Simple. Natural. Wholesome. Buzzwords that certainly get your attention! Diets that use these descriptive words must mean healthy, right? These three ideals may seem hard to attain, but the Paleo diet® embodies all these characteristics in an easy to follow form that has millions of people on the trend bandwagon. Although research is still early on the confirmed health benefits of this diet plan, there is no mistake that piles of health benefits from leading a Paleo lifestyle exist. You are going to learn what the benefits are, why this diet has gained monumental popularity, and adherents’ take on the whole food diet.
What is the Paleo diet®?
The Paleo diet®, also referred to as the paleolithic diet, is a way of eating thought to be similar to that of early man in the Paleolithic era. (1). What this means is a focus on (2):
- Grass-fed meats and poultry
- Wild-caught fish and seafood
- Cage-free eggs
- Fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably organic
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthy fats like olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, and coconut oils
These foods are natural, wholesome, and yes, simple. They are cultivated from cruelty-free sources, organic agriculture, and the fats come from natural animal- or plant-based sources without any chance of harmful processing, additives, or preservatives. Sounds good, right? You may notice something missing from this list, though.
Where are the dairy products and grains?
Dairy products and grains are either avoided or limited (in certain versions of the Paleolithic diet) due to their potential for causing inflammation. Not only are such foods linked to painful digestive symptoms in those with digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, but also to aggravation of other inflammatory conditions (3). In fact, the Cleveland Clinic recommends that those with arthritis and other pain conditions limit dairy and grain consumption due to their inflammatory qualities (4).
No need to worry about losing nutrients when limiting such foods, though. This is because you can get plenty of calcium from vegetables such as collard greens, spinach, and edamame (5). And when it comes to folate and folic acid, just load up on vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, legumes, and fruit like strawberries (6). Other leafy greens and fatty fish can also be good sources of calcium, and calcium supplements are just as protective against bone loss as dairy foods (7).
Health benefits of the paleolithic diet
It can be surprising to hear that only 1 in 10 Americans is eating the absolute minimum of 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily (8). Furthermore, the average American is only eating about 15-16 grams of fiber each day, which is well below the recommended 25-38 grams daily (9). And of this fiber intake, three of five of the top fiber-containing foods that Americans are eating are grains. This low fiber intake is no doubt linked to the growing heart disease burden on healthcare today (10). Therefore, encouraging a more plant-centric outlook based on the Paleolithic diet could be beneficial for just about everyone.
Health benefits of the Paleolithic diet include (11):
- Reducing the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes
- Improving mood and reducing the risk of depression
- Improving overall quality of life
These benefits are linked to the antioxidant qualities of a regimen rich in fruits and vegetables as well as healthy fats from fatty fish and plant-based fats like olive oil and avocado. The antioxidants in foods help reduce oxidative stress in the body that can lead to cell damage and an increased risk of chronic disease (12).
To go or not to go paleo? That is the Question
Many people could benefit from a diet based on the paleolithic diet regimen. This is because the diet not only provides a lower inflammatory burden on the body, but also encourages drinking more water and moving more. This regimen may involve a bit of planning and meal preparation, however, so if you are the type that is always on the go, you may need to hunker down and pre-plan a bit before taking Paleo on. Seek out a nutritionist who can help you design a Paleo plan that is feasible for your busy schedule. Perhaps you are new to the culinary arts and have limited cooking skills? Don’t fret. Experts are standing nearby to help you. Even fitness experts in your local gym should be able to help you or lead you to an experienced Paleo nutritionist.
Reasons not to go paleo
One major reason a person should not follow the paleolithic diet is if they have a chronic condition that requires very specific nutrient restrictions. Such cases include those with kidney disease that would need to follow a low potassium diet, or those with gallbladder issues or a history of gallbladder removal that would require a low-fat diet (12,13).
Ultimately, the best diet for you to follow is the one that you will stick to for the long term and will help you best reach your health goals. So, if overhauling your diet seems too overwhelming, just take some hints from the paleolithic diet for now by eating more vegetables and fruits, cutting down on processed food intake, and getting some healthy fats in your diet. These are great ways to start getting back to basics and making your diet more simple, natural, and wholesome for better health.
- Mayo Clinic (August 8, 2017) “Paleo diet: What is it and why is it so popular?”
- The Paleo Diet (accessed July 31, 2018) “The Paleo Diet Premise.” https://thepaleodiet.com/the-paleo-diet-premise/
- Böhn, L., et al. (November 2015) “Diet Low in FODMAPs Reduces Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome as Well as Traditional Dietary Advice: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Gastroenterology, Volume 149, Issue 6, 1399 - 1407.
- Cleveland Clinic (November 6, 2015) “How an Anti-inflammatory diet can relieve pain as you age.” https://health.clevelandclinic.org/anti-inflammatory-diet-can-relieve-pain-age/
- Fruits & Veggies More Matters® (accessed August 7, 2018) “Calcium In Fruits & Vegetables.” https://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/calcium-in-fruits-and-vegetables
- Fruits & Veggies More Matters® (accessed August 7, 2018) “Folate In Fruits & Vegetables.” https://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/folate-in-fruits-and-vegetables
- Biver, E., et al. (2018) “Fermented dairy products consumption is associated with attenuated cortical bone loss independently of total calcium, protein, and energy intakes in healthy postmenopausal women.” Osteoporosis International, doi: 10.1007/s00198-018-4535-4. [Epub ahead of print]
- Centers for Disease Control (November 16, 2017) “Only 1 in 10 Adults Get Enough Fruits or Vegetables.” https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p1116-fruit-vegetable-consumption.html
- Food Surveys Research Group (September 2014) “Fiber intake of the U.S. population.” https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/80400530/pdf/DBrief/12_fiber_intake_0910.pdf
- American Heart Association News (March 7, 2017) “Lack of fruits, vegetables partly to blame for global heart disease burden.” https://newsarchive.heart.org/lack-of-fruits-vegetables-partly-to-blame-for-global-heart-disease-burden/
- Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School (last updated August 13, 2017) “Foods that fight inflammation.” https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation
- Tuso, P., Stoll, S. R., & Li, W. W. (2015). A Plant-Based Diet, Atherogenesis, and Coronary Artery Disease Prevention. The Permanente Journal, 19(1), 62–67. http://doi.org/10.7812/TPP/14-036
- Davita (accessed July 31, 2018) “Potassium and Chronic Kidney Disease.” https://www.davita.com/kidney-disease/diet-and-nutrition/diet-basics/potassium-and-chronic-kidney-disease/e/5308
- Rajan, M.D., E. (May 30, 2018) “Can you recommend a diet after gall bladder removal?” https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/cholecystectomy/expert-answers/gallbladder-removal-diet/faq-20057813