Returning to the Prehistoric Age – What’s all the Talk about the Paleo Diet?

There are few out there that have not yet heard about the Paleo diet – it has been quick to gain popularity in our society. What exactly makes up the Paleo diet? To be put simply, it is all about eating like the people who came before us in prehistoric and preagricultural times – those who did not have knowledge of processed foods, dairy, and things like refined sugars. A good way to describe this diet is in essence eating only foods that can be “hunted or gathered.” The point of this is to live a leaner and cleaner eating lifestyle in addition to possibly reducing the risk of diseases like diabetes, various cancers, and heart disease.

What foods this eating lifestyle emphasizes:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

 

What food this lifestyle restricts:

  • Whole Grains
  • Dairy
  • Potatoes
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Processed Foods

 

This diet is ultimately low in sugar and saturated fats, which is obviously a great thing in terms of leading a healthy lifestyle. Diets do get tricky when you get rid of foods that are nutrient dense – options like whole grains and dairy in this situation. Deficiencies can develop and ultimately have an effect on an individual later in life. Having a diet that is so low in carbohydrates (Paleo resembles the Atkins diet in this way) can also lower one’s energy, especially in the case of someone that is an athlete. Another point to mention is that diets with strict guidelines can often be difficult to keep up with and maintain. You have to also be careful with such an emphasis on protein and picking the right choices like leaner meats; higher fat meats while incorporated into a healthy diet regularly can still promote your risk of heart problems.

If a lifestyle similar to the Paleo diet is something you are interested in, a good way to moderate it would be to include dairy and whole grains in moderation and really steer clear of those processed foods that our country has grown so accustomed to. One great thing about the Paleo diet is that the emphasis on protein and fiber serve to be a suppressant for appetite – you end up staying fuller for longer.

Here’s a breakdown of what main nutrients and food groups the Paleo Diet includes or lags a bit on:

Protein: The national recommendation is 10-35% of your daily calories coming from protein; with the Paleo diet the average is around 38%. If not choosing lean meats this could have the potential to increase fat intake in one’s diet as well.

Carbohydrates: On the Paleo diet you get around 23% of calories from carbs, and the recommendation is 45-65%, so this is significantly below the national recommendation for this food group.

Salt: Consumption is reduced with Paleo because fresh produce is extremely low in this nutrient and getting rid of processed foods as well as grains lowers one’s intake. It’s important to keep in mind that reducing your salt intake to appropriate amounts is a great thing, but your body still needs salt in the diet to properly function.

Fiber: Most on Paleo will exceed the recommended target of 22-34% of daily intake coming from fiber, due to the increased amount of fruits and vegetables in this lifestyle.

Potassium: Paleo is actually one of the few diets that manage to get enough of potassium – a sample Paleo diet was nearly double the government’s suggested goal.

Calcium 1,000-1,300 mg a day is advised, on Paleo you get around 700 mg on average. The deficiency is due to the elimination of dairy products and other foods fortified with Calcium.

Vitamin B12: One needs 2.4 micrograms in a day, and those on Paleo usually have no problem getting this because meat and fish, which are heavily emphasized on a Paleo diet, are plentiful in B12.

Vitamin D: Very little to none is offered in this lifestyle, a supplement (though technically this isn’t caveman-like) can be recommended or making sure you get enough exposure to sunlight in a given week.

Another thing to keep in mind is the Paleo diet can certainly be pricey – produce and meat are among the most expensive parts of any grocery store. A great way to address the limitations of the Paleo diet – like a possible calcium or Vitamin D deficiency due to the elimination of milk and fortified grains, is to do it in moderation. A great way to move toward a healthy lifestyle is to reduce the amount of processed foods and refined sugars, but not at the expense of eliminating any food groups. 

The biggest thing to keep in mind with any diet or lifestyle change is that they all have pros and cons, and before adapting one it is imperative to take all of these into consideration so deficiencies and other health problems do not occur!

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References:

Tallahassee Democrat

US News

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