Paleo Diet: Lots of Fiction – Few Facts

The Paleo Diet is based on eating foods that mimic the food we believe our ancestors ate from approximately 2.6 million years ago to the beginning of farming, about 10,000 years ago; a period which makes up 99% of our history. This diet basically avoids all foods that are readily available to us thanks to modern farming techniques, including dairy products, grains, legumes as well as almost all prepared foods especially those high in carbohydrates. The Paleo diet is based on a simple premise – if the cavemen didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t either.

Paleo Diet: Cave Men Were Not So Healthy

Paleo Diet SnacksThe food choices are based on the concept that our ancient ancestors enjoyed better health than we do. They didn’t suffer from the “diseases of civilization” like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The fact that caveman rarely made it past 40 years of age and his children regularly died before the age of 15 is often overlooked. Even more significant is the fact that recent studies of mummies from 2 million years ago reveal heart disease in more than 1/3 of the corpses, indicating heart disease has existed within humans for as long as we have been humans.

History of the Paleo Diet: From Stone age to 2018

In the 1970’s, gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin wrote “The Stone Age Diet”.  His initial version of the diet was heavily meat based with no dairy products, no salt and minimal plant-based foods (especially grains and sugar). (“Caveman Cravings? Rating the Paleo Diet”.  The Conversation. N.p. , 2017. Web. 17 May 2017.)

About 10 years later, Drs. Eaton, Konner and Shostak described a diet based on Paleolithic nutrition. This version of the diet did not exclude grains, legumes or milk – they were included in proportions that supported a similar macronutrient profile to the diet of Paleolithic man.( “Paleolithic Diet”. N.p., 2017. Web. 17 May 2017.)

The Paleo concept gained momentum in the late 1980’s and early nineties thanks to scholarly works exploring the relationship between diet and western diseases that came out of the Kitavan studies. The Kitavan people are a non-westernized tribe in Papua, New Guinea studied by Swedish academic Staffan Lindeberg. Lindeberg later wrote a medical text on the subject which was translated into English in 2010.

Dr Loren Cordain, an exercise physiologist from Colorado State University, actually published the diet in his book The Paleo Diet in 2002 (revised in 2010) and has since written The Paleo Cookbook and The Paleo Answer.

Paleo Diet Food List: What Can I Eat?

 When strictly following a Paleo diet, you only eat foods that mimic the food our ancestors hunted.

  • Lean meat such as chicken, turkey, pork, lean beef, and buffalo (bison)
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Fresh fruit and non-starchy vegetables such as lettuce, asparagus, green beans, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and spinach
  • Nuts like almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans and pistachios (no peanuts)
  • Seeds like pumpkin and sunflower
  • Eggs, Plant-based oils such as olive oil, walnut oil, grape seed oil and coconut oil
  • Herbs
  • Spices

Paleo Diet: What Can’t I Eat

Grains such as oats, wheat, barley, and rice — simply stated: no cereal, bread, pasta, bagels, crackers, or granola bars

  • Starchy vegetables such as potatoes and corn which includes potato and corn chips, tortillas, and popcorn
  • Legumes or beans —no peanuts or peanut butter; no soy foods such as soy milk, tofu, or edamame; no hummus or beans of any kind
  • Dairy products— no milk, yogurt, cheese, or ice cream
  • High-fat meats such as salami, bologna, pepperoni, hot dogs, ground meat, rib roast, and ribs
  • Sugars such as honey, jam or jelly, syrup, candy, cakes, cookies, sodas and sports drinks
  • Processed foods or trans fats such as doughnuts, French fries, fruit snacks, or macaroni and cheese
  • Salty foods such as crackers, chips, pretzels, soy sauce or sports drinks

Truth About Paleo Diet Benefits:

The main promoted benefits of the Paleo diet are:

  • Weight loss (if necessary) and weight maintenance increased with the mild ketosis of Paleo diet.
  • Health optimization, including deeper sleep and more sustained energy–not at all proven

Is this true? Unfortunately the Paleo diet hasn’t attracted a huge amount of research yet, so there don’t appear to be any studies on the health benefits of modern people on a modern Paleo diet. What you will find is a lot of anecdotal evidence or testimonials from individuals who have had success with the diet (as well as some who haven’t). You will also find a lot of information relating to Paleolithic man and hunter-gatherer tribes and their health. The long-term effects of following a modern Paleo diet are not yet known.

