The Paleo diet refers to an eating plan that mimics what was likely eaten during the Paleolithic era, when our ancestors were hunters and gatherers.
The diet is made up of foods that could be hunted or gathered such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. The belief behind this style of eating is that foods like grains, legumes, and dairy are associated with the onset of chronic disease. Therefore, these foods are eliminated from the eating plan. Because it does not allow processed or pre-made foods, the Paleo diet limits sugar and sodium intake.
Not all Paleo diets are exactly the same. Many people eat variations of the diet, stick to it only during the week, or incorporate free days where they may eat anything they want. Others follow the guidelines strictly.
Even critics of the diet recognize that there are benefits with the reduction of sugar and sodium and with the increase in fruits, vegetables and healthy fats from fish, nuts, and seeds. But many health professionals are still concerned that excess meat increases saturated fat intake, and that the diet limits nutrient-rich foods. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, research still links the fiber from whole grains with a decreased risk for heart disease, cancer and diabetes, and dairy may play a role in weight loss.
According to the Mayo Clinic, limited short-term clinical research conducted with small groups has shown that a Paleo diet may have moderate benefits when compared to eating plans that include whole grains, legumes, and low-fat dairy. There is evidence of increased weight loss, improved glucose tolerance, better blood pressure control, and better appetite control.
Larger, long-term studies are still needed. It’s possible that similar health benefits can be achieved with exercise and a balanced healthy diet, eliminating the need for such severe food restriction. Critics also argue that the basis of the diet may be oversimplified, leading to more confusion about healthy eating. Some archaeological research suggests that grains may have been present in the diets of our ancestors before the onset of farming. If this is true, it complicates the justification for eliminating them that is associated with the Paleo diet.
As always, when exploring new eating plans, check with your doctor or a registered dietitian. He or she can help you find the best eating style that will give you the nutrients you need based on your health history and long-term fitness goals.