This article will cover the Paleo Diet pros and cons to help you determine if it will suit your lifestyle.
We will also look at the origins of the diet, a Paleo diet food list, and some typical Paleo meals.
The Paleo Diet has been around since the 1970s when it was called the Caveman Diet, but it wasn’t until recent years that it became known to the mainstream population.
While I was aware of it, I didn’t know much about it other than that it involved eating what our ancestors ate. I thought that meant lots of red meat, and little else.
Being a pescatarian who eats mainly vegetarian meals, I’d made up my mind that it wasn’t for me. Then Diane, a girl I work with, adopted the diet. She brought her Paleo Cookbook into the office, and I was surprised to see that it contained seafood, vegan and vegetarian recipes.
The premise behind the Paleo Diet is that our bodies have not evolved to the extent of being able to cope with the so-called “modern” way of eating. Fans of the diet claim that eating as our ancestors did more than 10,000 years ago is the way to go.
While not scientifically proven, some studies indicate that eating this way may help manage or even prevent specific health conditions. However, some food groups that have proven to be healthy are excluded.
So do the Paleo diet pros outweigh the cons and is it worth trying? Keep reading to find out.
What foods can and can’t you eat while on the diet?
The diet includes a high protein intake of between 19 and 35 percent of daily energy intake. This is considerably more than the 15 to 25 percent that many nutritionists and the medical profession recommend.
While the diet is not considered to be low-carb, with between 35 and 45 percent of calories coming from carbs, this is less than the RDA of 45 to 65 percent.
When following the diet, fruit and vegetables will be your primary source of fiber, and your fat intake will be moderate to high.
Along with lean meat, poultry, and seafood, your meals will center around wild nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, eggs, and healthy fats. Excluded foods include anything processed, dairy products, grains, legumes, cane sugar, white potatoes, and vegetable oils.
Alcohol is allowed in moderation. Caffeinated drinks and those containing sugar are off the menu.
Next, we will look at a Paleo diet food list to give you a better idea of what you can and cannot eat and drink while on the diet.
Paleo Diet Food List
What you can eat and drink:
- Lean meats, including beef, bison, pork, chicken, and turkey
- Fresh fruits
- Nonstarchy vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, green beans, asparagus, Brussel sprouts, and lettuce
- Most nuts – other than peanuts – including cashews, pistachios, pecans, walnuts, and almonds
- Seeds, such as sunflower and pumpkin
- Plant-based oils, including olive, coconut, grapeseed, and walnut
- Water, herbal tea, and limited quantities of wine
What you can’t eat and drink:
- Grains, including rice, wheat, barley, and oats – this rules out bread, pasta, crackers, bagels, granola bars, and cereals
- Starchy vegetables, including corn and potatoes – so potato chips, popcorn, tortillas, and corn chips are out
- Legumes or beans – this means no peanuts or peanut butter; no soy-based foods like soy milk, tofu, hummus, or any beans
- Dairy products, including milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream
- High-fat meats, including bologna, pepperoni, salami, ground meat, ribs, rib roast, and hot dogs
- Sugars, including those found in soda, jelly, jam, honey, syrup, cookies, cakes, and candies
- Processed foods or foods containing trans fats, including donuts, French fries, fruit snacks, and macaroni and cheese
- Salty and salt-added foods, including crackers, chips, pretzels, and soy sauce
- Coffee, regular tea, soda, and sports drinks
Next, we will look at a typical Paleo meal to give you an idea of what you can eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, and snacks.
What is a typical Paleo meal?
Typical Paleo Breakfast:
An example of a typical Paleo breakfast is a spinach and parsley omelet, plus a serving of fruit. Other options are eggs Benedict with ham, and smoked salmon with fried eggs. You can also have a cup of herbal tea.
Typical Paleo Lunch:
Examples of a typical Paleo lunch include chicken with a salad dressed in lemon and olive oil and a cup of herbal tea. Turkey and bacon wraps with basil mayonnaise and spicy garlic shrimp with noodles are other options.
Paleo Dinner Ideas:
Paleo Dinner ideas include grilled turkey with vegetables including broccoli, artichoke, carrots, tomato, and avocado. Chorizo sausage with sweet potato chili and chicken thighs with butternut squash are other examples of what you can have for dinner.
Paleo Dessert Ideas:
One of the pros of the Paleo diet for those with a sweet tooth is that desserts are allowed. Paleo dessert ideas include Avocado Key Lime Cheesecake, flourless chocolate and zucchini brownies, and dark chocolate Paleo mousse.
Paleo Snack Ideas:
Another plus if you’re a nibbler, is that snacks are allowed.
Paleo snack ideas include apple slices and walnuts, blueberries, raisins, and almonds, or crunchy granola bars.
Next, we will look at some of the Paleo diet pros and cons.
Paleo Diet Pros and Cons
Paleo Diet Pros:
Potential to lose weight
According to its proponents, one of the primary pros of the Paleo eating plan is that it can aid weight loss.
Many of us lead busy lifestyles that can leave little time to cook healthy meals. Foods that we may have once eaten occasionally, or as a treat, have become a regular part of the “modern” diet. These include highly-processed sugar and fat-laden take out, and many packaged convenience foods.
Refined sugars, saturated fats, and additives may leave us satisfied, but only for a short time. These mostly “empty” calories contain few nutrients. It’s common to feel hungry a couple of hours after eating this type of meal. This can result in overeating as, not feeling satiated, we may reach for whatever food is at hand to fill the gap.
