One of the most common diets to breach the weight loss market in the last several years is the Paleo Diet, also known as the Paleolithic, Stone Age, Caveman or Warrior diet. This eating plan largely focuses on mimicking consumption of foods that would have only been available to the human ancestors of 2-3 million years ago, and is “based on the foods that could be hunted, fished, and gathered during the Paleolithic era – meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, tree nuts, vegetables, roots, fruits, and berries” (webmd.com). Even though this concept was first popularized by Dr. Walter Voegtlin’s 1975 book The Stone Age Diet, a recent Paleo craze has created an influx of devout followers. In recent years, several mainstream exercise programs (CrossFit, P90X, Insanity, etc.) have encouraged the Paleolithic approach to eating. In response a plethora of books, websites, user groups, online forums, blogs and videos have entered the market to support the modern caveman’s eating efforts. But Paleo isn’t for everyone and many vocal opponents of the diet have deemed it unsafe. So is it right for you?
The Pros of Paleo
Many advocates for the Paleolithic Diet describe it as one of the healthiest approaches to eating. Colorado State University’s Dr. Loren Cordain is a huge proponent of the plan and has dedicated much of his professional career to researching the effects of this program. “Clinical trials have shown that the Paleo Diet is the optimum diet that can lower risk of cardiovascular disease, blood pressure, markers of inflammation, help with weight loss, reduce acne, [and] promote optimum health and athletic performance” (www.thepaleodiet.com). In full, the Paleo Diet can:
- Reduce risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and most chronic degenerative diseases that affect people in the western world
- Lose weight
- Improve athletic performance
- Slow or reverse progression of an autoimmune disease
- Improve or eliminate acne
- Cause better sleeping habits and contribute to increased levels of activity
- Create an increased libido
- Improve mental outlook and clarity
The Cons of the Caveman
There is no denying that the average person will benefit from adopting the Paleo diet, especially if that person is transitioning from a high carbohydrate, high saturated fat and elevated sodium and sugar diet. The plan restricts participants to consuming whole foods, and the concentration on fresh fruits, vegetables and lean meats should make anyone’s primary care physician ecstatic. Yet common opponents of Paleo point to the elimination of dairy (and associated calcium consumption), grains and starches. Some of these ingredients have been accused of making people fat, but they are also important elements in other successful diet plans.
The Paleolithic Diet is one of the healthier options on the market; its focus on whole foods and lean protein sources earns serious bonus points. But before someone eliminates all dairy and grains from their diet, it’s important to consider the broader picture of what essential nutrients they might be giving up as well.