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The Paleo diet is the most popular diet of 2013 based on Google searches, according to the Huffington Post. Otherwise known as the Caveman or Stone-Age diet, it has been growing in popularity among both mainstream eaters, bodybuilders and CrossFitters alike. With accessible recipe and lifestyle blogs and famous adherents, 2013 was the year of Paleo. So, is it a good idea to eat like our prehistoric ancestors? I did some research.

What is Paleo? 

Paleo is basically a high protein and low carbohydrate diet.
It consists of plenty of meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, vegetables, fruit, honey and nuts. No grains (breads, cereal, pasta, rice, oatmeal, muffins ect) beans, dairy foods, refined sugars, caffeine or alcohol is allowed on this diet. A sample meal plan may look like this:

Breakfastbroiled salmon (360 g) and cantaloupe (2 cups)
Lunch – broiled lean pork loin (90 g), salad with carrots, tomatoes, walnuts, lemon juice (2 cups)
Dinner- lean sirloin (240 g), steamed broccoli (3 cups), salad with tomatos, avocado, almonds, onions and lemon juice (3 cups), strawberries for dessert (1 cup)
Snacks – orange, carrots, celery

Pro’s:

The diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, fibre, vitamins, potassium and magnesium. It also has no refined sugar or white flour and it’s low in sodium.

Con’s
:

Red meat and processed meats (sausage, ham and bacon) can raise the risk of colorectal cancer. The red meat, coconut oil and butter are high in saturated fat. The diet is also high in cholesterol and low in calcium and vitamin D.


Research:

  • There has been a handful of studies on this diet done since 2007.  However, all of these studies were small and short term, with three studies lacking a control group for comparison. This is an issue because it is unclear if people lost weight because they were on a certain diet or simply because they were participating in a study.
  • Some of the studies found lower blood sugar levels after an oral glucose tolerance test with this diet, however some did not. Also across the studies, there was no consistent weight loss amoung participants. 
  • There is a need for more longer term studies with this diet. The literature on diets in the past have shows that after one or two years, no diet outshines another in terms of weight loss.

Additional Thoughts:

The rationale behind this diet is that if we eat like our ancient ancestors, we can lower our risk for developing diet-related conditions that have become more prevalent in recent times such as diabetes or high blood pressure. This sounds completely reasonable. However, upon deeper pondering, it’s not actually possible to construct what early human beings were eating. Early humans weren’t eating plants or animals that resembled very closely the plants or animals that we eat today. We have been influencing the foods that we eat ever since the beginning of time. For example the ancestors of apples were little tiny bitter things, corn look like a head of grass seed and even grass-fed beef has been modified from its ancestors by breeding. I think we underestimate the degree to which we have affected everything in our environment. 

Bottom Line:

I think there are some lessons we can all take away from Paleo, like eating whole foods, lots of fruits and vegetables and limiting our consumption of refined sugars. However I would caution following this diet to a T due to the high amount of red meat it promotes and opt for leaner sources of protein such as poultry and fish. I would also pay attention to foods rich in calcium and vitamin D. In addition, there is no solid research evidence at present that the Paleo diet will help with weight loss in the long run.

*Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 62: 682, 2008.
Eur. J. Clinic. Nutr. 63: 947, 2009.
Cardiovasc. Diabetol. 8: 35, 2009.
N. Engl. J. Med. 360: 859, 2009.
Ann. Intern. Med. 153: 147, 2010

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