Liz’s Nutrition Notes: What is the Paleo Diet?

I’m sure you’ve all heard of, and maybe tried, many diets; one that almost everyone has heard of is the Paleo Diet. So this week, I thought I’d share some general information about it, and some pros and cons.

What is the Paleo Diet?
The Paleo diet is a diet that has been endorsed by various health spokespersons and gyms as a healthy way to eat, based on the way our ancestors ate. Chronic diseases were lower in the Paleolithic Era some 10,000 years ago, and followers of the Paleo Diet believe that our genetics were adapted to consume a diet like our “paleo” ancestors. The diet is viewed as “natural” as it only allows food that can be gathered from the earth by hand. Believers in the Paleo Diet want us to eat just like people would have 10,000 years ago – the theory is that animal protein and plants contribute to overall well-being, whereas carbohydrates (whether whole grain or refined) and dairy are to blame for the increased prevalence of chronic diseases in our nation.

What can you eat on the Paleo Diet?

  •  Lean meats (must be grass fed, not grain fed)
  • Fish (must be wild-caught and not farm raised)
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Seed
  • Natural Oils (olive, walnut, coconut, avocado, macadamia, flaxseed)

What CAN’T you eat on the Paleo Diet?

  •  Dairy
  • Grains
  • Processed foods and sugars
  • Legumes
  • Starches
  • Refined oils
  • Alcohol
  • Salt

Supporters of the Paleo Diet endorse a number of benefits gained by following the diet. These include: weight loss, reduced risk of developing chronic diseases, improved athletic performance, increased energy, improved sleep, improved outlook, stable blood sugars, and reversal of autoimmune diseases.

However, a number of cons exist for the Paleo Diet, as well. I’m going to list a few, then go into some more detail.

Drawbacks to the Paleo Diet

  • No dairy intake can increase risk for bone disease
  • No whole wheat products decreases fiber intake, B vitamin consumption
  • Sustainability of diet can be difficult
  • People are inconsistent when carrying out the diet
  • Grass fed meat, free range eggs, etc. tend to be more expensive
  • Often requires nutritional supplements (which our ancestors did not take)
  • Sufficient evidence to support the long-term effects of this diet do not exist

 Now, to go a bit more in detail about some of the drawbacks…

Our bodies need at least 120g of glucose per day to function adequately. Our body’s most readily available source of glucose comes from carbohydrates – found primarily in grains. Not only do grains provide our bodies with needed glucose, but whole grain carbohydrates also provide important nutrients like fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, iron, magnesium, and selenium! Fiber is especially important to help lower cholesterol, promote GI regularity, and aid in weight loss.

Dairy products are the best source of calcium. Because dairy products have been cut from the Paleo Diet, risk for bone disease is increased. Plant foods can contain calcium, but the calcium absorption may be inhibited by the phytate and oxylates found in most plants sources. In addition, dark leafy plants also contain iron, which competes with calcium absorption as well. The bottom line is that adequate calcium absorption, without supplementation, will be difficult while following a Paleo Diet.

The Paleo Diet stresses higher fruit and vegetable intake. Vitamin C is found in fruits and aids in the absorption of iron. Thus vegetables sources containing calcium and iron (dark leafy greens, soybean nuts) will result in the iron being absorbed instead of the calcium. Vitamin D, which is found is some oily fish (tuna, salmon) aids in calcium absorption. It is not readily available in our diet, which is why most products are fortified with it. Without dairy, which does have vitamin D, calcium absorption may decline as well.
And finally, some overall food for thought:
Can we really define our “Paleo” ancestors’ exact diet? No, we cannot. Depending on culture, location, and accessibility of food, our ancestors of 10,000 years ago could have had drastically different diets. The fad “Paleo Diet” is a generalized idealization!

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