The Problem With the Paleo Diet
The popular Paleo Diet, also known as the Caveman Diet, traces back to the Paleolithic era. The principle of the Paleo Diet is to eat the way humans have been biologically and genetically programmed to, adopting the hunter-gatherer eating habits. Foods included in the Paleo Diet are animal proteins, seafood, vegetables and fruits. Foods that are excluded when following the Paleo Diet include processed foods, grains, carbohydrates, dairy products, salt and refined sugar. While some studies show health benefits and weight loss from the Paleo Diet, many remain skeptical to its overall effectiveness. Here are a few concerns regarding the Paleo Diet that should be considered:
Emphasis on High Fat Meats Meat raised millions of years ago is not the same as meat raised today. Currently, animals are fed high amounts of corn, grains, antibiotics and hormones. Thus, their nutritional composition is much different than the wild meat in the Paleolithic era. In addition, research suggests that consuming meat with a high level of saturated fat can increase LDL (bad cholesterol) and increase the risk of certain types of cancer. To reduce your risk of cancer, limit the amount of red meat you consume to no more than 18 ounces a week and avoid all processed meats.
Low Carb The Paleo Diet calls for the elimination of cereal grains such as wheat, oats, corn and brown rice. Cereal grains have a range of nutrients including fiber, B vitamins, iron, magnesium and selenium. They naturally help our bodies lower cholesterol levels, control blood sugar and fight the risk of chronic diseases. Consistent low carbohydrate intake could lead to an overuse of fat for energy, leading to ketosis. Ketosis occurs when ketones, a by-product of fat breakdown, builds up in the blood. High levels of ketones can lead to dehydration, headaches, bad breath and other more serious metabolic irregularities.
Restriction of Dairy Products Dairy is rich in calcium and vitamin D, both of which are critical to bone health. Restricting dairy can lead to deficiencies in calcium and vitamin D, causing hypocalcemia and osteoporosis.
Separation of “Good” and “Bad” Foods A one-size-fits-all approach does not work. Categorizing foods into “good” and “bad” can lead to feelings of shame, guilt and low self-esteem when the rules of the diet are not followed.
Given the potentially damaging consequences, eating like our ancestors is not necessarily the key to sustainable weight loss or preventing chronic disease. Cavemen did not typically live past the age of 30. In addition, evolution has altered how we digest food. If you are interested in changing how you eat, be sure to consider your health background and nutritional needs. A registered dietitian can help with the most appropriate nutritional plan for you.
Written by: Jackie Santiago, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern