A whole food plant-based diet takes the win once again!
I have had many clients ask questions lately about the Paleo diet and if it is as health-promoting as its marketing would have you believe. Here’s what you need to know…
This diet is also known as: The Cave Man diet, The Stone Age diet, The Hunter-Gatherer diet or the Paleolithic diet
The Paleo diet seeks to resemble the natural diet of those living in the stone age. It is based on “hunting and gathering”. It includes lean meat/fish, vegetables, fruit, seeds and nuts. It avoids grains, dairy, legumes (including peanuts), refined sugar, salt and most potatoes.
The redeemable parts of this diet:
- It eliminates added sugar, salt, dairy and processed food which is generally better for overall health and one of the reasons that people often feel better when they first start a Paleo diet.
- It is helpful for weight loss and decreasing waist size.1 Again, this is mainly because it reduces sugars and processed foods.
- It has also been shown to prevent and help manage many chronic diseases.1 There is more data needed but it does look like it can help specifically with cardiovascular disease2 as well as fatty liver concerns.3
The reasons I do NOT promote this diet:
- It does result in certain nutrient deficiencies, especially iodine.4
- It reduces prebiotics that come from healthy resistance starch (grains and legumes)- a lack of prebiotics can cause challenges in the gut microbiome.5
- It is associated with increased disease risk that comes with a diet rich in animal products.
- It tends to put added stress on the kidneys, mainly due to the increase in animal protein.
- Animal protein also carries with it an increase in bacteria6 and often added antibiotics and hormones as well.
- Whole grains such as rice, quinoa and oats are health promoting in most cases and associated with a reduced risk of most lifestyle diseases. On the paleo diet, grains are removed completely.
- Legumes are also removed from this diet. Most legumes such as beans and lentils promote an increase in fiber, plant protein, natural sulfur compounds and a healthier microbiome.
The bottom line…
As indicated above, this diet can perhaps help those who are needing to lose weight and may be a transition from a standard American diet. Although, it could be argued that much of the benefit of this diet could be from the simple fact that it increases plant intake and eliminates processed foods and dairy.
In fairness, many of the controversies about the Paleo diet revolve around the sensationalized media version, not the real actual diet as it is intended as defined by science.7 As is always the case, there are good, better and best ways to do any diet. The best version of this diet should focus on lots of vegetables and fruits.8 But ultimately, a whole food plant-based diet would be superior to the paleo diet by a long shot!
1. De Menezes EVA, Sampaio HADC, Carioca AAF, et al. Influence of Paleolithic diet on anthropometric markers in chronic diseases: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutr J. 2019. doi:10.1186/s12937-019-0457-z
2. Ghaedi E, Mohammadi M, Mohammadi H, et al. Effects of a Paleolithic Diet on Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Adv Nutr. 2019. doi:10.1093/advances/nmz007
3. Otten J, Mellberg C, Ryberg M, et al. Strong and persistent effect on liver fat with a Paleolithic diet during a two-year intervention. Int J Obes. 2016. doi:10.1038/ijo.2016.4
4. Manousou S, Stål M, Larsson C, et al. A Paleolithic-type diet results in iodine deficiency: A 2-year randomized trial in postmenopausal obese women. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2018. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2017.134
5. Genoni A, Lo J, Lyons-Wall P, et al. A Paleolithic diet lowers resistant starch intake but does not affect serum trimethylamine-N-oxide concentrations in healthy women. Br J Nutr. 2019. doi:10.1017/S000711451800329X
6. Breitschwerdt EB, Sontakke S, Cannedy A, Hancock SI, Bradley JM. Infection with Bartonella weissii and detection of Nanobacterium antigens in a North Carolina beef herd. J Clin Microbiol. 2001. doi:10.1128/JCM.39.3.879-882.2001
7. Pitt CE. Cutting through the Paleo hype: The evidence for the Palaeolithic diet. Aust Fam Physician. 2016.
8. Slavin JL, Lloyd B. Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables. Adv Nutr. 2012. doi:10.3945/an.112.002154