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The Paleo Diet – Good or Rubbish?

My uncle’s practitioner advised him to adopt the Paleo diet to reduce cholesterol and blood sugar. He asked me what I thought, and also if it’s an ideal way to lose weight. It recommends avoiding dairy, sugar, grains and legumes. Is this the answer to most of his health problems?

It is a known fact that we should eat more fresh and unprocessed foods.

And you might be familiar then, with a diet called Paleo diet, that has been around for decades, but has only really taken off over the last couple of years, with a slew of books , blogs , and a prominent articles glorifying it for weight loss.

So the Paleo diet (Paleolithic diet) which is also known as the Caveman diet, says to eat as fresh as possible and to avoid traditional carb-heavy foods. And really, it’s success at producing weight loss and health may have more to do with portion control than anything else. Having said that, when compared with 20 diets other diets (including Atkins, veganism, the Mediterranean diet, and Jenny Craig), Paleo ranked dead last on criteria like nutrition, ease of following, weight loss, and safety.

photo credit - janeshealthykitchen.com

photo credit – janeshealthykitchen.com

The paleo diet is also a controversial topic amongst dietitians and anthropologists. Critics have argued that if hunter-gatherer societies failed to suffer from “diseases of civilization”, this was mostly due to reduced calories in their diet, shorter average lifespans, or a variety of other factors, rather than some special diet composition. Some researchers have taken issue with the accuracy of the diet’s underlying evolutionary logic.

But “going Paleo” is much more than a diet. Alcohol too is completely prohibited. Imagine life without booze! There’s no doubt that the Paleo approach is a powerful tool for weightloss, but as advice for regular people it might be just to tough to follow. Also, a lot of nutrition will not get into your body if you are not allowed to eat legumes and dairy products.

How does the Paleo Diet work?

Paleo diets are based on a simple premise, if the cavemen didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t either. Which means you cannot eat refined sugar, dairy, legumes, and grains (this is pre-agricultural revolution); But you may eat meat, fish, poultry, fruits, and veggies.

Will you lose weight?

Well, unless you control the portion of food, and eat only lean meats, you will not lose weight. Still, if you build a “calorie deficit” into your Paleo plan, i.e. eating fewer calories than your daily recommended max, or burning off extra by exercising, you should shed some pounds. How quickly and whether you keep them off is up to you.

Does it have cardiovascular benefits?

While some studies have linked Paleo diets with reducing blood pressure, bad “LDL” cholesterol, and triglycerides (a fatty substance that can raise heart disease risk), they have been few, small, and short. And all that fat in red meat would worry most doctors.

Are there health risks?

By shunning dairy and grains, you’re at risk of missing out on a lot of nutrients. Here’s what’s good and bad:

Fat. At about 39 percent of daily calories from fat, a sample Paleo menu exceeds the government’s 35 percent cap by a bit.

Protein. The government recommends 10 to 35 percent of daily calories come from protein; the Paleo diet clocks in around 38 percent.

Carbohydrates. At 23 percent of daily calories from carbs, it’s far below the government’s 45 to 65 percent recommendation.

Salt. The majority of humans eat too much salt. The recommended daily maximum is 2,300 milligrams, but if you’re 51 or older, or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, that limit is 1,500 mg. You won’t have trouble staying under either goal; cavemen didn’t have table salt and high-sodium processed foods, and fresh produce is virtually sodium-free.

Fiber. Getting the recommended daily amount of 22 to 34 grams for adults helps you feel full and promotes good digestion. With such a heavy emphasis on fruits and veggies, you’ll exceed your target.

Potassium. A sufficient amount of this important nutrient, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, counters salt’s ability to raise blood pressure, decreases bone loss, and reduces the risk of developing kidney stones. It’s not that easy to get the recommended daily 4,700 mg. from food. (Bananas are high in potassium, yet you’d have to eat 11 a day.) A sample Paleo diet was nearly double the government’s suggested goal—one of few diets that manages to do it.

Calcium. It’s essential not only to build and maintain bones but to make blood vessels and muscles function properly. Many people and especially women older than 50 suffer from calcium deficiency. Because you’re not allowed dairy or fortified cereals, you’ll likely only get about 700 mg. from a Paleo menu which is not a good sign.

Vitamin B-12. Adults need around 2.4 micrograms of this vitamin, which is critical for proper cell metabolism. You’ll have no trouble meeting the recommendation as fish and meat are B12 powerhouses.

Vitamin D. You’ll get very little or none, so you’ll either have to supplement (kind of defeating the purpose of going caveman!) or just make sure you spend enough time in the sun to get the 15 micrograms recommended. Some experts suggest five to 30 minutes of sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., twice a week and without sunscreen, to meet the recommendation, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Other things you might need..

Are supplement recommended? Well obviously The Paleo Diet recommends vitamin D supplements if you don’t get a decent dose of sun regularly. Fish oil capsules are suggested if you don’t like fish or shellfish. Some sources also suggest a calcium supplement.

So is it easy to follow the Paleo Diet? Well, recipe sites and cookbooks are abundant, but you can also incorporate eating out into your Paleo plan. Alcohol is discouraged so if your weakness is booze, then forget about it. But if you’re the determined sort who doesn’t like legumes or dairy products in the first place and you don’t mind loading up on the supplements.. then go for it!

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4 Responses to The Paleo Diet – Good or Rubbish?

  1. Jackie Hutchings January 5, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    Anything which helps people start eating more healthily and exercising more has got to be good but, whenever a eating style/plan excludes major food groups, it makes it so much harder for people to stay on track. It means you constantly have to suppress cravings. Maintaining this way of eating is sooooo difficult because it’s hard. Also, it doesn’t tackle the core problem which is what goes in in people’s heads. How they think about food and change their eating habits are. If you can address those two things, any diet will always be difficult to maintain long term.

    • ciki January 6, 2013 at 8:10 am #

      I agree! That’s why I don’t diet. Just eat the right way, and it should be fine:D Thanks Jackie! 😉

  2. Luanne March 6, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

    I know people who follow this diet.

    Guess what? They sit in front of computers all day and guess what? They’re overweight. –No surprise there.

    Cavemen didn’t have to sit 8-10 hours in front of computers to earn a living. Their focus was to hunt food. And to do that burns thousands of calories. Try stalking and killing deer/pig/fish with a stick all day. The hunt can last for hours or days.

    Eat whole fresh foods and move more. It’s that simple, really =)

    • ciki March 7, 2013 at 12:07 am #

      I agree Luanne. The amount of processed foods and soft drinks consumed in this day and age is appalling. And I agree that moving around is key to keeping fit too:) If we even hunted for a week in the wild, we’d be cut, lean and stronger too:)

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