Paleo Diet: Why Weight Loss Experts Don’t Like the Caveman Diet

This diet was developed by Loren Cordain, PhD, a researcher from Colorado State University, who started doing studies in the 1970’s. He believes that the Paleo diet is the way humans were genetically designed to eat. Let’s explore this:

  1. We are not cavemen
  2. Recent studies suggest that early man was more of a vegetarian (plant eater) and not much of a carnivore (meat eater). Cavemen did eat some salt and legumes but not nearly as much as we do today
  3. Most of us don’t just hunt for our food
  4. We have many food choices available
  5. There has been a lot of research on the health benefits of foods that are not part of the Paleo diet
  6. Almost all foods available to cavemen are not currently available
  7. Depending on the season and geography, there was great variation in cavemen diets

Paleo Diet Long Term Studies: Surprisingly Little Evidence of Benefits and Safety

  • One tiny study that looked at weight loss found that 14 participants, the total number of participants in the study, lost an average of about 5 pounds after three weeks on a Paleo regimen. (The researchers called their study “underpowered.”)
  • A 2015 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that 76 people who followed the Paleo diet for 60 days (as well as those who followed vegan, Mediterranean and DASH plans for the same length of time) lost an average of 9 pounds and showed improvement in their blood pressure levels. The effects were greatest and most sustained among people who also attended regular diet support group meetings.
  • A 2015 study in the Journal of Cell Metabolism compared the effects of a low-carb and low-fat diet on 19 obese men and women who stayed in a metabolic ward where they exercised daily for two weeks. While the low-carb dieters lost a bit more weight, the low-fat dieters lost more body fat.
  • A 2014 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine followed 148 obese dieters over one year and found that those who cut carbs lost almost 8 pounds more than those who trimmed their fat intake.
  • Another 2014 study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the effects of the Paleo plan to those of a standard low-fat diet on 70 obese, postmenopausal women. After six months, the Paleo group lost 14 pounds on average, while the other group lost nearly 6 pounds. After a year, the Paleo group had lost 19 pounds on average, and the low-fat dieters had dropped 10 pounds. A year later, both groups had regained some weight: The Paleo group was still down 10 pounds on average.

How Easy is the Paleo Diet to Follow?

Diets that restrict entire food groups are always difficult to follow. Women seem to have much more difficult time than men. This may be due to the fact that food preparation for the family is typically done by women which results in food exposures of many non-Paleo products. Women have more cravings than men and lose weight at a slower pace due to lower muscle mass and overall metabolism.

Convenience: Recipe sites and cookbooks are abundant, but you can also incorporate eating out into your Paleo plan. Alcohol is discouraged but acceptable in moderation. You can find many web sites and books for support.

Recipes: Free web sites like Paleo Leap serve up recipes, and “The Paleo Diet Cookbook,” “Everyday Paleo” and “The Primal Blueprint Cookbook” can be found in print and in downloadable formats.

Eating out: “The Paleo Diet” recommends simplicity: order lean meat or seafood with veggies and fresh fruit.

Alcohol: Not part of a true Paleo diet, but in moderation, wine and spirits (mixed with water/seltzer only) are acceptable.

Timesavers: None. This is a complicated diet with extensive food preparations and more grocery shopping than many other plans.

Extras: “The Paleo Diet” offers sample meal plans and recipes, lists of approved foods, and tips on sticking to the plan while eating out and traveling. You’ll find more help online, including money-saving tips, quick-start guides and shopping lists.

Fullness: Nutrition experts emphasize the importance of satiety; the satisfied feeling that you’ve had enough. You shouldn’t feel hungry on this diet – protein and fiber are filling and you’ll get plenty of both. One small study of 29 participants published in Nutrition & Metabolism in 2010 found Paleo dieters felt just as full but consumed fewer calories than their Mediterranean counterparts.

Taste: A lot depends on your cooking style and shopping.

Paleo Diet: Health & Nutrition Million Years Ago

Paleo Diet: Truth vs Fiction: Nutrition experts cannot accept that entire food groups, like dairy and grains are excluded; making it hard for dieters to get all the nutrients they need. It’s one of the few diets that experts actually considered somewhat unsafe and only somewhat complete nutritional.  Also, if you’re not careful about making lean meat choices, you can quickly increase your risk for heart problems. You also might boost your risk for cancer, according to a 2015 report from the World Health Organization that found processed meats increase chances of colorectal cancer. While the Paleo diet has no specific dieter restrictions, you’ll want to consider talking with your doctor before making changes to your meal plans.

[Read more: The Paleo Perspective: Is Fossil ‘Fuel’ the Solution to Our Obesity Epidemic?]