The Paleo diet plan does not allow processed sugars, grains, or legumes, which are high in carbs. This, combined with the somewhat limited selection of acceptable Paleo foods, usually results in fewer calories being ingested. As a result, providing you don’t gorge on the allowed foods, weight loss can occur.
Many people say that they feel full for longer when following a Paleo eating plan, so they are less likely to overeat.
Conversely, a 2016 study involving two groups of overweight mice with pre-diabetes symptoms found that the group eating their normal diet maintained their weight. Those following the Paleo Diet weighed 15 percent more after eight weeks.
May help to prevent and treat lifestyle diseases
The incidence of lifestyle diseases, including IBS, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, has increased dramatically. Along with genetics and environmental factors, lifestyle choices come into play. Included among these is being sedentary, smoking, high alcohol consumption, and an unhealthy diet. These are all things that you can change by being more active, giving up smoking, cutting back on or eliminating alcohol, and improving your diet.
Studies have proved that a diet that is low in vegetables and fruit and high in salt and sugar puts us at an increased risk of developing the above, and some other diseases. Proponents of the Paleo way of eating claim that its focus on natural, unprocessed foods can help to prevent and even treat these chronic diseases. While the jury is still out on this, restricting these foods can provide health benefits.
The average American gets up to two-thirds of their daily calorie intake from processed foods. That’s approximately 1,000 calories per day. Some of the culprits, such as soda, cakes, pastries, and French fries are easy to identify.
However, you could be unknowingly eating foods that have the potential to create disease. Included among these are some breakfast cereals, canned vegetables, white bread, and microwaveable dinners. None of these foods are allowed on the Paleo Diet.
Some small studies have shown that the Paleo meal plan can help to correct metabolic dysfunction, regulate blood pressure, and improve blood sugar levels. While promising, further research is needed to confirm this.
Other than anecdotal evidence, there is little to support the claims that eating Paleo can prevent and treat mental illnesses, dementia, autism, and multiple sclerosis.
Increased awareness of the potential dangers of eating processed foods
If nothing else, with all of the publicity it has received, some people who will never adopt a Paleo lifestyle are aware that it excludes processed foods. If this knowledge steers people towards healthier eating and makes them reconsider and go for a healthier choice when buying food and ordering when eating out, this is a good thing.
Strong support network
Paleo dieters tend to be more passionate about the food and lifestyle than most other dieters. This extends to online support that is second to none. For people who lack the motivation to stick with an eating plan, this sense of community can be the difference between successfully undertaking the diet and failing.
Paleo Diet Cons:
Lacks scientific backing
While the diet bans some foods that we know are bad for us, it also bans some that are proven to be healthy. Removing foods containing essential vitamins and minerals without providing the body with equally nutritious alternatives can create a nutrient imbalance.
Interestingly, most of the foods excluded from the diet were all eaten in one form or another at least 30,000 years ago. This makes the so-called science behind the diet questionable.
Entire food groups are excluded
One of the main Paleo diet cons from a nutritional perspective is that it excludes some key food groups with known health benefits. Among the excluded food groups are grains and legumes which contain fiber, a proven protector against heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
A diet that is lacking in grains and legumes can also result in hypoglycemia, AKA low blood sugar levels. This condition can cause some unpleasant and potentially dangerous symptoms, including dizziness and heart palpitations.
Grains also help to keep bowel motions regular. Without them, bowel movement becomes irregular so you may suffer from constipation or loose stools.
Dairy products are also off the menu. When eaten in moderation, these provide calcium. The health benefits of calcium include that it strengthens the bones which can help to prevent breaks and osteoporosis later in life. Calcium is also vital for muscle function.
Can be difficult to follow
One of the Paleo Diet cons that can be a deal-breaker for some is that it is quite strict. It can take time to become accustomed to it, and you will need to exercise willpower until you do.
Many medical doctors, nutritionists, and other health experts advocate that adults consume four to six servings of grains per day, two and a half servings of dairy products per day, and two servings of legumes a week. Along with providing health benefits, these also add variety. With these food groups not being a part of the Paleo lifestyle, you may find the diet repetitious.
NB: Recommended dietary guidelines vary depending on the person’s age and gender.
Increases the risk factor for some diseases
To replace eliminated food groups (grains, legumes, and dairy products), the paleo diet advocates eating more meat. When combined with the diet’s lower carbohydrate allowance, kidney function can be compromised.
Additionally, today’s meats often contain more saturated fat than those eaten by our ancestors, and saturated fat can increase the risk of heart disease.
Possibility of weight gain
People who have previously eaten a lot of junk food may lose weight on the Paleo diet. However, those who already ate the correct sized portions of healthy food may gain weight eating Paleo. This is because along with high-fat meats, other high-fat foods such as nuts are a part of the diet.
Another common reason that people can gain weight while on the diet is that when eating food that we regard as healthy, we tend to eat more of it.
If you enjoy eating out and going to parties, this can be difficult when following the Paleo diet. Some cafe menus offer Paleo options, but these are still few and far between. There are now some Paleo restaurants, but they tend to be expensive. And, if your friends and family aren’t into the lifestyle, they may not want to eat there.
Final Thoughts on the Pros and Cons of the Paleo Diet
So there you have the main pros and cons of the Paleo Diet.
While classified as a fad diet, it is an eating plan that may benefit some people, but not necessarily any more than other diets that eliminate processed foods. According to many in the medical field, following it for an extended period can increase the risk of some health problems and diseases.
Incorporating the diet’s good points, these being eating clean, and limiting sugar and processed foods, can have health benefits. Add healthy grains and calcium-rich foods, to potentially get the most benefit from the diet.