Paleo dieters are sometimes huge supporters of their lifestyle and have copious reasons why everyone should hop on board, and they seem convincing. Other news and nutrition organizations may be telling us that the Paleo diet will put you at risk of nutrient deficiency.
The premise of the Paleo diet is based on eating how humans ate in the Paleolithic era, which ended around 10,000 years ago with the start of agriculture and the domestication of animals. It excludes legumes, grains, dairy products, processed oils, sugar, alcohol, coffee, salt, and all processed foods. Paleo’s leave out starchy vegetables such as potatoes and peas, but focus on meats, fish, shellfish, eggs, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and roots. This leads to a diet high in protein, fat and fiber, but low in carbohydrates and some essential minerals.
The rationale behind the diet is that human metabolism has not been able to evolve quickly enough to keep up with the processed, energy dense foods we have developed in the last few thousand years. Proponents of the Paleo diet believe this to be the reason why humans have developed modern conditions such as cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. There is no scientific evidence to support this claim, but there is none that necessarily disagrees with it either. Although, the biggest problem experts have with the diet is not its reasoning, but rather the actual foods dieters are told to emphasize and exclude.
The emphasis on fruits and vegetables is of course not a bad thing; it results in higher vitamin and phytochemical consumption. The focus on nuts and seeds isn’t bad either, although it can lead to excess fat in the diet depending on what kind and how many nuts a dieter consumes. The stress placed on meat, seafood and eggs yields a more than adequate intake of protein, iron and vitamin B12; however, because of heightened red meat consumption, there is an increased risk of colorectal cancer and type 2 diabetes. In addition, if the meats consumed aren’t lean, cholesterol and heart disease could become a problem.
Another huge problem experts have with the Paleo diet is that it completely leaves out two essential food groups: grains and dairy. There is evidence showing that daily whole grain consumption is associated with health benefits such as lower risk of colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and obesity. Also, the diet’s calcium content is far below government recommendations, putting its strict followers at risk of osteoporosis. Paleo dieters claim that overall diet composition improves calcium absorption, so calcium from dairy products isn’t necessary; however, bone researchers disagree.
One benefit of the Paleo diet is that it is low carb and low calorie, which may help type 1 and type 2 diabetics maintain better blood sugar control. The American Institute of Cancer Research doesn’t recommend the Paleo diet, but it approves of its attitude regarding fresh produce, and lean meats. The institute encourages emphasis on fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, but does not suggest excluding any entire food groups because of risk of nutrient deficiency.