Paleo 411

caveman_walk

Dear Reader;

There is a buzz word in the nutrition and fitness community that’s been around for quite a while, but is still vaguely understood by most of us. Let’s demystify it.

The Paleo Diet (Paleolithic Diet or Caveman Diet) conceptualized in the 1970’s. It is modeled after the Paleolithic Era, which began 2.5 million years ago and ended 10,000 years ago primarily because of agriculture.  It is a very controversial diet amongst nutritionists and dietitians and has been studied relatively little.

The Paleo Diet is not typically used for weight loss, but is more about living a healthy lifestyle that eradicates the “diseases of affluence”.   The people living this lifestyle believe it is ideal for human health and well-being.  AND that the genetics of humans have scarcely changed since the dawn of agriculture.

Most of what is consumed are foods that can be hunted and foraged.  Anything added to the human diet since agriculture began, is excluded.

Fundamentals:

What Paleo Dieters Consume:

  • fish and seafood
  • grass-fed, pasture raised meats
  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • fungi
  • roots
  • nuts
  • water

What Paleo Dieters DO NOT Consume:

  • grains
  • alcohol
  • dairy
  • legumes
  • potatoes
  • refined salt
  • refined sugar
  • processed oils

paleo-food-paleolithic-nutrition-foodpyramid-1As with any popular diet and nutritional movements, we all have questions about whether it’s healthy and if it’s right for us.  We are always looking for ways to improve and these types of lifestyle changes, inevitably catch our attention and attract us.  Can we be healthier than we are?  Have we discovered something new?  None of us wants to be left out.

Here is my opinion on the Paleo Diet:

My Questions and Concerns:

  1. What effect does this have on your athletic / fitness abilities?  Science has proven that you need both protein and complex carbohydrates to build muscle and endurance. The magic combination of the two are what gets a marathoner through the total of 26.2 miles.  I don’t see this diet providing the complex carbohydrate that is necessary for that type of fitness performance.  
  2. What do you do in social settings?  The Paleo follower basically does not eat out, AT ALL.  They also cannot eat at other non-paleo-follower’s homes.  So, my question is, what do you do?  Eating is such a social and jovial activity in our society and some societies, like Europe, put an even greater emphasis on the enjoyment of food.  Do you give up your friends?  I kind of understand, since I do not eat gluten.  BUT I can always find something gluten free.  The salad is normally a safe bet, depending on the dressing, but Paleo strictly prohibits processed oils and refined salt. That would be near impossible to avoid outside of your own kitchen.
  3. A diet without beans?  Those of you that read my blog, know how absurd this is to me.  And even a little offensive.  Beans are a super food!  I don’t condone any diet that excludes them.
  4. Why would I think I know more than the experts?  Nutritional experts give this diet very little support and it is actually rated dead last among most nutritionists, when you compare it with other modern-day diets.  The expert community considers this a “fad diet”.   And one that is very hard to maintain.
  5. Where do you get your Calcium and Vitamin D?  I’m certain the cavemen did not have supplements.  AND looking at this diet, that is precisely what I would recommend. It is VOID of Calcium and Vitamin D in a big way.   I have yet to read anything that explains where Paleo’s get these two key nutrients from.  Especially for women.
  6. Is this cost prohibitive for normal Americans?  The cost of fresh produce exceeds the cost of garbage in the grocery store. We all know this.  I maintain my grocery budget by eating substantially less meat than the average American.  But those that follow the Paleo wouldn’t be able to do that.
  7. Would the average person eat too much saturated fat on this plan?  The same questions I had with the Adkins Diet and the South Beach Diet, come up with this one.

What I Think Are the Pros:

  1. Blood sugar stability would be easily achieved and maintained.  The lack of processed and refined sugars would be an astounding benefit to anyone’s diet.  We all eat too much sugar.  
  2. It’s low in sodium.  Well, that’s an understatement.  The recommended dose for Americans (depending on other health factors) is between 1500mg and 2300mg.  The Paleo dieter would never have to worry about exceeding the recommended amount.

Bottom Line:

As you can see by the two lists, I don’t think highly of the Paleo diet.  I do like the fundamental thought processes behind it.  Our caveman ancestors ate only natural and fresh foods, which is the optimal diet.  TRUE.  However, cavemen lived a substantially shorter lifespan and never lived long enough to suffer the detriment of a diet high in saturated fat and void of very important vitamins (think Osteoporosis).  They also did not have the benefits of hundreds of years of science to tell them what not to eat.  For example, just because cow is available, doesn’t mean it’s healthy.  There are many consequences to eating a diet filled with red meat.

Another thing to consider, our cavemen were constantly on the move, we are not, so much.  Our society is at the apex of sedentary, right now.  I hope we are witnessing a shift toward healthier living among the majority, but at this point, we are nowhere near as active as Mr. Caveman used to be.  If you think about the risk in cardiac damage for us, it has a far greater chance of clogging arteries of an inactive person than that of one that sprints and naturally interval trains, regularly.

I also think it would be extremely difficult to sustain and it would offer very little benefit, above and beyond other health conscious, easier to follow, diet plans.  I eat gluten free because of the benefit of not having severe gastrointestinal stress.  That benefit is real and immediate, which makes it much easier to follow.  The Paleo, without reasons, would be difficult, even for the most dedicated and focused individual.

I think we can all appreciate the motivation behind this theory, but I personally, think it’s pretty extreme for most of us and may cause more harm than good.

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4 thoughts on “Paleo 411

  1. I think this diet probably worked well for cavemen considering most of them probably didn’t make it to their 30s anyway. I think life expectancy plays a huge role in things like this. Obviously agricultural development did something right, considering we are all living a lot longer!

    Also, you should do a post on diet foods at some point- like Slim Fast. I would be interested in hearing your take on that!

    • Amber, you must be psychic! I have a draft post right now titled “I hate the word diet”. HAHA. I’ll make sure to touch on actual diet products like SlimFast and FiberOne, et al.

  2. It would be impossible for a lot of people! It’s not practical to only be able to eat at home. We all have to have a little give and take in our diet, it cannot always be perfection. I would have a hard time based solely on the “no dairy” part because I love cheese.

  3. Glad to hear your review of this diet. I’ve heard talk about it but knew little. I’ve always thought that any of these fad diets would be impossible to maintain. This one sounds too ‘out there’ for me.

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