We’re starting a new series dissecting popular diets.
First up: Paleolithic Diet, aka Paleo. Grab some coffee, this is a heavy one!
This graphically explains what Paleos (at least the original diet) eat. Grains, legumes, dairy, starches (such as potatoes), refined sugar and franken or artificial foods are not allowed. There are various branches off the Tree-o-Paleo in which slight variations, such as the inclusion of dairy for those who can digest it well, occur but for the most part the focus is on grass-fed/wild caught meat, lots of veggies, nuts and seeds and minimal fruit/sweet things. (and by “sweet” I mean they advocate raw honey…and that’s about it.) Essentially, stuff hunter/gatherers might eat.
So why eat Paleo??
What the Paleos say:
- Prevention of Syndrome X (This is a cluster of symptoms/disease that include obesity, hypertension, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, insulin insensitivity/Type II diabetes.) due to the high fiber, lean protein and omega-3 fat content paleo promotes.
-Prevention of acid/base imbalance symptoms (osteoporosis, kidney stones, hypertension, stroke, asthma, insomnia) because of the copious veggies and fruit will make the body more alkaline (basic). Though I would argue you have to actually include the vegetables in your diet (not just say you do) as meats are highly acidic.
- On paleo, you can lose weight, improve resting glucose blood levels (IMPORTANT for preventing Type II diabetes), lower cholesterol, decrease systemic inflammation (key in preventing cardiovascular disease) and decreasing the risk of autoimmune diseases that are linked to “leaky gut syndrome.” (Check out here and here for Paleo info.)
Time out for Cuteness:
What the Research says:
-3 month study done by Lindeberg and co. with men with ischemic heart disease and Type II diabetes. They compared the Mediterranean diet vs. Paleo diet. Findings: both groups improved but the Paleo group had significant improvement in their resting glucose levels, increased their insulin sensitivity, and lost more belly fat.
-Another shorter study, 10 days, looked at the effects of Paleo eating on normal adults. After 10 days: LDL and total cholesterol decreased, blood pressure decreased and blood vessel elasticity (important for healthy hearts) increased, increased insulin sensitivity (good) and no one got worse.
These are what I found when I typed “paleolithic diet clinical trials” “clinical trial, paleolithic,” and “effects of paleolithic diet.” Note that these two studies, while promising, were very small and were only able to really demonstrate a few of the Paleo benefits.
There is a lot of research out there on the “Western” diet and the adverse effects it has upon our culture. Paleo stands on the fact that it’s NOT the Western diet and in the absence of Western diet components, (refined grains, sugars and highly processed foods) people will inherently improve their health. However, while I agree that everyone should eat whole food, lots of vegetable, lean meats, fruit and nuts, I DON’T agree with the absence of dairy, legumes, starches and unrefined grains (no, “whole wheat bread” from most grocery stores isn’t what I mean.)
No beans and legumes (including my beloved peanut butter)… not so sure about that one either. Legumes are an excellent source of fiber, potassium, magnesium and are a slow digesting carb which helps keep blood sugar level even. These characteristics help prevent the same things Paleo claims to prevent. I couldn’t find any clinical trials stating that beans were bad. Though I did find this…
Also, while yes there are people who are gluten-sensitive (about 12% population) and only about 1% have celiac disease and thus have problems with wheat and grain-based food. But I couldn’t find any studies that proved that “most people” (as paleos claim) are sensitive to gluten. Therefore, know thyself. If you have an adverse reaction (or just feel kinda crummy) when you have a lot of gluten in your diet, take it out and see what happens. But I don’t see the problem with the inclusion of grains in the context of a whole food diet.
Whew! Lotsa reading in that one folks! So is Paleo right for you? It depends. Try it and see if you like it. If nothing else, it won’t hurt and it’ll help you eat real food.
As for me, I’m keeping my beans, legumes, a little dairy and grains.