What is a paleo diet?
I bet you’ve heard somebody, somewhere mention the “paleo” diet. This diet is based on the types of foods presumed to have been eaten by early humans, consisting chiefly of meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit, and excluding dairy or grain products and processed food.
Why would it be bad for you?
Too much restriction.
As the paleo diet restricts dairy, grains and legumes, those with limited access to an abundant food supply, whether it be location, time or money, may not be getting all their essential nutrients. This may also be true to those who are too concerned with their diet. Calcium is one of these nutrients, especially for those at risk of developing osteoporosis. And this is not from a lack of dairy, because you don’t need to dairy to get your calcium! It would be because you don’t include the foods that do contain calcium (bone in fish, bone broth, leafy greens and properly prepared nuts) on a regular basis. However, this research is inconclusive. This is one reason I advise still including dairy in your diet while eating paleo.¹
Read this article, by one of my favorite dietitians, Laura Schoenfeld, MPH, RD, to learn more about this topic.
Three Reasons I Encourage a Paleo Diet
- It Eliminates Processed Foods
First of all, I love that the diet cuts out all processed foods. Processed foods typically contain trans fats and sugar, with very little nutrient value. These are considered to have
lots of empty calories which typically lead to weight gain and inflammation (read about that here). This is one of the reasons people typically experience weight loss when beginning the paleo diet.
For this reason, I like to recommend aspects of the paleo diet when people begin their lifestyle change/weight loss journey. When you say no to all processed foods offered to you (at a party, donuts at church, etc.), it makes it easier to stick to your new lifestyle and form the new habits that will make you successful.
2. The Focus is on Real Food
Second, the paleo diet encourages a diet focused on real food. And real food is what I am all about! The diet encourages an abundance of vegetables and fruits – in fact, it encourages most of your carbohydrates (energy source) come from fruits and vegetables. Having fruits and vegetables as your main carbohydrate source will fill you with satisfaction and provide the necessary vitamins, minerals and energy to help your body run well!
This is a positive aspect because the majority of Americans get their carbohydrate sources from refined carbohydrates (baked goods, white breads, pastas and crackers, etc.). These refined carbohydrates have very little nutrient value and are again, energy dense – providing a lot of empty calories. So they make you crave them, give into them, not feel satisfied with them and then guilt or desire for more may follow.
3. Encourages Healthy Fat Consumption
Third, the paleo diet encourages healthy fat consumption. Did you know that when our bodies are at rest or performing light activity (like walking), it gets 90% of its energy from fat? Our body uses carbohydrates as our energy source when we are performing high intensity activity or an activity that uses 60-80% of maximal oxygen uptake. Therefore, the majority of our energy throughout the day (unless we are a marathoner) comes from fat. Our bodies need healthy fats!
One more amazing fact: did you know that our brains are made of over 60% fat?
“The human brain is nearly 60 percent fat. We’ve learned in recent years that fatty acids are among the most crucial molecules that determine your brain’s integrity and ability to perform. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are required for maintenance of optimal health but they can not synthesized by the body and must be obtained from dietary sources. Clinical observation studies has related imbalance dietary intake of fatty acids to impaired brain performance and diseases.”²
What are healthy fats?
When it comes to healthy fats, it’s important to have a balanced ratio of omega 6 fatty acids and omega 3 fatty acids.
Did you know that the standard American diet has a ratio of 15/1 – 16.7/1?
This is awful! Western diets are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids and have excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, mainly coming from unsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). This high ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 promotes the production of many diseases:
- cardiovascular disease
- inflammatory/autoimmune diseases
Increased levels of omega 3 fatty acids actually exert suppressive effects.³
Therefore, it’s important to ensure you are getting as much omega 3 fatty acids as you can, and trying to decrease your intake of omega 6 fatty acids. And the best way to do this?
Take out processed foods.
This is because processed foods are filled with inflammatory vegetable oils (soybean oil, especially) that contain lots of omega 6 fatty acids.
You can also increase your intake of wild caught, fatty fish (like salmon and mackerel), grass fed beef, avocados, extra virgin olive oil, walnuts and chia and flaxseed.
Recap: What I enjoy about the paleo diet is that it cuts out processed foods, it focuses on real food consumption and it encourages healthy fats (especially omega 3 fatty acids).
While I enjoy these aspects of the paleo diet, I believe it is important to remember to let go of restriction and perfection. This can cause unnecessary stress on your body and make you worse off! The paleo diet is supposed to be focused on eating real food to fuel our bodies. Not restricting ourselves to be the “thinnest” we can be. So, if you want that ice cream or those few slices of cheese (which I would still consider “paleo”), go for it! Just focus on getting back to the roots the majority of the time.
- Pitt, C. (2016). Cutting through the Paleo hype: The evidence for the Palaeolithic Diet.
- Chang, CY. (2009). Essential fatty acids and human brain.
- Simopoulos, A. (2003). Importance of the Ratio of Omega-6/Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids: Evolutionary Aspects. World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics Omega-6/Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acid Ratio: The Scientific Evidence, 1-22.