A look at this popular and sometimes controversial diet.
The Paleo Diet was the most searched for diet of 2013, but its popularity, especially in the culinary scene, continues to grow. This modern-day “hunter-gatherer” diet focuses on produce, lean meats, and healthy fats. Yes, you read that right.
A cornerstone of this diet is the conscious choice to eat fats…after cutting out grains, dairy, and processed foods. Especially sugar.
While this diet has drawn many critics, others have hailed it for its pro-weight loss properties and ability to reduce the risk of certain diseases. Some even claim it reverses the effect of chronic diseases. But, as I’m sure you are wondering, as with most “fad diets,” is at least some level of smoke-and-mirrors involved?
Is this modern-day-caveman diet a solution that works? Or is it a one-way ticket to early-onset heart disease?
What are the Benefits?
The Paleo diet includes far more protein than the average Western diet, usually in the form of grass-fed meat, poultry, seafood, and organ meats.
The diet also steers you toward non-starchy fruits and vegetables as your main carbohydrate source. No more clearing the bread basket at the Italian restaurant! These fruits and vegetables account for nearly half of your daily calories. Most non-starchy produce has a low glycemic index, meaning it digests and absorbs slower than most other foods. The bonus is your blood sugar levels will not spike as a result.
-Higher intake of unsaturated fats, leading to an increase of Omega-3 and Omega-6.
-Increased fiber intake.
-Higher potassium intake.
– Reduction in dietary acid.
-A generally higher intake of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
…But it May Not be For Everyone.
For those switching to a more paleo-centric diet, the idea of giving up all processed foods, sugar and grains may sound, well, impossible.
But, if you’ve struggled with other weight loss efforts, like calorie counting, strict portion control or limiting fat, building your diet plan around the paleo concept may be a viable way to lose weight. Unlike exclusively plant-based diets, there is less concern about supplementing your way to proper nutrition. Long story short, going paleo has a pretty good chance of fixing your negative relationship with food. It provides boundaries rather than restrictions, which people tend to do better with anyway.
While nutritionists and food scientists are still debating the real pros and cons of going paleo, there is one thing they all seem to agree on: Paleo gets you cooking. Cooking from home and focusing on fresh ingredients almost always leads to positive outcomes. Typically, people who cook from home consume fewer calories overall.
Talk About Brain Food
There are a lot of bold claims about diets out there. You will hear about how going vegan eliminated someone’s diabetes. But one of the most intriguing claims is that of Dr. Terry Wahls and her experience with a hunter-gatherer diet. Working with increasingly debilitating multiple sclerosis, Dr. Wahls took it upon herself to research how nutrition may slow the progression of her condition. At the time, she was permanently in an antigravity chair, requiring assistance in taking even the shortest of walks.
In her research, Dr. Wahls found that the food most of us consume as part of the Western diet does not foster positive brain health. When comparing the diets of the modern person to that of the hunter-gatherer, she found that even with limited resources, these hunter-gatherers had better overall health. One can argue that by using this dietary model, we are simply returning to the way our bodies are designed to eat.
Using this as a model, Dr. Wahls used herself as an experiment to incredible results.
Within months, she was walking again. Within a year, she was physically active again. Check out her story in depth, below.
Critiques of the Diet
When a diet gets as much attention as paleo has, it does not take long for naysayers and warnings to come out about its health risks or “obvious” contradictions.
Here are some things that may come up when discussing paleo:
Food Has Changed Too Much- This is true, to an extent. What we consume today is much different than the food of our ancestors. However, most people who choose to model their diet after paleo people tend to eat grass fed meats and wild fish. It is as close to going out and hunting it down as you can get.
There’s Too Much Meat to Actually Be Healthy– While a majority of the protein on the diet is meat-based, nowhere does it say that you need to eat ONLY meat. In fact, a balanced paleo meal would be at least 2/3 vegetables, with a small portion of meat. Grass-fed and free-range, that is. Not packaged hot dogs by the cartful.
While meat consumption is not for everyone, paleo encourages moderation and eating meat that comes from ethical sources.
You Need Grains for Energy– Cutting carbs and grain is hard. Some could point to Eastern cultures where grains are a main staple, and many consider them to be the healthiest people in the world.
However, many people do suffer from gastrointestinal distress, usually from heavily processed grains. Not to mention, the increasing number of people suffering from gluten sensitivity and intolerance. For a decent size of the population, cutting out grains can hold a larger benefit than it can for others.
That said, some paleo enthusiasts are open to the occasional oatmeal or quinoa splurge. Others choose to follow an 80/20 rule, in which 80% of their meals are full paleo, and the remaining 20% are not. All things in moderation…
There’s So Much FAT! – While, yes, the diet does encourage the consumption of fats, it is important to keep in mind that a lot of what we “know” about fat is not exactly true. Low-fat and fat-free substitutes are often packed with sugar and other additives to make up for the lost flavor. But, just because Paleo allows you bacon, coconut oil, and grass-fed steak, does not mean eat it every day. That much fat could still put you at risk.
Focus on healthy fats, but don’t run away screaming from the saturated fats. A responsible amount can actually help you LOSE more weight, as it reduces hunger between meals.
Would you attempt a paleo diet?
As with any drastic dietary change, you should consult a nutritionist, doctor, or medical weight loss clinic before starting. Physicians Weight Loss can help you navigate the excess of weight loss information and find a diet plan that suits your specific needs. We can help you lose weight quickly, safely and effectively.