Paleo Diet and Alcohol: Do They Mix?

Studies have demonstrated the health benefits of red wine when it is consumed in “moderation”. Aside from its health benefits and the positive social interactions that can come with having a drink, consuming alcoholic drinks are really not desirable due to many factors:

  • Alcohol is toxic to the liver.
  • It is an addictive substance.
  • Too much alcohol in your system makes detoxification a high priority. This causes your liver to prioritize detoxification over the uptake of nutrients and the burning of carbs.
  • It is hard to burn fat while metabolizing alcohol.
  • The liver cannot metabolize alcohol into sugar, which can cause a dip in blood sugar.
  • Alcohol is dehydrating, which means that it can affect electrolyte balance.

Is alcohol Paleo? Not really. One of the main tenets of the Paleo diet is removing processed foods and toxins.  Alcohol happens to be both a processed food and a toxin. Alcohol includes three main types: beer, wine, and spirits.

Beer: Beer is mostly made from wheat, barley, and hops. Beer is not Paleo friendly.

Spirits and wine: As we all know, alcohol unleashes a psychological response in our bodies which lowers our inhibitions. Having lowered inhibitions makes it much easier for us to make poor food choices. Although you might be able to justify what you’re drinking as Paleo-friendly spirits or wine, is it really desirable?

Paleo Diet Side Effects

  • Low blood sugar(hypoglycemia) – if taking certain glucose-lowering medications.
  • Low-carb flu: Some people experience lethargy, fatigue, irritability and shakiness when first eliminating starches, grains and legumes. Although you can eat sufficient carbs from plants on the Paleo diet, the change in overall carb consumption may be quite dramatic if your former diet was heavy on breads, pastas and beans. The low-carb flu usually lasts three to four weeks, says Noel. During this time, your body shifts into burning fats as a fuel source instead of carbohydrates. You can reduce the low-carb flu effect by gradually lowering your carbohydrate consumption.
  • Cravings. You might experience cravings for sugar and other “non-Paleo options.” This is always followed by an increase in energy and mental clarity. The cravings cease and most people report no longer desiring sweets and treats like those that they have on other diets.
  • Lack of energy initially.
  • Bad breath: As your body shifts to primarily burning fat, instead of carbohydrates, for energy, you will shift into a process called ketosis. Acetone is a byproduct of ketosis, and it carries a distinct scent. This is normal and usually not a sign for concern. The exact amount differs from person to person, based on size and activity level. Avoid potatoes, rice and grains, as they are higher in carbs and contain fewer nutrients.
  • Change in bowel habit

Paleo Diet: Lots of Fiction – Few Facts

Paleo-style eating has a lot of good qualities with whole foods, lean protein, healthy fruits and vegetables. However, the Paleo diet has some flaws. The evolutionary arguments don’t hold up, and the evidence for excluding dairy and legumes is unproven and probably not a good idea in the long term due to the risks involving calcium and vitamin D deficits.

Most importantly, the “one size fits all” does not work. Strictly following a list of “good” and “bad” or “allowed” and “not allowed” foods is difficult for most people. Furthermore, long-term, it may be just about impossible for many dieters. Consistency is more important than any food list or evolutionary theory. Finally, there remains one other critical aspect of Paleolithic populations that is vastly different from how most Americans live today; Paleo people were hunter-gatherers and spent most of their waking hours walking and running around in search of food, with additional time and effort spent preparing it for consumption. Few people have the time, energy, focus or desire for this today.

More Issues

In its annual Best Diets Rankings, U.S.. News and World Report placed it dead last, based on input from a panel of health experts. The panel assessed 35 different diets based on a number of factors including nutrition, safety, ease of adherence, weight-loss friendliness, and protectiveness against diabetes and heart disease. Among some of Paleo’s criticized points: It’s hard to sustain, too high in fat, and shuns entire food groups often thought to be healthy.

Its lack of dairy products and thus calcium and vitamin D and its absence of grains stand out as critical points. Like any other diet, it’s a personal choice based on personal likes and dislikes. When it comes to dieting, picking out the right diet to maximize your time without sacrificing your energy (and social life) is difficult. You may have heard it a time or two but there is no one size fits all method to dieting. Different diets work for different people who have different lifestyles. Figuring out what works best for you is an extremely important part of dieting. If you can do it, especially for short periods of time, give it a try.

In the end its all about choices. Keeping in mind that there is little positive evidence of “health” benefits, give the Paleo a try. Maintenance is hit and miss. Most dieters get bored. Their food choices are isolating and not a lot of fun.