy. If you still want to or need to skip the dairy, take a daily calcium and vitamin D supplement. But remember that simply “eating Paleo” doesn’t guarantee weight loss — you will still need to watch your daily calorie intake, which will likely mean keeping your fat intake (mostly from nuts and seeds) to no more than 30% of your daily calories.
What do you think of the Paleo Diet? Have you tried it or do you know someone who has?