Is the Paleo Diet All It Promises?

What is the Paleo diet?

The Paleo diet is loosely based on the diet consumed by humans 10,000 years ago before the advent of modern agriculture and grain centered eating. Modern paleo eating consists of:  fish, grass-fed meats, eggs, unlimited vegetables and fruit, most nuts, and some oils (avocado, flaxseed, coconut). For grain sensitive people, it’s both gluten-free, and grain-free. Paleo excludes: grains, dairy, beans and other legumes (including peanuts), fruit juices, potatoes, refined sugar, salt, and refined oils.

Positive Praise for Paleo…

Paleo offers abundant fresh foods. For people who have relied too much on refined carbohydrates and processed foods, Paleo offers a chance to restart your diet with more fresh foods, fruit and vegetables, and healthier meats.

Paleo recommends grass fed meats and many organic foods. Paleo promotes organic animal foods that have been raised more humanely. Grass fed meats are notably higher in healthy essential fats, and lower in saturated fat than commercial meats. Grass fed meats also contain more vitamins E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. Organic meats also avoid antibiotic and hormone loading notorious in factory farm animals. (Antibiotics and hormones in your food mean antibiotics and hormones in your body.)

Paleo gets the junk out. There is no more fast food or eating out of a box with Paleo. Paleo dieters shop the perimeter of the grocery store where the real food is. Most Paleo meals are prepared at home, a bonus for more control of portions and healthy ingredients. In many ways, Paleo is moving in the right direction for health, but there are drawbacks.

Paleo eating can produce weight loss for a time. Most people I’ve spoken with initially lose 10 pounds or so before they hit both an energy and weight loss plateau on Paleo. Unfortunately, most people find it difficult to stick to Paleo eating (like most diets), or they eventually overeat fat and meat to make up for a lack of complex carbohydrates.

Problems with Paleo

The “Paleo” diet isn’t really Paleolithic. Evidence suggests ancient humans were opportunistic omnivores, scavenging tubers, twigs, animal foods and just about anything they could hunt or find. Paleolithic man’s diet relied much more on nuts, fruits and leaves, than meat. Meat was only occasionally eaten after a successful hunt or was scavenged from a carcass time to time.

Modern Paleo relies too heavily on meat and contains too much saturated fat. A high meat diet doesn’t work well for weight loss over the long-term, and is linked to cardiovascular disease, and many cancers. Further, raising food animals is very resource demanding. Plant-based diets are clearly more Earth friendly, sparing more water and land, and producing less pollution. And while organic meats are healthier than commercial meats, they are too costly for most people for every day eating. A plant-based diet is still the best for health, and the most cost and resource effective.

A Paleolithic diet may not be as health protective as you think. Some evidence suggests that Paleolithic man was as prone to clogged arteries as modern man. Additionally, although refined carbohydrates offer few benefits, bacteria in modern man’s gut has evolved to be able to digest healthy whole grains and other high fiber foods easily.

High protein diets can be taxing to the kidneys and may not provide enough energizing nutrients for people who engage in sports or intensive exercise.

High protein diets like the Paleo diet are notorious for causing fatigue, especially for people who engage in sports or intensive exercise. A lack of complex carbohydrates can leave the body drained with few reserves for sustained energy throughout the day. For people who work out intensely, a Paleo diet also may leave nutritional gaps or even slow down weight loss.

A Plant Based Diet Is Better for Weight Loss and Health

While refined grains have been hybridized and genetically altered to the point where they can no longer be considered part of a healthy diet, whole grains contain a wealth of nutrients, high fiber and complex carbohydrates to include in a healthy, plant based diet. Today Lotus Food, Rice Select, Vita Spelt, Simply Balanced and Eden Foods all offer an excellent selection of non-GMO verified whole grains.

Can Vegetarians Go Low Carb?

While it’s not easy, even vegans and vegetarians can go low carb to accelerate weight loss temporarily. For people stuck on weight loss plateau, it’s a great way to jumpstart weight loss because your body shifts into burning fats for fuel instead of carbohydrates.

To minimize fatigue and low carb burn out, try reducing the amount of grains you’re using gradually rather than all of a sudden. One option is to cut out high carb foods after lunch. This especially helps reduce excess fat and sugar storage in the evening when you are less active.

 For a low carb, plant based diet, include high protein/ fiber foods like: quinoa, chia seed, flax seed, hemp protein, spirulina and other blue-green algaes, beans (all kinds), and eggs (if not vegan). You need to become creative for this type of diet to work, but today there is an abundance of good tips online and in vegetarian cook books.

For people who want try a modified Paleo diet, whole 30 is a good choice, and is only a month’s commitment.