If you haven’t heard of the paleo diet, you’you’ve probably been living in a cave for the past few years. Interestingly enough, that’s just what the paleo diet is modeled after: going back to our evolutionary roots and eating “like cavemen.”
Proponents of the diet claim that this way of eating is more natural, and therefore more healthy.
But what’s the real story?
Is the paleo diet really the healthiest and most natural way to eat – or is it simply another passing fad diet?
Here, we’ll examine the basics of the diet, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of making the switch.
Paleo Basics – Eating Like Cavemen
If you’re looking into following the paleo diet for yourself, you’re probably wondering – “What can I eat?”
The simplified answer is that you can eat anything a caveman would have.
Upon further investigation, however, the answer isn’t’t quite as clear. The food that we have access today is much different than the food our ancestors enjoyed. Not only are the goods on grocery store shelves more processed and refined, there are differences in the very chemical makeup of the food due to variances in seed genetics and other agricultural influences.
Food is also much easier to obtain – we can simply go to the store and buy pretty much any food we’d like, while those alive in the paleolithic era would have had to hunt for or gather their food – burning much more energy (calories) than we ever need to.
These factors lead to much controversy among advocates (and opponents, for that matter) of the paleo diet.
For example – honey is technically a “natural” food that cavemen would indeed have had access to.
By that logic, honey should be an allowable food. Many would argue, though, that because we are able to procure basically as much honey as we’d like with great ease, however, that allowing a food with such a high glycemic load is dangerous and not at all “natural”.
Controversy aside, there are many foods that everyone can agree fit into a paleo diet.
These include only whole, natural foods that are completely unprocessed – and only foods that could be hunted, fished or gathered:
- Nuts and Seeds
Understandably, foods that fall in these categories should be as naturally made as possible to fall in line with the principles of paleo: organic foods, grass-fed meats, and raw produce is preferred.
There are, of course, foods that are not allowed on the paleo diet.
Grains of any kind, beans, most sugars (even those that are natural), and anything processed is avoided.
Dairy is also considered a no-go, as humans didn’t’t start consuming dairy products until the introduction of agriculture.
Salt is also avoided on the paleo diet.
Pros of Paleo – Claims & Experiences
While typically presented as a dietary regimen, many who have “gone paleo” will tell you that it’s really a lifestyle change. Many do claim amazing benefits to following the plan, including weight loss and more energy.
According to Amanda Klenner, healthy living blogger at NaturalLivingMamma.com, eating paleo foods helped her resolve multiple health issues brought on by leaky gut syndrome. “By switching to paleo, my gut issues resolved by about 80%. I lost a lot of inflammation and puffiness.”
Experts weighing in on the plan agree that there are indeed benefits to following the diet – at least most of the time. The switch to more wholesome and nutritious foods is to thank.
Other reported claims and research related to the paleo diet tout lowered instances of heart disease, obesity, and high blood pressure.
Now Let’s Look at the Cons…
The challenges of determining which modern foods can truly fit into a paleo diet are one setback – one that each individual who chooses to follow the paleo lifestyle will have to decide on for themselves.
Because advocates sometimes disagree on whether certain foods should be included, it’s left to personal choice alone. This can lead to some confusion and possibly unhealthy choices, depending on the conclusions reached.
Using the aforementioned example of honey, some may simply claim “It’s natural!” and eat it to their heart’s content – which logically isn’t very healthy, as it’s not chemically much different than eating excess sugar.
We also simply can’t realistically eat exactly as our ancestors ate, no matter how close we try to get.
The same quality and sources of food are not readily available to everyone.
You would literally have to move to the wilderness to hunt and gather all of your own food in order to follow the diet authentically. That said, even the compromises made with modern foods to fit the paleo lifestyle are still much healthier than what’s typically included in most diets today.
Some nutrition experts are also concerned about the avoidance of grains.
according to Keith Ayoob, EDd, RD, assistant professor at New York’s Albert Einstein School of Medicine, grains aren’t all bad:
“People who eat diets high in whole grains, beans, and low-fat dairy tend to be healthier because these foods are nutrient-rich and there are mountains of research about the health benefits of diets that include, not exclude, these foods.”
So, Is It For Me?
Some find great success and health by following the paleo diet. Others find it too restrictive or don’t see any meaningful benefits.
Others still acknowledge the benefits – while maintaining that everybody is different and that the paleo lifestyle is just one of many ways to get healthy.
The risks are important to consider: the lack of dairy and grains are the main aspects that nutrition experts express concern about. Your experience with these food groups can help you determine if the paleo diet is worth a shot.
For example, if you’re allergic to dairy and grains make you feel sluggish, you might find that the paleo diet is the perfect fit for your body. On the other hand, if neither bothers you, you may experience fatigue or find the diet too restrictive, as others have.
Because the risks of cutting these food groups out for a short period of time are pretty minimal, the best bet may even be a “try it and see” approach.
Try the paleo diet for a few weeks and note whether you feel better or experience any of the awesome reported benefits – you’ll have your answer!