You’ve probably heard about the Paleo diet somewhere or you might even have a friend who is an avid proponent of it. Some of its principles, like steering clear of high-sugar and high-salt processed foods, are obviously helpful. But, like any non-traditional diet, it has challenges too. In this article we’ll look at the pros and cons so that you can decide if it’s something worth trying yourself.
The premise behind the Paleo diet is that at a certain time in our past as a species, we lived without cultivating fields or heavily processing foods, hence we should go back to that lifestyle and imitate our ancestors. This, of course, assumes that our ancestors were as healthy or healthier than we are, which given the obesity epidemic in America, seems like a pretty low bar! But more on that in a bit.
What you can eat on a Paleo diet:
- lean meat (chicken, turkey, pork, bison, lean beef, etc.)
- fish and seafood
- fresh fruit
- non-starchy vegetables (lettuce, asparagus, green beans, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.)
- nuts, seeds, plant-based oils
What you can’t eat on a Paleo diet:
- grains (cereals, pasta, breads)
- starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, etc.)
- dairy (yogurt, cheese, milk)
Even for those who love their carbs and dairy, there’s a lot to like about the Paleo diet. You’re likely to be eating a lot cleaner in general, as there are no additives, chemicals, or preservatives in the diet. You’re going to get a lot more iron and protein from all the meat in the diet, a lot of potassium from the fruits and vegetables, and plenty of anti-inflammatory benefits from the nuts, oils, and seeds. If you maintain a caloric deficit, you’ll lose weight (as with any diet) and based on the elements of the Paleo diet, you’re likelier to come away from your meals full.
Losing carbs and dairy isn’t just a question of preferences or taste. There are consequences to removing entire food groups from your diet, especially if you are used to obtaining essential nutrients and vitamins from them. Dairy provides necessary calcium; grains provide a substantial amount of fiber. Both of them are good for energy. Rice and beans are also less expensive than beef and avocado. The Paleo diet is also time intensive: it’s a diet that requires more prep and cooking time than the average American is used to.
Part of the strength of any diet is the ability for it to fold into your lifestyle and be sustainable long-term. Is it likely that you are going to pass up beer and/or cake on your birthday, or limit such treats to once a year? Another problem with the promise of Paleo is what the research has shown us from ancient populations: they still had hardened arteries, despite never having touched a Twinkie.
That said, diet advice, like life advice, can be a sort of menu of its own: take what makes sense to you, leave what doesn’t. As we noted above, no one is going to argue that highly processed high-sugar and high-salt foods are a necessary or important part of your diet. Further, no one is going to suffer from adding more fresh vegetables and lean meat to the meals they eat each day. What matters when observing any diet is how it relates to your personal health and fitness goals, and if Paleo can assist you with that, then you should give it a try. If it can’t, that’s okay: reach for that pizza and enjoy an ice cream sandwich afterwards.
Have you tried the Paleo diet? Why or why not? Share with us in the comments below.