Many people look for a diet with clear-cut instructions to help them get in shape when healthy eating tactics like macro-tracking, food journaling, and calorie-counting fail to work. If you, too, are looking for an eating plan that is simple yet effective in maintaining health, chances are you might have come across Paleo Diet during one of your internet hunts. But does it really offer all that it promises? Well, today, we will find that out.
What is the Paleo Diet?
Short for Paleolithic, Paleo refers to the era of Neanderthals, also known as the prehistoric stone age of human development. The paleo diet attempts to model a dietary plan based on foods our ancestors would have eaten during the era, which dates back approximately 2.6 million years. It is also known as the Stone Age diet, Paleolithic diet, caveman diet, and hunter-gatherer diet.
Since the idea behind the paleo diet is to return to our ancestral roots, when you follow this diet, you will try to mimic what hunter-gatherers ate thousands of years ago. Although it is not possible to pinpoint the exact food consumed by hunter-gatherers around the world in the Paleolithic era, anthropologists believe their diet was comprised mainly of whole foods.
Therefore, a paleo diet typically consists of food that could be acquired by hunting and gathering in the past, such as lean meats, fish, fruits, seeds, and nuts. In addition to consuming such nutritious foods, you also drink plenty of water and exert yourself in physical activities. Moreover, the paleo diet plan limits foods that became widespread with the advent of farming about ten thousand years ago, such as legumes, grains, and dairy products.
What is the Purpose of the Paleo Diet?
The reasoning behind the premise of the paleo diet is that our body is genetically unsuited to the modern diet that became widespread with the emergence of farming and other more advanced food production methods.
Before the advent of farming, the diet of our ancestors depended entirely on lean meats, fish, and seeds. However, farming changed what humans ate and added grains, dairy, and legumes as staples in their diet. Proponents argue that this relatively late and rapid change in the human diet that came with advanced food production methods surpassed the ability of the human body to adapt. This idea is part of a broader hypothesis known as the discordance hypothesis. The hypothesis attests that this mismatch is a leading factor in the prevalence of various lifestyle and diet-related diseases today, such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
Advocates of the paleo diet argue that since this hunter-gatherer eating style is devoid of any processed food, it is more effective at promoting health and fitness than any other diet. Hunter-gatherers presumably had significantly lower rates of diet-related diseases. By following a simpler whole-food-based diet and leading physically active lives like our hunter-gatherer ancestors, we too can maintain health and remain fit.
Benefits of the Paleo Diet
The Paleo diet promotes eating anti-inflammatory foods, such as vegetables, unsaturated fats, and nuts which are rich sources of various nutrients required to maintain a healthy body. Moreover, it cuts out refined grains, added sugars, and heavily processed foods that make one of the main culprits of various diseases. Also, the diet emphasizes exercise, which is imperative to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Below we have stated some of the potential health benefits you can reap by adopting a paleo diet.
Aids in Weight Loss
A recent meta-analysis of various controlled studies revealed a positive relationship between following a paleo diet and changes in anthropometric measures, such as body mass index, weight, and waist circumference.
The studies showed statistically significant reductions in waist circumference. This may reduce the risk of diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
According to the analysis, participants adopting the paleo diet experienced a statistically significant reduction of 2.46 centimeters in waist circumference on average. Following a caveman-like diet can also aid in weight loss, as proven by statistically significant reductions in weight – about 3.5 kilograms – experienced by those following the paleo diet. Moreover, adopting a paleo diet was also related to decreased BMI – 1.09 kg/m²- compared to meal plans based on standard dietary recommendations.
Although a relationship between weight loss and paleo diet has been suggested in the light of recent studies, more randomized clinical studies are needed to solidify this relationship.
Lowers Blood Sugar and Improved Insulin Sensitivity
When following the Paleo diet, you are supposed to avoid carbohydrates, dairy, legumes, and products rich in refined sugar, so it comes as no surprise that the diet has demonstrated improvement in blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity. So while there is no perfect diet for diabetic patients, research suggests that a diet that focuses on whole foods might help them manage their glycemic level and blood pressure.
