The Paleo DietWednesday, January 15, 2014
By Joni Garcia MS, RD, Contributing Blogger
Many folks make it a goal to eat and feel healthier, especially in the New Year. As a dietitian, I hear the most buzz about diet trends and fads during this time of year. Although I initially heard about the Paleo Diet a few years back, the popularity of the diet has been growing more than ever before. But is the caveman-style diet all what it’s hyped up to be?
What is it?
The Paleo Diet mirrors the diet of our hunter-gather ancestors, who walked the earth about 10,000 years ago. It focuses on eating lots of protein, fiber, and monounsaturated and omega-3 fats derived from fresh and unprocessed fruits and veggies, meat, fish and seafood, and healthy oils while excluding grains, dairy, legumes (like beans and lentils), and processed foods.
The creators of the diet claim that our current food and activity environment (high carbohydrate and processed foods, low physical activity) has caused many of our common diseases and disorders, like diabetes, obesity, cancer, and even acne. By following this diet, you can lessen the risk of developing these chronic disorders and many others, which weren’t seen during the time of our hunter-gather ancestors.
The Diet Plan
The Paleo Diet is low in sodium and high in potassium, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Followers should avoid starchy veggies (like potatoes) and grains and choose only fresh, unprocessed fruits, veggies, grass-fed and free-range meats, fish, and seafood.
The Paleo Diet recommends:
- About 1/3 of calories each day should come from grass-fed or free-range meats, fish, and seafood.
- A little more than 1/3 of calories each day should come from non-starchy fresh fruits (like apples, oranges, melon, and berries) and veggies.
- The remaining calories should come from monounsaturated and omega 3 fats (like olive oil and flax seed).
Pros vs. Cons
The emphasis on eating unprocessed foods, lots of fruits and veggies, and less sodium in the Paleo Diet is great since many folks tend to eat too much processed food and miss out on important nutrients found in fruits and veggies. Followers are also encouraged to exercise, which is an important ingredient of a healthy lifestyle. All of these things are recommended in the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
But any diet that encourages omitting one or more entire food groups tends to raise some eyebrows. By cutting out whole grains, legumes, and dairy completely, followers will miss out on many essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, like B-vitamins, calcium, and vitamin D. Followers must remember to choose very lean cuts of meats or risk chowing down on lots of saturated fat. And since the Paleo Diet focuses so heavily on meat, fish, and seafood, vegetarians and vegans simply cannot follow this diet.
The Paleo Diet is tough to follow and stick to. It requires followers to cook (a lot!) and it may be hard to find dishes that fit with the diet at a restaurant or a party. Also, a diet focused on fresh grass fed, free range meat, fish, seafood, fruits and veggies can get pricey.
While there are definitely some promising aspects of the Paleo Diet, there are others that cause concern. All foods can fit into a healthy diet and moderation is key. Weight loss and reducing risk of common diseases can happen with a diet that includes eating foods from all the food groups.
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