- Mary Caldwell For the AJC
There probably weren't any overweight cavemen with heart disease running around in prehistoric times, so eating more like they did could help you be healthy and lose weight – at least that's the theory behind the Paleo Diet.
Wondering whether the Paleo Diet is right for you? Here's what you need to know, from the basics to the pros and cons:
Basics of the Paleo Diet
The Paleo Diet includes lots of lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Advocates of the Paleo Diet think that your body is naturally better suited to this type of diet than to the foods that emerged along with agriculture, such as dairy products and grains, which are strictly limited. Refined sugar, salt, highly processed foods and potatoes are also limited.
Paleo proponents believe that the human body was unable to adapt to the dietary changes that came about because of farming. As a result, these types of foods are believed to contribute to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
The diet was first created in the 1970s by a gastroenterologist, but it started to become extremely popular around 2012-2013 as part of the wider low-carb trend. This year, it's been named the most popular diet choice among Americans according to a survey by organic delivery service Green Chef.
Potential health benefits
Since the Paleo Diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits and nuts, it contains some healthy foods that are high in nutrients. Fruits and vegetables are also usually low in calories.
You're likely to feel full and satisfied while you're on The Paleo Diet, since it's high in protein and fiber. This may make you less likely to overeat, so you may be able to lose some weight. This is especially true if you're replacing unhealthy sugary or processed foods with vegetables, fruits and nuts.
Cutting out or reducing refined sugar and processed foods is a good idea generally, since they provide very little nutritional value and are loaded with calories. Most Americans consume too much of both, and they can contribute to obesity, which raises your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Similarly, most Americans get too much salt in their daily diet, often from processed foods, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This can raise your risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease.
Potential health risks
The magazine consulted experts who believed that because entire healthy food groups were excluded, the Paleo Diet made it hard for dieters to get the nutrients they needed. In fact, the diet was considered to be somewhat unsafe.
Similarly, The Mayo Clinic found the diet to be too restrictive. While it does have some healthy elements, it eliminates or limits foods that can be very nutritious. Whole grains and legumes, for example, are good sources of fiber, vitamins and other nutrients, including magnesium and selenium. Dairy products can be good sources of vitamin D, potassium and calcium.
The diet can also be difficult to follow over the long-term, Lenox Hill Hospital nutritionist Sharon Zarabi told CBS News. It can be challenging for busy people since it limits convenience foods, she said.
Finally, Scientific American called the diet "half-baked," reasoning that Paleo is based on oversimplified logic. We're biologically different from our predecessors – who weren't that healthy anyway – and today's foods aren't identical to what the cavemen were eating.