Diet Dish: Paleo

One of our missions when we started Healthy Bites Houston was to provide accurate, science based nutrition information to our readers. Its been awhile since we recapped a fad diet (check out or last Diet Dish on the Whole 30 diet here). Fad diets tend to make lofty claims without sound information to back up those claims. Today we are talking about the Paleo diet, which is also known as the Paleolithic or Caveman diet.

Paleo diet graphic

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The Paleo diet has been popular for while, but seems to have gained popularity in the last couple of years. You can now find Paleo dishes at common place restaurants and Paleo products on grocery store shelves. The Paleo diet is based on the premise “Eat what the cavemen ate”. The diet prohibits grains, sugar, alcohol and dairy, while focusing on protein, vegetables, fruit and nuts/seeds. This diet also emphasizes the importance of how products are sourced. For example grass fed meat, wild caught fish and organic fruits and vegetables are recommended for maximal health benefits. The concept is that the processed foods, refined grains and antibiotic treated meats are what is contributing the the continual rise in chronic disease such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity. By reverting back to the most natural, unprocessed sources of food, our bodies are supplied with the nutrition they are intended to receive.

paleo-diet-basics

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Paleo diet proponents will claim that following this type of diet will reverse diabetes, reduce inflammation, cure cardiovascular disease and reduce risk of cancer. Though the research does not directly link the paleo diet with these claims, there are studies that show diets rich in fruits and vegetables reduce risk of cardiovascular disease etc, or weight loss reduces risk/severity of diabetes.

paleo pyramid

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Pros:

  • Focuses on intake of whole foods- the paleo diet encourages unlimited intake of most fruits and vegetables, lean meats and healthy fats. These are known to be healthy, nutritious foods, thus increased intake of these foods is favorable.
  • No calorie counting- when you are consuming lean protein, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats, calorie counting is not necessary. These foods are high in nutrient density and rich in fiber, which will keep you feeling satiated for longer periods of time.

Cons:

  • Somewhat restrictive making it more difficult to stick to long term. This diet restricts large, common food groups such as dairy and grains. Studies show restrictive diets have less successful long term results because people are unable to abide by stringent rules for long periods of time.
  • Excludes some nutritious foods- aside from the major restrictions of grains and dairy, the paleo diet also restricts some “whole foods” such as potatoes and legumes. These whole food sources of carbohydrate and fiber can be a part of a healthy diet, though they are excluded from this plan
  • Cannot be adapted for vegetarian or vegan lifestyles- the premise of this diet is high protein, and many vegetarian sources of protein- like legumes- are restricted.
  • This diet can be hard to maintain in social situations or in a family setting. Sure, there are ways to order a plain salad or a grilled chicken breast at most restaurants, but chances are you’ll be getting the side eye from your gluten and dairy loving friends and family. Social situations can quickly become sources of great stress for someone trying to adhere to this type of diet, as they will not only face questions from friends, but also struggle to find ways to indulge with the group.
  • Can be expensive if following the specific sourcing guidelines of the food- organic meats, wild caught fish, organic produce and cage free eggs all come at a premium price. For those who are looking to save money, this diet would be hard to maintain.

The Takeaway:

The diet is rich in various vitamins and minerals, fiber, protein and omega 3 fats if followed correctly, making this an overall healthy way of eating. Though the restrictive nature of the diet may not be suitable for most people to adhere to long term. A “modified paleo” diet may be a good alternative in which no foods are completely off limits, but meals are centered around fruits and vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats with the occasional grain and dairy product incorporated in.

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