Paleo Diet: Healthy or Not?

By Alexandra Smith

Flowchart depicts rules of Paleo Diet. (Photo courtesy thenext28days.com)

Flowchart depicts rules of Paleo Diet. (Photo courtesy thenext28days.com)

Recently, a new diet trend has been talked about by the news media, healthy living bloggers, and even medical doctors: the Paleo diet. The premise of the diet is that cavemen of Paleolithic times were healthier than many people are today because they only ate foods like unprocessed meats, fruits, and vegetables. According to a May 9 article on usatoday.com, “the Paleo diet encourages participants to eat pasture-raised animals, fruits and vegetables, while eliminating dairy, grains, legumes and processed oils such as vegetable and canola oil.” The article quoted Liz Wolfe, a nutritional therapy practitioner, stating that though cutting out food groups may seem extreme, the “other food groups aren’t necessary for a healthy diet.”

A Sept. 28 article on miamiherald.com quoted Loren Cordain, a professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University, stating that the chronic diseases that impact 50 to 65 percent of the Westernized adult population “were rare or nonexistent in hunter-gatherer societies,” and that “when hunter/gatherer societies transitioned to an agricultural grain-based diet, their general health deteriorated.”

Lately, my Facebook and Instagram feeds have been filled with people posting pictures of their Paleo meals, and talking about the diet. A Jan. 2010 article on nytimes.com titled “New Age Cavemen and the City” noted that one man who adopted a Paleo diet said that “Much of his nourishment comes from grass-fed beef, which he eats raw.”Apparently, some people are taking the trend a bit too far.

I don’t think the Paleo diet is as healthy as some claim, and I don’t think people should be jumping on the Paleo bandwagon without doing some research. First of all, our cavemen ancestors didn’t have very long life spans, so I’m not sure why people are so interested in copying their diet. Aside from that, I don’t know if you’ve been to the grocery store recently and seen the cost of free range, grass-fed meat, but it’s pretty high.

The Paleo diet doesn’t address the issue of saturated fat, and the linkage between red meat and cancer. An Oct. 24 article on pbs.org noted that researchers have found a gene present in one in three people that can raise the risk of colorectal cancer from eating red meat. The Paleo diet may seem like a healthy diet because it advises against eating sugar and salt, but it also eliminates dairy and grains—two food groups that provide essential nutrients like calcium, magnesium, Vitamin D, phosphorus, and B vitamins. I don’t see what’s so unhealthy about legumes, either, as they provide protein, fiber, and essential nutrients. There’s no real research behind the Paleo diet, but there is research behind the health benefits of dairy, grains, and legumes.

What really bothers me about the Paleo diet is that it’s extremely restrictive. I would never want to follow a diet that doesn’t allow me to eat foods like potatoes, beans, peanuts, and milk. Unless one is allergic to, or intolerant of certain foods, I don’t believe they need to completely remove them from their diet. I also believe that people will be less likely to adhere to the Paleo diet because it is so restrictive. What if a Paleo dieter’s friends want to go out for pizza, but the dieter can’t enjoy pizza with his friends because the dough and cheese aren’t a part of his diet? I’m a firm believer that one’s diet shouldn’t seriously impact one’s social life.

It makes sense that people are losing weight on this diet because they are eliminating processed foods, as well as whole food groups. At what cost does this diet come, though? Paleo dieters may also be eliminating nutrients and nourishment from foods that have been considered healthy by society for centuries. It’s totally possible to lose weight and eat healthfully without eliminating whole food groups and following the eating patterns—which were most likely due to food scarcity—of cavemen.

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