Healthy living involves lifestyle changes, which need discipline and dedication toward a fulfilling path to longevity. Following a diet is one of the practices to begin with.
What is the paleo diet?
Paleo is a famous weight-loss plan that supposedly dates back to the diet of our Paleolithic ancestors. It encourages a balanced diet of fish, lean meat, fruits and vegetables.
It also highlights unprocessed foods and severely restricts carbohydrates, sugar and salt. Research suggests that the mentioned way of eating can lead to weight loss and other benefits, though it’s not without risks.
Fans of the Paleo diet regard that our bodies are better off consuming foods from early humans living in the Paleolithic age . Walter L Voegtlin, MD, first paved the way in his 1975 book The Stone Age Diet as a means to better health, and it became widespread in the book The Paleo Diet (2002) by researcher and exercise physiologist Loren Cordain.
How does it work?
The paleo diet ranks specific unprocessed foods with no added sugar or salt and restricts others. Allowed foods include:
- Lean, grass-fed meat: has protein low in saturated fat, vitamins (B12) and minerals (zinc, iron).
- Fish and seafood: provide protein and omega-3 fat.
- Non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, carrots, cucumbers and squash): provide fibre, vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytochemicals with low calories.
- Sweet potatoes: Paleo supporters tout root vegetables for their nutritional benefits.
- Fresh fruit: supplies antioxidants, phytochemicals and fibre.
- Olive oil: advised for heart-health benefits and monounsaturated fat and phytonutrients.
- Nuts (except peanuts because they are legumes): provide monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.
- Eggs: offer omega-3 fat, protein, vitamin A and choline (from egg yolk).
On the other hand, restricted foods include:
- Cheese, milk and yoghurt: not allowed because paleo supporters say they often have hormones and are associated with gastrointestinal problems (many people can’t absorb the sugar in dairy).
- Grains products (cereals and pasta): refined grains have a high glycemic index and can induce blood sugar levels to climb fast, initiating the release of insulin, a fat-storage hormone. It’s important to note that paleo limits all grains (not just refined ones).
- Legumes (beans, soy and peanuts): beans, in particular, have an average glycemic index.
Scientific examination of the paleo diet
What does science express about these health-related claims? Some breakthroughs in research have allowed us to explore further the potential benefits of the paleo diet to define if it should become something that healthcare professionals recommend .
A 2015 review looked into four random control trials (159 participants) with one or more of the five elements of metabolic syndrome . The researchers discovered that Paleolithic nutrition ushered in more significant short-term progress in the following areas compared with the control diet:
- Blood pressure
- Fasting blood sugar
- Levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as “good cholesterol
- Triglyceride levels
- Waist circumference
In addition, a study published in the Nutrition Journal looked into other randomized control trials . They want to establish a relationship between the paleo diet and the prevention and control of “chronic diseases and anthropometric measurements”.
The study uncovered a mean weight loss of 3.52 kilograms and a decreased waist circumference and body mass index (BMI) in individuals who followed a paleo diet instead of those consuming other typically suggested diets.
The researchers of this study recommend that following a paleo diet may lower the risk of chronic illnesses, as retaining extra body weight is one of the significant risk factors for their development.
Possible difficulties or concerns to be encountered
The paleo diet has shown to bring health benefits, as mentioned above. However, missing out on essential nutrients is a risk. Many of the health benefits paleo promotes may be due to weight loss from the diet instead of being on a diet itself.
There are several risks associated with going on a paleo diet, such as:
- Consuming too much saturated fat: a proper paleo diet is rich in berries, nuts, seeds, sweet potatoes and vegetables. If you consume enough of those foods, you can get enough fibre. The problem happens when most people do not. Many individuals accept what they want from the diet, like eating all the meat they want and forget to concentrate on vegetables. That can result in a diet elevated in saturated fat.
- Not getting enough vitamins: the paleo diet does not allow dairy foods, and obtaining sufficient vitamin D and calcium can be concerning. Similarly, with many foods listed as “do not eat”, some people may find it too problematic to maintain this eating pattern.
As with all diet and lifestyle changes, it’s best to have your current medical status evaluated before starting any regimen. You might have the best interests in mind with following healthier practices but might end up causing more harm if the correct precautions are not taken.