Following a Paleo diet is touted by many as a healthy, natural eating plan that can help you lose weight. The Paleo diet focuses on eating as our ancient ancestors did, mainly unrefined meats and produce, and skipping those foods that have been processed in any way. In the modern diet, this eliminates a good portion of your food options and leaves you with narrower choices of what to eat.
Those who believe in the benefits of Paleo understand that our modern diet is drastically different than that of our ancestors, and in many ways, it is not as healthy. Refined grains, sugars, and oils have undoubtedly led to the rise in obesity, diabetes, and other chronic cardiovascular problems in modern times. Is Paleo healthier, though? Let’s look at the pros and cons of this eating trend.
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What Is Paleo?
The Paleo diet is eating in a way that is more unprocessed. For centuries , humans ate mainly produce, meat, animal products like eggs and honey, fish, nuts, and seeds. They consumed far fewer carbohydrates, few grains, and no refined sugars. To eat the Paleo way today, you are advised to eat only lean meats, fish, seafood, fresh fruit, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, and plant-based oils.
This diet shuns modern, processed foods of any kind. That includes grains, anything made from grain, starchy vegetables, legumes, beans, nut butters, dairy products, high-fat meats, sugars of any kind, all convenience foods, and anything with excess salt.
This diet sounds perfect in many ways, as it eliminates the foods that are most likely to cause hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and many other chronic health conditions. So, what exactly are the health benefits and potential drawbacks of this approach to eating?
The Pros of Eating Paleo
First, the most significant benefit of following a Paleo eating plan is that it focuses entirely on whole foods. Eliminating processed food from your diet is going to promote better health. Whether you are looking to maintain your weight or lose, build muscle, or just feel stronger, eating more lean sources of protein and vegetables, along with reducing consumption of carbohydrates, is right for your health.
Eating fewer processed foods means you stop eating preservatives, added sugars, excess salt, highly-processed oils, and other unhealthy ingredients that are responsible for many of today’s modern health problems.
Eating whole foods, especially fresh vegetables and fruits, means you are getting more high-quality nutrients to support your body’s systems, tissues, and cells. Eating more nutrient-dense foods can help you shed excess weight and give you all the vitamins and minerals you need.
Our reliance on grain-based products, especially those containing gluten, has been blamed for a wide range of health problems. The rise in gluten sensitivity, as well as diseases that result from chronic inflammation produced by gluten, suggests that our need for bread, pasta, and other wheat and grain-based products is not serving us well when it comes to better health.
The Cons of Eating Paleo
Following a Paleo diet in the strictest sense is, unfortunately, very difficult for most people. The diet is prohibitive in ways that make it hard for the average person to stick with it, which means it’s great in theory, but practice is much more challenging. Paleo also emphasizes eating organic foods, and this can increase your food expenditures substantially if you adhere to this rule strictly. While many attempt to eat Paleo, there are far fewer who are actually able to stick with it.
Those who abstain from animal products for ethical, environmental, or health reasons will also find the Paleo diet challenging to follow. Without legumes, beans, or whole grains, it is challenging to get sufficient protein on a vegetarian or vegan diet.
While it is hard to argue that certain forms of processed foods are healthy, not all processing is necessarily harmful. Anything that changes food from its raw state is technically processing it, so unless you are eating an entirely raw diet (including meats), you are processing your food in some way. In fact, cooking can release some nutrients that are otherwise unavailable to humans, and it makes many foods safer to eat.
Paleo limits the eating of grains, even whole grains. These foods, though, are an excellent source of fiber as well as slow-releasing energy, which supports digestion and performance. Completely eliminating these from your diet removes a significant portion of calories, fiber, and nutrients that your body requires.
The assumptions of the Paleo diet may also not be so sound. While it is true that those who ate a more unprocessed diet centuries ago, were thinner and less likely to die of heart disease. They were much more active with hunting and gathering. We don’t actually know if a life-long approach to eating such as theirs would have increased their life expectancy or continued to support a healthy weight with less activity.
Incorporating more whole foods into your diet is always an excellent idea, as it eliminates many processed foods and unhealthy additives. A strict Paleo eating plan is hard to follow for many, though and eliminates some high-quality sources of nutrients from your diet.