Is the Paleo Diet Safe?

Medically Reviewed

The Paleo diet, also known as the caveman diet, has been the rage in recent years. The idea is to mimic the way our forefathers ate back in the Paleolithic age for optimum health today. Off limits are grains, dairy, legumes (beans, lentils, peas), sugar, salt and processed meats, since those things were unknown to cavemen. Foods that can be hunted, gathered or fished are all that are permitted: meat, poultry, fish and shellfish, vegetables, roots, fruits and eggs.

Before considering a Paleo diet, ask yourself what you hope to achieve by following it. The diet’s reduction in sugar and salt and emphasis on plant foods can help prevent or improve conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. But there’s limited rationale for eliminating many healthful foods such as grains and legumes. Be sure you’re getting the nutrients you’d normally get from Paleo-restricted foods. For many people over 50, restricting dairy products means a steep decline in calcium and vitamin D intake—vital to bone health. Cutting out grains and legumes can reduce your intake of needed fiber—the substance that’s frequently shown to slash heart and cancer risks.

Many people find it difficult to stick to a diet of only wild game and fish and organic plant food and may long for more varied and economical choices. Instead, consider following a healthful, well-balanced diet with vegetables, fruit, low-fat dairy and whole grains, legumes and nuts, and you’ll likely achieve the same health benefits of the Paleo diet without its nutritional deficiencies.

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