Stacey Frattinger, RD, CHFS, Certified Integrative Health Coach, currently resides in Sparks, NV. She owns a virtual health coaching and nutrition counseling practice, mainly focusing on one-on-one, individualized whole body wellness practices.
To put it simply, if the cavemen didn’t have access to the food you are consuming, then you shouldn’t be eating it. To expand that definition, if a food can be hunted, fished, or gathered, it is considered an acceptable choice. Be aware, however, that there are multiple versions of the Paleo diet among its adherents. For example, some insist on organic, grass-fed beef, while others barely mention it. In general, however, foods that would be included as part of the diet include: meat, fish, shellfish, poultry, eggs, vegetables, roots, fruits, and berries. This diet does not include the following: grains, dairy, legumes (beans or peas), or sugar. The Paleo diet does not follow strict guidelines for portions and involves no calorie counting.
The Paleo diet, derived from the word “Paleolithic”, is also referred to as the "Caveman" or "Stone Age" diet. This diet originated in the 1970s, but rose to popularity roughly ten years ago. The philosophy of the diet is based upon the idea that if we eat like our ancestors did 10,000 years ago, individuals will be able to achieve optimal health, potentially lose weight, and reduce their risk of disease. Proponents of the Paleo diet believe our bodies are genetically predisposed to eat this way, claiming that the agricultural revolution led to the incorporation of grains, legumes, and dairy to the human diet. It is believed the addition of such foods have contributed to the onset and increasing rates of chronic disease.
If you look at the “acceptable” food list versus the “not acceptable” food list, your choices are clearly limited, which could make it more difficult to comply. There is a wealth of information online for those that want to experiment with recipes, follow a particular meal plan, or simply gain education on how and why the Paleo diet may work for you. For those that are used to eating out or buying pre-packaged foods at the grocery store due to limited time and busy schedules, this will not be an easy plan to follow.
The Paleo Diet may very well lead to a higher grocery bill, particularly if you start to buy more organic fruits and vegetables or grass fed meat, as strongly encouraged by proponents of this diet. Some of the staple baking goods, such as coconut and nut-based flours and coconut oil, can also be a bit pricey.
Because you are not eating pre-packaged, processed food, plan to spend a little more time in the kitchen preparing meals and experimenting with new recipes. On the other hand, in a pinch or when pressed for time, you can find protein and vegetables on just about any menu, which can be a time-saver.
This diet is generally considered safe, but you may need to have a good sense of how your body works. For example, if you deal with occasional low blood sugar, you will need to take preventive steps to manage this concern by adding in acceptable carbohydrate sources. If you are worried about deficiencies, pay attention to changes in your body, and be consistent with specific supplements.
In 2013, the paleo diet was the world’s most popular diet. However, it is still quite controversial among health professionals, including mainstream nutrition organizations and registered dietitians. By excluding any one food group, there is a possible risk for nutritional deficiencies. In this case, two food groups (grains and dairy) are excluded. More studies are needed at this time to clearly indicate health benefits.
Benefits: This “clean” diet is ideal for getting individuals to eat more real, whole foods. Many individuals notice a decrease in inflammation from the increase in plant nutrients and phytochemicals found in fruits, vegetables, oils, nuts, and seeds. Satiety, or feeling of fullness between meals, due to the higher intake of protein and fats, will allow you to feel more satisfied, more often, so it may not feel like you are on a “diet.”
Downsides: Because this diet excludes whole grains, you may be creating the potential development of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. With the avoidance of dairy, you will need to incorporate other sources high in vitamin D and calcium. For those concerned with saturated fat intake, this would not be an ideal plan. If you are an athlete, in training for a specific race or completion, you may need to increase your carbohydrates through sweet potatoes and fruit to feel your best and recover well.
The Bottom Line: Studies have shown that greater variety of food choices leads to the desire to eat more, so by simply limiting your variety, you can decrease your calorie level by around 20% without even trying, leading to weight loss. If you have not had success with other reduced-carbohydrate diets, it would certainly be worth your time to give the Paleo diet a try.