A Dietitian’s Analysis of the Paleo Diet

by Brooke Douglas R.D.    The Paleo Diet also referred to as the Caveman or Paleolithic Diet, encourages dieters to replace dairy and grain products with fresh fruits and vegetables. People say that this diet is useful in the treatment and/or prevention of numerous conditions, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, osteoporosis, acne, gastrointestinal disease, depression, migraines, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Ray Audette’s book NeanderThin: Eat Like a Caveman to Achieve a Lean, Strong, Healthy Body states, “My definition of nature is the absence of technology. Technology-dependent foods would never be ingested by a human being in nature. I determined, therefore, to eat only those foods that would be available to me if I were naked of all technology save that of a convenient sharp stick or stone.”

Some Paleo Diets are versions of the high-protein diets, such as the Atkins Diet. Other versions encourage the consumption of raw meat and fat. Sometimes the Paleo Diet is combined with fasting or calorie restriction. Some Paleo supporters recommend the consumption of insects. Generally the diet is 65% animal-based and 35% plant-based foods.

The benefits of the Paleo Diet – Following a Paleo diet has the following benefits:

  • The diet is generally high in the right kind of fiber – not the fake ‘filler’ fibers that so many manufacturers are putting in processed foods nowadays and calling it ‘high in fiber’, when in reality it is not high in any type of fiber that is of any benefit to our health.
  • The diet is high in antioxidants, if enough fruits and vegetables are consumed.
  • The Paleolithic plan, which prevents large amounts of glucose from entering the bloodstream at one time, may help to prevent the development of obesity and insulin resistance, so common to so many Americans.
  • A low sodium diet is healthy and helpful in the prevention and treatment of hypertension.
  • Limiting the amount of processed food consumed is widely assumed as integral to a healthful lifestyle.

Foods allowed on the Paleo Diet – Any food that our ancestors purportedly ate prior to agriculture and animal husbandry are allowed. Organic foods are strongly encouraged. These foods include: Meat, Fish, Shellfish, Eggs, Tree nuts, Vegetables, Roots, Fruits, Berries, Mushrooms, Etc

  • Fruit: Fruits were tart and smaller in the Paleolithic era, so some people recommend limiting modern fruits.
  • Oil: The only acceptable oils are made from fruits or tree nuts: Olive, Palm, Avocado, Coconut, Walnut, Almond, ` Hazelnut, Pecan, and Macadamia. Some people use canola and flaxseed oils, while others do not.
  • Meat and fish: Wild game is preferred, but grass-fed is acceptable. Organ meats and marrow are encouraged. Wild-caught fish are recommended.

Foods that are not allowed on the Paleo Diet – You should avoid the following foods: Grains, Dairy products, Beans, Legumes, Potatoes, Sugar, and Processed foods.

  • Meats: Processed meats are not allowed.
  • Beverages: The only beverage allowed is water. Of course, alcohol is not allowed.
  • Salt: The diet is salt free. You should not consume any added salt.
  • Supplements: The only suggested supplements are vitamin D and if you do not regularly eat fish, fish oil.
  • Yeast: Yeast also is shunned.
  • Exceptions: Some people allow certain foods under specific conditions, such as the addition of dairy to the diet during athletic training. Some individuals choose to consume dairy, but only if it is raw. Others recommend avoiding nightshade vegetables.

 Things to consider:

  • Resources: Producing 1 pound (lb) of meat takes about 10 times the resources it takes to make 1 lb of grain.
  • Disease prevention: Many of the diseases that were mentioned that could benefit from this diet are better treated by scientifically proven dietary approaches, such as the carbohydrate counting diet for diabetes or calorie restriction and physical activity for obesity. In general, eating a wide variety of foods in moderation has proven itself, again and again, to prevent many health ills. The strict regimen of the Paleo Diet seems unnecessary. In addition, skeptics point out that our ancestors generally did not live long enough to develop many of the diseases that we develop later in life.
  • Medical conditions: This diet could harm people with certain medical conditions, including liver disease and kidney disease, because the diet is too high in protein.
  • High-carbohydrate diets: Many cultures, including the Asian population, consume a high-carbohydrate diet and are some of the healthiest people on Earth, unless they move to America and adopt our protein- and fat-rich diets.
  • Weight loss: It is also important to consider that people in the Paleolithic era were not trying to lose weight. They were trying to gain weight and survive. Furthermore, they likely did not eat meat every day. Hunting animals in the wild was not an easy feat.
  • Saturated fat: Depending on what types of meat you choose, it is possible that this diet will contain high levels of saturated fat.
  • Diet compliance: Any strict diet is difficult to follow for a long period of time. The Paleo Diet is one of the strictest plans currently popular.
  • Raw meat and milk: Consuming raw meat and milk is not safe—ever.
  • Beans and whole grains: While most everyone agrees that limiting or avoiding refined starches is sensible, avoiding beans and whole grains, such as quinoa or whole wheat, is not a good idea. These foods are good for us—extremely rich in nutrients, fiber, and phytochemicals.

Hopefully this explanation of the Paleo Diet has been informative and helpful.

References and recommended readings;

WebMD. Eating like a caveman: Flintstone diet. Available at: http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/eating-like-caveman. Accessed June 23, 2010.

Wiss D. Paleo diet summary introduction. Available at: http://paleodiet.com/definition.htm. Accessed June 23, 2010.

Addendum from Dr. Pullen:  I have found Brooke Douglas RD and her associated to be very informed and helpful for my patients. Ask your physician if you are an appropriate patient to benefit from medical nutrition therapy with a registered dietitian, or contact Brooke at NutritionAuthority.com. Most insurance companies will cover nutrition consultations multiple times every year.


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