A recent study compared the hemoglobin A1C levels (a measure of blood glucose status) of people before and after they followed the Paleo diet. Results showed that people had lower hemoglobin A1C levels when they were on Paleo compared to when they followed standard dietary recommendations.
Further supporting this relationship is another recent systematic review, which revealed that following a Paleo diet can also lead to lower blood sugar. This systematic review analyzed studies that drew a comparison between people following a paleo diet and those following a control diet that included grains, dairy, and legumes.
The result of these randomized controlled trials suggests that following a paleo diet can lead to improvement in glycemic control and insulin sensitivity, both of which are important for controlling and preventing Type 2 diabetes. However, it is worth noting that these trials were conducted on a few samples and their results were not statistically significant. So, whether or not following a Paleo diet can control and prevent Type 2 diabetes, in the long run, is still unknown.
Lowers Risks of Cardiovascular Disease
Some scientific evidence suggests that following a Paleo diet can lower the risks of developing cardiovascular disease and improve overall heart health. A recent meta-analysis of eight studies found that a Paleo diet not only reduces body weight but also lowers blood pressure and total cholesterol (lowered LDL and raised HDL). The reduction in blood fats and cholesterol, in turn, reduces the chances of cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks.
Although studies have found positive effects stemming from the Paleo diet, longer better-designed trials with larger sample sizes are needed to prove the association between the paleo diet and these health benefits.
Limitations of Paleo Diet
While following a Paleo diet makes people more attentive to what they put into their bodies by cutting out foods with little nutritional value and instead focusing on nutrient-rich foods, a hunter-gatherer diet can be strenuous to maintain. Here are a few limitations of the Paleo diet you might come across if you follow it in the long run:
Puts a Burden on the Pocket
The main difference between a paleo diet and a typical healthy diet is that Paleo excludes whole grains, legumes, and dairy products. Not only are these foods rich sources of calcium and protein, but they are also cheap and accessible. On the other hand, food typically constituting a paleo diet, such as organically grown vegetables, wild game, grass-fed animals, and lean meats, usually costs more. If you adopt the Paleo diet, you could end up spending more money on food than your budget allows, as you would be buying more fresh produce, fish, and meats than usual. Recently, a model based on data sets from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) revealed that a nine percent increase in wages would be needed to follow the paleo diet provided that you also meet all daily recommended micronutrient intakes.
Therefore, following a paleo diet, in the long run, might put a restraint on your finances. However, it is worth noting that spending more on Paleo-friendly foods could simultaneously be balanced out by not buying Paleo-unfriendly processed foods.
Time and Convenience
Another big challenge that presents itself when following the Paleo diet is time. It takes an ample amount of time and energy to prepare meals that fit into the parameters of the Paleo diet. Moreover, it might be difficult to find Paleo-friendly meals if you usually eat away from home. Although more and more food companies and restaurants are adapting to this trend, you will have to scour a little to find places that provide Paleo-friendly dishes depending on where you live.
Insufficient Calcium Intake
Since you have to avoid grains, legumes, and dairy products while following a paleo diet, you may be unable to fulfill the required daily calcium intake, which could eventually lead to a calcium deficiency. According to one study, calcium intake levels in people who followed the paleo diet were fifty percent lower than the recommended daily value.
Calcium is necessary for the healthy building and maintenance of strong bones. A calcium deficiency can cause various health problems, such as lethargy, low appetite, convulsions, muscle spasms, and muscle cramps. Moreover, chronic calcium deficiency can also increase the risk of fractures and lead to skeletal disorders, such as osteomalacia and osteoporosis.
The paleo diet promotes healthy eating and lifestyle habits that may help you lose weight and maintain an overall healthy body. However, there is a scarcity of scientific evidence to prove the long-term benefits associated with the diet. Moreover, it might burden your pocket and put you at risk of nutrient deficiencies, particularly calcium. While a paleo diet might work for some people, a more balanced diet that includes all food groups and complements your budget, taste preferences, and schedule might be better suited for the long run.