What is a Paleo Diet?

It’s the buzzword diet of the decade but can still be difficult to understand. What actually is the paleo diet anyway?

The name “paleo” is taken from “paleolithic.” The paleolithic era of humans is also known as the Stone Age, and it’s been assumed that hunter-gatherers from that time period would eat only whole foods. Therefore, the paleo diet became a popular way of eating based on the way early humans possibly ate.

Although there’s no hard evidence to confirm that humans from over 2,000 years ago ate a certain diet but eating whole, unprocessed foods seem to bring positive health benefits to those who take part in the paleo diet. Yet, there’s not one “right” way to eat paleo.

In general, the paleo diet consists of:

  • lean meats
  • Fish
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Also known as the “caveman diet,” paleo eliminates the consumption of foods that became available during the farming revolution including dairy, legumes, potatoes, refined sugar, and wheat.

Said to help people lose weight, improve gut health, and feel better in general, paleo is a popular choice when it comes to food lifestyles. So, does paleo really work? What do the professionals say? Is there any science behind the paleo diet? Read on.

Paleo According to Professionals

Who do we trust when it comes to what we eat? Doctors and nutritionists - that’s who. So, before you wholeheartedly trust a YouTube vlogger or a talk show host, let’s see what the professionals have to say about the paleo diet.

The BBC ascertains that there are three trusted and respected “paleo gurus” who have the proper accreditation and have experimented with paleo themselves.

Dr. Loren Cordain published The Paleo Diet back in 2002 as a professor at Colorado State University specializing in health and exercise science. A student of Dr. Cordain, Robb Wolf, is a former biochemist and wrote The Paleo Solution in 2010.

Another popular resource of those interested in paleo comes from Mark Sission called Primal Blueprint that takes on a slightly different approach than Dr. Cordain and Wolf.

It’s clear that some doctors and nutritionists have been adamant about the benefits of eating like our hunter-gatherer ancestors. But not everyone is convinced.

Are there concerns about a Paleo diet?

Nutritionist Kerry Torrens sees the benefits of the paleo diet but isn’t as smitten with all of its qualities.

On the good side, she explains how the paleo diet is low in carbs, but its richness in lean proteins and plant foods contribute to the fiber, vitamins, and minerals you need for a healthy diet.

Torrens also mentions how, unlike other low-carb diets, paleo doesn’t promote salty, processed meats and instead encourages eating fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats from meats and oils. She notes that most people choose paleo to deal with inflammatory or digestive issues versus simply the desire to lose weight, but due to its low-carb nature, weight loss is often a common side effect.

Yet, even with these benefits, Torrens sees some issues in the logic of paleo. For example:

  • Depending on where in the world our ancestors settled, it’s highly unlikely that all humans ate the same things.
  • Hunter-gathers were far more active than modern humans and activity level should be taken into account when proposing a paleo diet.
  • Paleo ignores the health benefits of whole grains which are sometimes useful for those with heart disease or blood sugar problems.
  • The omission of dairy has caused some concern due to a potential lack of calcium and other minerals.

Is a paleo diet healthy?

As far as actual scientific research is concerned, there isn’t much hard evidence for or against the paleo diet. According to the Mayo Clinic, there haven’t been enough long term studies of people following a paleo diet to objectively say whether or not this way of eating is actually beneficial.

Overall, proponents of the paleo diet suggest that it should become a lifestyle instead of the occasional diet with the sole aim of losing weight. Certainly eating whole foods isn’t the worst thing you can do for your body and many people who eat the paleo diet or at least a paleo-based diet have seen fantastic results in gut health and overall vitality.

Still, those interested in taking on a restrictive diet like paleo should always be aware of the downsides to this kind of commitment like planning ahead for potential nutrient deficiencies and having a plan for social outings.

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