The biggest buzz on the fad-diet front is the Paleo diet: Its name is derived from the word “Paleolithic” as a throwback to the Stone Age. Before super-sized chain store supermarkets and Starbucks were on every street corner, hunters and gatherers survived by eating wild plants and animals. The modern Paleo diet maintains the basic hunter-gatherer framework, with a diet that consists of mainly vegetables and animal meats, while excluding dairy products, legumes, and grains, plus refined sugar.
Now that home cooking, dining out, and delivery have taken the place of chasing game and picking berries, why continue to eat like cavemen and women?
The Paleo diet is based on the idea that the human genome (what makes up our DNA) has changed very little since the ancient times, so the best diet is one that resembles what our ancestors ate. Were our ancestors onto something? Unfortunately the answer to this question is not black and white, and like most “diets”, there are pros and cons.
Pros Of The Paleo Diet
Putting protein on your plate: The Paleo diet advocates eating fish, free-range poultry, and lean meats, particularly grass-fed beef, which has higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. This healthy type of fat has multiple health benefits including anti-inflammatory properties, which may help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
Eating nuts and seeds: Other healthy fats that this diet includes are those found in certain nuts and seeds like almonds and sunflower seeds. (Do you know the 6 healthiest nuts?)
Filling up on extra veggies: Paleo diet followers are encouraged to load up on vegetables; it’s no news that veggies are an excellent source of essential vitamins and minerals. (Find out which vegetables are the best for you.)
Guzzling down water: Another founding pillar of the Paleo diet is drinking water. Water is the operative word here. (The diet also discourages alcohol.) Staying properly hydrated is vital for our health because all of our tissues require water to function. (Just be sure to avoid the worst water.)
Ridding yourself of refined sugar: Cavemen didn’t drink Coke, and neither do those on this diet, which discourages drinking sugary sodas, diet sodas (they’re loaded with artificial sweeteners), and sweetened juice beverages, and well as eating all forms of refined sugars. So while you might miss sweets, your waistline won’t.
Cons Of The Paleo Diet
Ditching dairy: I like to say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: for those of us who don’t have a dairy intolerance or allergy, low-fat yogurts, cheese, and milk can be great sources of calcium and protein.
Giving up grains: Refusing refined grains like white bread can be a good thing, as these foods often have little nutritional value. But not all grains are “bad” for you! Grains such as quinoa and oats are good sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Fiber found in these foods helps to keep us fuller for longer, which gives us better control over our appetites.
Letting go of legumes. As far as legumes go, these guys are a great vegetarian source of protein and are loaded with antioxidants, but they’re still prohibited on the Paleo diet.
The Bottom Line: You don’t have to go full force to incorporate healthy aspects of the Paleo diet. For example, make sure to eat your nuts and seeds but if you have no medical reason to avoid legumes, whole grains (such as quinoa and barley) and dairy, keep these foods in your diet too.