What is the Paleo diet?

What is the Paleo diet?

Have you ever wished you could return to eating the way our ancestors did? If you said yes, you may find the Paleo diet appealing. This way of eating is based on a simple concept: eat like the hunter-gatherers ate.1 This means that if they didn’t eat it, neither do you. That being said, unless you see yourself grabbing a spear and sprinting full speed into the wilderness, the realities of modern life force us to make a few adjustments to the natural diet our ancestors feasted on. It’s clear that times have changed; how can we replicate what they ate in a way that still fits into our contemporary lifestyle? To begin, let’s go back to basics-- Paleo focuses on consuming grass-fed meats, wild-caught seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds, unrefined oils, and, of course, plenty of fruits and vegetables.2

So Easy, a Caveman Can Follow It?

You may have noticed some major parts of your daily diet have gone missing. Most notably grains and dairy, two food groups that usually occupy a sizable portion on our plate, are not part of the Paleo plan.2 The diet also excludes items such as potatoes and legumes (beans, peas, peanuts, and lentils) and may raise the eyebrows of nutrition experts. However, its elimination of trans fats, refined sugars, and salt, especially in the context of highly processed foods, more closely resembles the recommendation of most other popular health-promoting diets.2 Because the diet omits some major food groups, many find it challenging to follow. Yet with the right knowledge and some dedication, many are able to eat a Paleo diet and benefit from its goal of providing unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods that a caveman would have eaten.

Back to Our Roots

Today’s food climate is starting to shift away from processed and packaged foods, and towards more whole foods with fewer pesticides and chemicals. This not only benefits our physical health, but also the health of the planet. In conjunction with this movement, the Paleo diet has rapidly grown in popularity as its guidelines prioritize a sense of returning to the roots of our native eating habits. With this mindset, the Paleo style of eating does offer an array of appealing qualities – we can’t argue with the benefits of consuming fresher foods made with more whole-food ingredients!

Not So Fast!

On the other hand, the Paleo way of eating also has some drawbacks that make it difficult to follow and may in fact be detrimental to our health. While the diet’s reliance on mono- and polyunsaturated fats offers a number of health benefits, the prominence of saturated fats may contribute to an increased risk of certain conditions such as high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. Its omission of beans and grain products, which are actually associated with lower disease risk, further exacerbates this problem. When evaluating this diet, you can’t have an all or nothing attitude or over simplify things, you need to look at the whole picture to decide if Paleo is right for you.

It can be very challenging to get accurate nutrition guidance from TV or the internet with all the latest diet fads, as it can seem like things are always changing. For example, when listening to the latest TV news brief, the Paleo diet may appear to offer benefits to those who have type 2 diabetes or at risk of developing diabetes.3 However, research trials showed the arrival of improvements may actually be related to the slight weight loss experienced by those who follow the Paleo diet, and not the diet itself. A diabetes research group demonstrated that losing just 7% of one’s body weight (about 12-25 lbs, depending on your weight) can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.4 Most people lose weight when following a diet, especially in the beginning, but a diet should not just make you lose weight; it should be both health-promoting and sustainable to follow long-term.

Bottom line

– the Paleo diet might be trending, and it will probably work for short-term weight loss. But if you’re looking for a lifestyle change that benefits your health in the long run, consider the Mediterranean or DASH diet first.

"If you’re still not sold, and you want to go Paleo, learn how to eat this diet properly with What Makes Paleo different."

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy. We never sell or share your email address.

More on this topic

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Type2Diabetes.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

or create an account to comment.