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Paleo Diet: Good or Bad?

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meat and pork liver with sauteed vegetablesThe Paleo Diet has exploded on the American culture within the last couple years and many people are wondering, “Is it for me?”  Lots of people have claimed to lose weight with the diet and feel better mentally and physically.  I am always asked, “What do you think? Is it good for me?  Is it bad for me? My cousin lost 20 lbs and I thought I would try it.”  My answer usually entails something to the effect of,  “There are some concepts about the Paleo diet that I really like, but others that I do not think are necessary.”  Will you lose weight?  Most likely, but what are you missing in order to lose those 20 lbs?

The concept behind the Paleo Diet involves eating like those of our caveman ancestors. It encourages consumption of lean meats (preferably grass fed and organic), seafood, fruits, vegetables and a variety of nuts and seeds. The diet discourages the intake of dairy products, legumes, grains, potatoes, refined salt & sugar, and processed oils.

So what is good about the diet?  The inclusion of fruits, vegetables and nuts are my favorite parts about this diet.  Fruits,  vegetables and nuts provide a variety of different antioxidants and minerals to help your body function properly.   They also include fiber which is an important component of any diet.  In addition, eliminating processed foods from the diet tends to be a good thing for your body. Lots of excess fat, sugar, salt and preservatives found in processed foods do not provide any nutritional benefit and may lead to negative health consequences.

So what is bad about the diet?  The exclusion of any food group such as dairy or grains can put you at risk for nutritional deficiencies.  There are a variety of B vitamins and minerals found in whole grains which are important components of any diet.  Dairy contains calcium for bone health which many people are already lacking in their diet. Lastly, The Paleo Diet eliminates one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet…Legumes! While it is true that protein and other nutrients are more easily absorbed from animal sources than with legumes, I do not feel beans need to be eliminated from the diet.  They contain vital nutrients that animal products cannot provide enough of such as folate and fiber.  Folate is an important component of DNA synthesis and legumes are an excellent natural food source.  In addition, the fiber in legumes may be more effective against colon cancer than other fiber sources (1).

My question for you is, “Why do you want try this diet?”  If it is too lose weight then I feel there are many other ways to lose weight without feeling so deprived.  Any diet you are on should be something you enjoy and are willing to stick with long term.  By using the word “diet,” I mean what you eat normally everyday, not what you eat to lose weight.  Eliminating dairy and grains can be very socially isolating and you may miss some of your favorite foods.  Most people lose weight on this diet because they end up eating less calories and are hungry because they are not allowed to eat a variety of foods that are available to them.  When I spoke to people who have tried this diet they stated they ended up eating a lot of meat because it was easier to eat on the go.  A vegetarian diet consisting of only broccoli is not healthy, just how a Paleo Diet consisting of only meat is not healthy either .  A variety of whole foods is the key to health.

I have also heard stories from people who say they have more energy and generally feel better when they are on the Paleo Diet.  These people may have an intolerance against dairy or gluten.  It is difficult to diagnose an intolerance but if a client states they feel better when they eliminate a certain food, then I think they should continue eliminating it. But it is still important to make sure you are getting the nutrients from another type of food.  If you would like to try the Paleo diet, I encourage you to visit with a dietitian to make sure you are getting all of your necessary nutrients.

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