What is Paleo?
The Paleolithic (Paleo) Diet was developed by Loren Cordain, PhD., author of "The Paleo Diet." It is centered on the premise that if we eat like our caveman ancestors, we will lose weight and ward off disease. This "hunter/gatherer" way of life encourages the consumption of those foods that existed during the caveman days, including all meat, fish, poultry, eggs, vegetables, and fruits. Dr. Cordain’s research shows that the diet eaten by humans during the Paleolithic Era was rich in lean protein, antioxidants, healthy fats, phytochemicals, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. In his book, Dr. Cordain states that health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and cancer were rare while humans were sustained on this type of diet.
The Basics of Paleo
The Paleo Diet is higher in protein that the typical American diet (25-30 percent of total calories). It is also high in fruits and vegetables (35-45 percent of total calories). Foods allowed on the Paleo Diet are low in sodium and have a low glycemic load. Foods are high in fiber, potassium, and mono- and omega-3 fatty acids. This diet is void of any processed foods, and excludes all dairy, grains, and legumes. The rationale for avoiding these foods is the author’s claim that the onset of chronic disease occurred as a result of the agricultural revolution that introduced these foods into our diet.
Cutting out all processed foods, salt, and added sugars can have many health benefits. Consuming a diet rich in lean protein, fruits, vegetables, and heart healthy fats can help you to lose weight, regulate blood pressure, control blood sugar, and prevent type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Many people who have followed the Paleo diet report weight loss, increased energy, and decreased hunger.
Research has shown that chronic inflammation is a root cause of many diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. The Paleo diet has anti-inflammatory properties since it contains nuts, seeds, fish, and healthy fats and oils. Foods that are fresh, unprocessed, nutritious, and high in omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce chronic inflammation in the body. Conditions such as dermatitis, arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease can also be improved by anti-inflammatory eating.
There are some cons to following a restrictive diet such as the Paleo diet. Eliminating all dairy products could lead to deficiencies in calcium and vitamin D. When following this diet, you should make sure to consume other calcium-containing foods, calcium-fortified products, or a calcium supplement to achieve your recommended daily intake of calcium.
Cutting whole grains out of your diet may reduce dietary fiber intake. A high-fiber diet has been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. If you follow a Paleo diet, you will need to get your fiber from fresh fruits and vegetables to get your recommended 25-35 grams of fiber each day.
The Bottom Line
Eating fresh, unprocessed foods is a great way of eating for everyone. The Paleo diet is rich in nutritious foods that have many health benefits. If you choose to go Paleo, make sure that you are supplementing any vitamins, minerals, or nutrients that you may be lacking by following a restrictive diet. If you have questions on the best way to add calcium or fiber to your diet, check with your doctor or registered dietitian.
Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., is a registered dietitian, receiving her undergraduate degree in dietetics from James Madison University and her master’s degree in health education and administration from Towson University. She is a certified specialist in adult weight management and teaches cooking classes. Carmen enjoys educating her clients about how nutrition affects the body and its role in overall health and wellness. She also loves volunteering, including as a Girl Scout troop leader.