You would literally have to be a caveman to have not heard of the paleo diet. But if you are like the rest of us, just because you have heard of it doesn’t mean you’re clear about what it truly entails. Here we examine the paleo diet pros and cons, as well as advice on what’s best for you.
Firstly, what is the paleo diet?
The paleo diet is derived from the dietary habits of the hunter-gatherer ‘cavemen’. They were from the paleolithic period (before farming or cultivating foods existed) where they fed on wild nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, meats and seafoods. It specifically excludes grains, dairy, legumes, processed oils and sugar. The premise is that your body has not evolved to cope with the modern diet, so you must eat the way your ancestors did more than 10,000 years ago. While the theories behind their evolutionary claims are a little dubious (and difficult to scientifically prove), there is enough interest to warrant looking at the pro’s and con’s.
Pros of the paleo diet
- Improves outcomes of lifestyle diseases
Lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, have dramatically increased over the last 50 years, which correlates to the increased consumption of processed foods. Traditional Asian diets have become dominated by refined sugars, highly processed fats and numerous additives. In turn, this has created mixed signals of satiety (feeling full) and which encourage overeating. So, when paleo diet advocates claim that the modern diet (of significant amounts of processed fats and refined sugars) isn’t healthy for us, we’ve got to agree they are absolutely correct. However, this comes with the caveat that the paleo diet goes beyond just restricting the amount of processed foods, and this is where it can be dangerous (more on that in the con’s).
- Weight loss
If you go from a ‘normal’ diet that has a mixture of fresh and processed foods to a paleo diet you are likely to lose weight. This seems a little obvious considering you are cutting out all processed sugars and a major source of carbohydrates (grains and legumes). Also, you generally have a limited selection of ‘acceptable’ paleo foods, hence you have less available calories.
- Improved satiety
As is the case when you eat wholefoods, with a paleo diet you feel fuller for longer. This should technically reduce overeating and help with maintaining a healthy weight. Only for as long as you are consistent with the paleo diet habits. However, this may also come with a counterintuitive cost of ‘too much of a good thing’ can be risky to your health.
- Strong community
The paleo diet followers are cult-like in their approach to the paleo lifestyle. They have created extensive online support networks for those who immerse themselves in the paleo diet lifestyle. This sense of community is often critical in successful weight loss programs.
- Increased awareness of problematic processed foods
Because of the trendy uptake of the paleo diet, society in general has become more aware of the dangers in the modern diet. Being educated is being empowered, hence it’s also important to look at the cons of the paleo diet.
Cons of the paleo diet
- Increases risk of lifestyle disease
In order to replace eliminated food groups (grains, legumes and dairy), the paleo diet often increases the proportion of meat in your daily meals (instead of the ancestors 1:1 ratio of calories from meats to produce). This mistakenly increased protein consumption paired with eating inadequate carbohydrates can cause problems with kidney function. Today’s meats are also higher in saturated fat compared to those of our ancestors, which can increase risk of heart disease.
- Weight gain
The paleo diet can cause overeating of not only high fat meats (proteins) but high fat foods such as nuts. A recent study from the University of Texas suggests that people eat more than the recommended serving size when they eat what they consider to be healthy food. They found that people automatically consider healthy food less filling and therefore eat more. This can lead to weight gain for people who believe that they can eat as much as they want on the paleo diet.
- Removes scientifically supported, beneficial food groups
Many of the banned paleo diet foods are inherently good for you! There is very little scientific evidence to back the claims of the paleo diet. On the other hand, there are myriads of scientific studies proving the benefits of whole grains, legumes and dairy. They lower the risk of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, reduce blood pressure and promote healthy weight management.
- Not ideal for social living in Asia
The paleo diet is a complete lifestyle. It’s a strict adherence to specific foods, rather than a balanced diet that incorporates a variety of food groups. It’s restrictive nature therefore makes modern, social living hard to maintain. Eating out is the most popular communal activity in Asia and ‘living’ the paleo diet makes this social interaction difficult, especially with the expense associated with paleo ingredients and cafes.
- Dangerous health implications
If you remove foods and nutrients without finding suitable replacements, you can create a nutrient imbalance. Jaclyn Reutens, Aptima Nutrition and Sports Consultants dietician and Active8me expert suggests the paleo diets’ strict adherence to removal of grains and legumes could lead to hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. This condition can cause all manner of dangerous effects from dizziness to heart palpitations. In addition, your digestive system will show signs of distress with irregular bowel movements and loose stools. The paleo diet also cuts out all dairy, which is generally the main source of calcium in the modern diet. You need to source sufficient calcium from elsewhere otherwise your bone health and muscle function suffer.
What’s best for you?
The paleo diet appears to be on the right track with cutting out processed foods, but there just seems to be something missing. Oh, that’s right…it’s the very important and healthy food groups of grains, legumes and dairy! At Active8me, when we talk of a balanced diet, it incorporates the realities of modern living. You should focus on clean eating (wholefoods and less processed food) and living an active, healthy, balanced lifestyle instead of a severely restrictive and inhibitive one.
At Active8me we don’t like restrictive diets. We’re not into fads. We avoid hype and the latest gimmicky trends. We believe in evidence-based information from experts. We believe in listening to your body. We believe that there is no one perfect diet as everyone is different. We believe in making educated, empowered decisions. We believe in you … and your power to get in the best shape of your life and create the life you want.
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If you want to read more about ways to create healthy nutrition habits try these reads and check out the Active8me app:
- 11 Rejuvenating Foods For Stunning Youthful Skin
- 5 Awesome Asian Superfoods For a Younger You
- Be the Smart One and Avoid these Common Diet Traps
- 5 Bad Foods You Should Eat
- 5 Excuses that No Longer Work for Skipping Breakfast