The “Paleo Diet” has been out for a quite a while now, but recently I have been getting more and more questions or comments from friends, family, and patients. Overall, without knowing much I really sort of shrugged it off as another FAD diet, but probably not a very bad one since it emphasizes increased fruits and vegetables, while eliminating processed junk foods. Sounds like the PERFECT plan to most people! So… what’s the problem then?
After doing some research and because I have been studying nutrition for the last 6 years, I feel that it is appropriate to analyze this so called wonder diet so that people can be more aware about what they are eating (or WORSE, not eating). Peer-reviewed studies on the Paleolithic diet stated many healthful benefits to the diet, but commented that it would be difficult to maintain long term and may be difficult to adhere to. Through my research I discovered that even U.S. News ranked the Paleo Diet toward the bottom of their “Best Diets Overall” list.
While all diets attempt to offer some strategic intention of healthy hopeful miracles, it is obvious that any diet that over emphasizes or restricts a particular food group is not considered to be a balanced diets that nutrition experts recommend. Yes, one could argue that cutting all processed refined carbohydrates, sweets, and candies is like cutting out an entire food group, but this is not accurate. Food groups consist of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. To be so extreme as to say, “no more bread, pastas, or a grain” is just as much a FAD diet as the Atkins diet promoted “high protein, low carbs”. This diet did not work long term then, and it may not work long term now.
My biggest “issue” with this diet is that it lacks whole grains, which is a major carbohydrate that includes B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate), iron, magnesium, selenium, fiber, and other essential nutrients. Yes, people have said “well there are carbs in my fruit and vegetables”. While this is completely true, there is still a wealth of vitamins and high quality fiber found primarily in whole grains. Soluble fibers found in oats, beans, and barely decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease and reduce cholesterol. Insoluble fiber found in whole wheat, rye, and bran has similar effects and helps you stay full longer, preventing overeating. Getting enough variety in the diet is also important. Fruits, vegetables, AND whole grains are part of a balanced diet, in which getting enough fiber (25-35g/day) is essential for gut health, decreasing risk of cancers, heart disease, and excess weight gain. In addition to cutting whole grains, this diet emphasizes avoidance of dairy. About 60% of adults cannot digest milk, but eliminating that food group eliminates a major source of calcium. Not all calcium foods are created equal, which means absorption rates vary. Plant sources of calcium are GREAT, but are typically less bioavailable due to oxalates and phytates that slow the absorption rate. You would need to supplement that food group for a calcium rich source.
But what about all the successful people out there that look AND feel great from the Paleo diet? Of course, there are fitness gurus and health nuts out there that are going to have success with any kind of diet where commitment is had! Lasting success is to be celebrated! But, the majority of the population cannot maintain this kind of diet long term. Exclusion of a single food group will almost always create a sense of guilt or havoc for many people, which could lead to restrictive eating habits, binge eating, or worse.
If you are part of the Paleo diet craze, just play it safe and modify the diet now and again. I am not saying you should go out and eat a Twinkie once a week, but take some healthful precautions! If this is a long term lifestyle choice, make sure to plan a well-rounded diet, include some supplements (but talk with your doctor first), choose leaner cuts of meat more often, find a variety of calcium rich sources to improve absorption, and be flexible with the diet plan!
Overall, I believe some of the core concepts of the Paleo diet are PRETTY GOOD, but remain flexible to some food groups, have a variety, and use common sense.
Nichole “The Angry Cupcake” blogger