Today’s nutrition post comes from Amelia Winslow, MS, MPH of Eating Made Easy. Amelia holds two master’s degrees, in Nutrition and Public Health, from Tufts University in Boston. She and I are on the same page about the Paleo Diet, so I am excited for her to share some of the pros and cons of this way of eating.
Paleo diets are based on the idea that for optimal health, we should eat what cavemen ate. Sounds a little far fetched when you remember that most cavemen didn’t live beyond 30 (I know, I know – that’s what every Paleo critic says), but a closer look reveals that some of the diet’s recommendations make a lot of sense, and mirror the advice of most nutritionists and researchers.
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Since it’s the beginning of a new year and peak dieting season, many of you – or people you know – may be wondering whether a Primal diet is the diet that will solve your weight loss issues once-and-for-all.
But before you swear off grains for good, let’s take a closer look at the Paleo Diet and its potential benefits and concerns.
What foods do people eat on the Paleo Diet?
Meat, fish, poultry, (some) fruits, non-starchy veggies, sweet potatoes and squash (in moderation)*, nuts, seeds, grass-fed butter* and coconut. The Paleo Diets emphasize choosing meat from pasture-fed or sustainably-raised animals who were able to engage in natural behaviors in a humane environment before slaughter. *Edited to add
What foods are forbidden on The Paleo Diet?
All refined sugars, dairy products like milk, yogurt, regular butter and cheese; cereal grains like barley, wheat, corn, oats and rice; legumes, including all beans, lentils, peas, peanuts and peanut products and soybeans and soy products; starchy vegetables like potatoes, peas and yams; salty or cured meats such as deli meats, hot dogs, and salami; pickled foods, many condiments, and really all packaged or processed foods.
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What are the pros and cons of adopting this type of lifestyle?
PALEO DIET PROS AND CONS
|Eliminates reliance on white refined carbohydrates||Whole grains and legumes, which are not permitted on primal diets, are an important source of fiber and nutrients, as well as an eco-friendly source of plant-based protein|
|Encourages plenty of vegetables||No large studies assessing Paleo diet for long-term weight loss and maintenance|
|No more processed snack foods, which are high in calories and low in nutrients||Ultra-restrictive diets like Paleo almost never last|
|Paleo diets are naturally low in sugar||Too hard for many people to maintain over a long period of time, which can lead to yo-yo dieting and poor overall health|
|Encourages careful selection of meats, poultry, eggs and fish that have been humanely raised or pasture-fed||Large reliance on meat, which has repeatedly been linked to an increased risk of disease and is also very taxing on the environment|
|Weight loss is common, since fewer calories are being consumed, “empty calories” have been greatly reduced, and processed foods have been eliminated||Weight loss from restrictive diets is very hard to maintain over time; weight will be re-gained if any “forbidden” foods are re-introduced into the diet.|
|Very little science backing up some of the Paleo diet claims|
|Heavy use of coconut oil & other coconut products, which are imported from across the globe and carry a huge carbon footprint|
|Time-consuming & expensive (which could also be considered a pro rather than a con)|
Would I recommend the Paleo Diet?
No. Though I think there are some major upsides to so-called Primal diets (see my Pro column above), I am not a proponent of restrictive diets of any kind. Here’s why: virtually no one maintains restrictive eating over a long period of time, and it’s healthy eating over the long term (a.k.a. decades) that leads to good health and a long life.
I’ve never met a single person, nor read about people in research, who has maintained a low-carb (which is what Paleo is, essentially) diet for more than a year or two.
Plus, I’m a huge fan of beans and whole grains. When you buy high quality grain products, eat a wide variety of grains, and make healthy meals with beans or other legumes, these foods actually improve your health as opposed to harm it. This has been proven in population studies (e.g. the Greeks & other Mediterranean populations) time and time again.
However, I will say this: Nearly all of us would benefit from taking some of the Paleo “themes” and applying them to our lives much of the time: Eat more vegetables, fewer carbohydrates (especially refined carbs), less sugar, and buy only sustainably-raised meats, poultry and fish. These parts of The Paleo Diet are consistent with widely accepted nutrition research, and would help all of us – me included – achieve better health.
Amelia Winslow, MS, MPH is a nutritionist, personal chef and mom who believes healthy eating should be simple and enjoyable, not stressful or overwhelming. That’s why she started Eating Made Easy, a blog that answers food questions, de-bunks nutrition myths and offers practical tips to make healthy eating easier. Next time you feel confused about what you should be eating or buying, head to Eating Made Easy to get Amelia’s trusted, science-based advice.