Paleo Diet: Genius or Fad?

What is it?

Paleo diet, also known as Paleolithic diet, caveman diet or stone-age diet is an approach to nutrition which mirrors the diet of our Paleolithic ancestors that inhabited the world between 2.5 million to 10.000 years ago.

Paleo diet typically consists of foods that could basically be either hunted or gathered in nature without the need of modern agriculture and farming. This includes lean meats, fish, eggs, fruits, some vegetables, nuts, and seeds. On the other hand the foods that are being avoided can be listed as , yet are not limited to, grains, legumes, dairy products, refined sugar, salt, potatoes, and any highly processed food

Why go Paleo?

The main purpose of this diet is to get rid of all the processed foods that are the staples of our modern western diets.  The reasoning behind it all stems from the fact that processed foods are usually denser in calories which makes it easier to put on weight while making it harder to feel full & satisfied, they are lower in micronutrients which may lead to nutritional deficiencies in the long run, and they also usually tend to be higher on the glycemic-index (especially processed carbohydrates) that can cause unwanted fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

There is also a common belief that the “Paleo foods” are the foods that we are evolved to digest better and thrive on. Considering that our ancestors were following a more physically active lifestyles and diets consisting of whole foods, the occurrence of our modern lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease was much lower. Therefore the expected health benefits of their diet can be listed as:

  • Weight loss
  • Improved glucose tolerance
  • Better blood pressure control
  • Lower triglycerides
  • Better appetite management

 What is it not?

It is most certainly not a magical diet where all you need to pay attention to happens to be just a list of foods to lose weight, and live forever. What diets like these cunningly hide from their following is that the foods that they are eliminating usually tend to contribute a high amount of calories to their standard diets in the first place. And by cutting out those foods, the total caloric intake will almost always be reduced to significant degree.

While for example diets such as low-carb or Keto remove carbohydrates that make up to almost 60% of total caloric intake on average, Paleo diet revolves around eliminating highly processed foods that are a lot higher in calories than most of the foods nature has to offer. And through this clever distraction people end up eating less than they would otherwise.

Another problem with such diets is that they tend to take their roots from any beneficial minor findings on the field of obesity research, and quickly turn them into a be all – end all marketing miracles. With Paleo diet come the new wave of packaged Paleo products which are most of the time not much different than what is already on the market yet have double the price.

Last but not least as romantic as it feels to follow the footsteps of our ancestors we also have to remember that human evolution did not stop in Paleolithic times, and we are still going through various adaptations to our environment and diet. With that said I hope that we can learn from our past, while avoiding to become a zealot for a certain diet.

Aydin Parmaksizoglu

References:

Gunnars, K., 2018. The Paleo Diet — A Beginner’s Guide + Meal Plan. [online] Healthline. Available at: <https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/paleo-diet-meal-plan-and-menu#TOC_TITLE_HDR_12&gt; [Accessed 16 March 2021].

James, W., Johnson, R., Speakman, J., Wallace, D., Frühbeck, G., Iversen, P. and Stover, P., 2019. Nutrition and its role in human evolution. Journal of Internal Medicine, 285(5), pp.533-549.

McDonald, L., 2014. The Women’s Book: A Guide to Nutrition, Fat Loss, and Muscle Gain. 1st ed. Lyle McDonald.

Mayo Clinic. 2020. Paleo diet: Eat like a cave man and lose weight?. [online] Available at: <https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/paleo-diet/art-20111182&gt; [Accessed 16 March 2021].

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