To Go Paleo or Not to Go Paleo: That is the Question!

By - Zonya Foco, RD, CSP, CHFI

The Paleo diet by Loren Cordain, Ph.D. (and others similar) has certainly gained popularity. Its theme can be convincing: eat like a caveman, because that’s how humans are genetically programmed to thrive. This means favoring lots of meat (particularly game meats like venison) nuts, fruit and vegetables (except root vegetables and legumes), and consuming absolutely no grains or sugar.

In truth, you will lose weight on this. Just think, if you eliminate all sweets and all grains, even starchy vegetables and legumes, this subtracts a big chunk of your calories! I’ve interviewed several who have done it, and yes, they do lose weight. And then….. (predictably) they are unable to stick with it. So what happens? They gain it back!

That said, here’s what I find good about the diet:

1) No processed junk food.

This means no soda, chips, crackers, cookies, donuts, candy, etc., the list goes on. Hallelujah! Obviously avoiding processed food is pivotal so I really can’t say this is bad… until…people write me and say “I’m starving on this diet what do you suggest? And of course I say “Follow any clean eating program, especially one that uses a systematic approach to changes habits in a livable fashion.” (For instance, like my eight habit DIET FREE program does. It also advises to ‘replace processed foods for wholesome’ only in a way that’s doable for a lifetime.)

2) Encourages LOTS of vegetables.tray of fruits and vegetables

When you are denied grains, you just might fill up your plate with what’s left….VEGETABLES!  I admit, I LOVE this part about the Paleo diet! Swapping grains for veggies. Yes, Americans eat too many grains and too few vegetables, so this part is worth listening to. People wanting to lose weight will do well keeping the vegetable servings-two to every one-of grain. But all the way to none? Keep in mind, with Paleo, vegetables (with the exception of a few fruits) are the sole source for fiber. And therefore…even if someone does actually eat enough vegetables every day to meet their fiber needs, will it be enough to ward off the increased colon cancer risk from eating so much meat? We absolutely do not know, and this is a SERIOUS risk to take.

3) Very low in sugar.

Not a cookie, cake, candy or sweetened drink. For sweetened food, cavemen only had sparing access to fruit and honey. This is a great goal to strive for, but obviously too restrictive for most people long-term. It is important for us to learn how to tame our sweet tooth so we naturally crave less sweets, yet still enjoy sweets in MODERATION (particularly dark chocolate). While many think they can’t eat just one or two small sweet treats on occasion, without overindulging, it absolutely can be done. And quite happily I might add, as explained in the DIET FREE “Tame Your Sweet Tooth” habit, and the Water with Lemon DIET FREE novel.

4) Very low in sodium (no processed meats).

The Paleo diet does not allow for any processed meats, including hot dogs, bacon, ham, sausage, pepperoni, etc. Since excessive intake of these meats has been linked to cancer and type 2 diabetes, limiting processed meats is a super idea. (Do you hear me jumping for joy here?) And since you simply trade out fresh meats for processed meats, it’s pretty realistic most days. (Compared to going vegetarian, this is EASY). Problem again is….no processed meat EVER? Really? Never? Not even 99% fat-free sliced turkey meat? I happen to like the “every once in while” approach of DIET FREE much better, don’t you?

Here’s what I find concerning:

1) The authors profess that we have “evolved very little” since caveman days, and therefore should eat just like a caveman.

If that were true, why did we evolve so much that we hardly look like a caveman anymore? (I’ll speak for myself anyway). When the hunt didn’t go well, I bet they ate dirt to fill their bellies. Should we eat that? I think you know where I’m going here. God made legumes and grains. When we eat them as nature intended, in their unprocessed forms, and not in a balance higher than vegetables, they become an important fuel for exercise, something we all need to be doing daily.

2) High protein is hard on the kidneys and colon.

The nitrogen in protein must be cleared by the kidneys. Protein is not an ideal “fuel for energy” but rather, is best saved for muscle repair. Eating large quantities of red meat is linked to colon cancer and prostate cancer. In fact, in the book “The China Study”, study after study supports a plant-based diet over animal based.  Any “science” supporting Paleo is non-existent. Sorry folks, scientific studies support that a predominately plant-based diet, enjoying meat in moderation…(oh sorry for saying that boring word again)….is the way to go.

3) They say “cavemen didn’t eat legumes or tubers so don’t eat them.”

Really? How do they know? Sweet potatoes, pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans, lentils, etc. are undeniably among the healthiest foods on this planet! They provide wonderful plant protein while sopping up nasty cholesterol. There is absolutely no value to excluding these foods (other than to gain popularity from their quick initial weight loss).

diet free logoThe bottom line: The latest news is that the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest in the world. And it does include smartly chosen grains (yes, even bread!) and legumes along with moderate meats and ample vegetables. And guess what? The 8 DIET FREE habits depict a Mediterranean diet perfectly! So I say let your friends go on their overly restrictive Paleo diet while you live realistically DIET FREE. In no time at all they will be back where they started and wondering why you are doing so well!