Dieting is certainly not for everyone, nor should it be! However, if you are considering trying a new diet, it’s important to be informed. There are a lot of eating plans floating around but one that keeps popping up is the paleo diet. Short for Paleolithic, the diet is also known as ‘the stone age diet’ which makes it sound pretty extreme and intimidating. However, its premise is really not so different from other diets out there.
So, what is the paleo diet?
The basic argument for the paleo diet is stripping your diet back and moving away from processed foods. The good thing about paleo is that there is no ‘right’ way. Unlike low-carb or keto which can be quite prescriptive, there is a lot of wiggle room to adapt paleo and there’s no counting calories.
What to eat:
- Meat & fish
- Tubers: potatoes, turnips, etc.
- Nuts & seeds
- ‘Healthy’ fats and oils: extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, etc.
- Salt & spices
What to avoid:
- Procesed foods
- Sugar, high-fructose corn syrup & artificial sweeteners
- Grains: breads, pasta, wheat, rye, etc.
- Legumes: beans, lentils, etc.
- Some vegetable oils: soybean oil, sonflower oil, cottonseed oil, etc.
- Trans fats: ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘partially hydrogenated’ oils, usually found in margerine
But what are the benefits?
When most people switch to a paleo diet, they will increase their vegetable and fibre intake and decrease their sugar intake. This is beneficial for gastrointestinal health, blood glucose and cholesterol levels.
The main potential benefits are:
- Promotes healthy blood glucose
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Lower blood pressure
- Weight management
- Improved cholesterol balance
What about the Cons?
Starting any diet is all about maintaining balance. For example, nicknames like the ‘caveman diet’ have led people to believe they can eat as much meat which can have negative health impacts.
The main cons are:
- As with any restrictive diet, eliminating entire food groups can mean essential nutrients and vitamins are not included in the diet, so you may need supplements
- The elimination of whole grains may mean a decreased intake of fibre
- It can be expensive
- This diet can be difficult for vegetarians, especially since it excludes beans
Can you be plant-based on paleo?
The caveman connotations around the paleo diet often leave vegetarians and vegans assuming the diet will be impossible for them to follow. The Paleo Diet website argues that the diet is predominantly vegan and vegetarian because ‘by volume and weight the Paleo Diet is primarily plant-based.’ However, what they do not factor in is protein. By banning legumes and processed food such as beans, tofu, or soy-based meat alternatives, protein is completely removed from a vegan’s diet. So whilst there are people who believe it is possible, many nutritionists argue against a plant-based paleo diet on nutritional grounds.
The key thing to remember is to transition gently into a new diet. Keep nutritional balance in mind and listen to your body, if you don’t feel well-fuelled, it probably isn’t right for you. Lastly, if you have any doubts, always speak to your doctor.