The Paleo diet—otherwise known as the Caveman diet— wants to take you back in time. Paleo fans eat only what comes straight from the soil. While there are healthy components to this diet, the food restrictions are unnecessary.
These days, it feels like new food trends are constantly coming to market. From juice cleansing to going gluten-free, dieters and healthy eaters alike are left wondering, “What are the smart choices for my diet and my body?” In an effort to offer some clarity and take it back to simpler times, we have chosen to examine: the Paleolithic diet.
Inspired by the foods of our ancestors.
A Paleolithic, or “Paleo,” diet is a diet inspired by the foods of our ancestors. Often called “the caveman diet,” this diet regimen focuses on a more simple call to action: clean, primal eating. The Paleo diet emphasizes the importance of the foods that our ancestors had access too, which include grass-produced meats, nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, healthy oils (those of olive, avocado, coconut, etc.), and animal products, such as eggs.
The Paleo method believes that human metabolism was not made to digest today’s highly processed foods. Instead, the diet emphasizes the importance of the foods that our ancestors had access too, which include grass-produced meats, nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, and healthy oils (those of olive, avocado, coconut, etc.), and animal products, such as eggs.
Proponents of the Paleo diet believe the human digestive system has wrongfully adapted to eating “toxic” foods, such as grain, legumes, and dairy. Foods such as these were not available to our ancestors, thus our bodies are not designed to consume them. However, lean meats, seafood, and seasonal fruits and vegetables were the basis of a Neanderthal’s diet and our digestive system is equipped to break these foods down.
or example, while we agree that protein is a very important part of your diet, the way our ancestors consumed protein is not similar to modern practices. When our ancestors hunted and killed an animal for its meat they gorged themselves on the food for days and could go months without another successful hunt.
There are health benefits from eating whole grains.
While it is healthy to consume protein and whole fruits and veggies as the diet prescribes, there are health benefits from eating whole grain. Whole grains are high in fiber–which is good for your digestive system, are digested slowly so can keep you full for longer, and can help reduce the risk of heart disease. As for the argument that eating whole grain can cause inflammation, this is certainly true for those suffering from celiac’s disease, however, it is untrue if you have no wheat sensitivity. In fact, going gluten-free can often lead to a diet higher in sugar and saturated fats. For these reasons, we disagree with the Paleo diets requirement to cut grain completely from your diet.
There are health benefits from eating legumes.
In addition to eliminating grain, the diet recommends eliminating legumes, like lentils, beans, or peas, from your diet. The Paleo diet argues that the lectins, which is a sugar-binding protein, found in legumes eliminate their nutritional value. But this is not true! A 2013 study suggests the nutritional content of legumes outweighs the issue with lectins. The Huffington Post also reported that cooking legumes can eliminate the anti-nutrient qualities of lectins. Legumes pack a powerful punch! They are high in dietary fiber, protein, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals while being low in fat.
There are health benefits from drinking and eating dairy products.
Now that we’ve covered grains and legumes, let’s put dairy under the microscope. Dairy is where it gets a little trickier. Did you know that the human species is the only species that consume dairy in adulthood? This is one of the primary reasons why dairy is a strict “no” in the Paleo diet. Paleo dieters believe that by eating the food that our ancestors ate, we are eating the most natural, “untouched” foods. The milk we know today has been harvested from animals that have been bred for milk production. When we drink cow’s milk, we are ingesting the hormones that have been fed to the cow, which the Paleo diet does not condone. But—when you think about it, of course, humans are able to eat dairy into adulthood…because we can produce it.
When consumed in moderation, dairy is a good source of potassium, protein, and fat, and is important for your bone health. Many non-Paleo physicians argue that adults have no nutritional requirements for dairy. Our opinion? You do not need to eliminate the food group entirely, but you do not need to consume more than two servings of dairy per day to maintain a balanced diet. There are additional ways to get potassium, protein, and healthy fats.
In order to properly follow the Paleo diet, you must eliminate potatoes, dairy, cereal grains, salt, refined vegetable oils, and refined sugar from your diet. Eating at a restaurant is not easy!
The Modern Paleo: 85:15
Legumes, whole grains, and dairy can be consumed as part of a healthy, well-rounded diet. There are certainly some benefits to the Paleo approach, specifically that your diet is high in fruits and vegetables, lean meats and fish, nuts and healthy fats— but it is unnecessary to eliminate entire groups of food from your diet unless prescribed by a doctor. A modern version of the Paleo diet is the 85:15 rule. This means 85% of the time you are strictly Paleo and 15% you are allowed to consume non-Paleo foods. That way you are not completely eliminating certain beneficial food groups from your diet.
The Bottom Line:
While keeping Paleo can help you maintain a diet free of both additives and preservatives, eliminating entire food groups probably isn’t the way to go.