Dietitian-Approved Guide: Pros And Cons of The Paleo Diet

Summit’s nutrition and wellness team evaluates the Paleo diet approach. Will eating like a caveman make you healthier?

paleo diet

The core premise of the Paleo diet is that we can improve our health if we consume only foods believed to be eaten by hunter-gatherer Paleolithic humans. Although there are several Paleo diet variations, the Paleo approach generally promotes a diet high in protein, healthy fat, nuts, and seeds. It discourages consumption of modern processed foods, dairy products, grains, sugars, legumes, salt, alcohol, and coffee. Advocates claim that the Paleo diet improves health and metabolism. Summit dietitian Amy Lewis reviews and evaluates the health claims made by this popular diet.

The Paleo diet is based on a faulty premise

‘There are a couple of factors to keep in mind when evaluating the Paleo diet. This diet is based on the premise that our ability to digest food has remained static for millions of years. In fact, we know that as human beings have migrated and adjusted to different climates, they have adapted nutritionally. Our digestive abilities today are different from the abilities of Paleolithic humans. But let’s look past the faulty premise of this diet to the pros and cons of its nutritional value.

Positive features of the Paleo diet

  • Discourages consumption of processed foods

Replacing highly processed foods with whole foods is a healthy habit.

  • Discourages sugar

Eating less added sugar can have great benefits. The Paleo diet may improve blood sugar, which would be good if you are prediabetic. The reduction of sugar and processed food consumption may also aid weight loss. However, there are many other diets and lifestyle changes that provide the same benefits. 

Negative features of the Paleo diet

  • Over-consumption of red meat

It’s fine to include red meat in your diet, as long as you limit consumption, but red meat is pro-inflammatory, which can contribute to inflammation in the body. The presence of inflammation has a linear relationship with disease risk.

  • Elimination of dairy and carbs

Dairy is a great source of protein and carbs and fat. Our body prefers to run on carbs, so sticking to the Paleo diet could leave you feeling pretty tired. Also, research shows that whole grain consumption can help to boost weight loss. Cutting those whole grains out of your diet may be counterproductive to weight-loss goals over time.

  • Diet premise is refuted by scientific evidence

The premise of the Paleo diet appeals to popular ideas that link natural ancient habits to what is healthy. However, nature is not static. Charles Darwin demonstrated that species evolve and adapt over time. Humans have indeed evolved, and so have our digestive systems.

Will eating like a caveman make us healthier? Those cavemen had some good habits. Increasing whole foods and decreasing sugar and processed food is certainly healthy. Still, it is important to look at how you were eating before you starting following the Paleo diet. If you were consuming a poor diet before, then you will feel great when you adapt to this new diet. But if you were previously consuming a well-balanced diet featuring all food groups, then you may not experience your hoped-for results.

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