The Paleo Diet

The Paleo Diet

Raw beef and vegetables

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 Promise
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.

Bottom Line
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.

TELL ME: What’s your take on the Paleo Diet?

  • JB
    Posted at 23:04h, 15 January Reply

    I’d love to hear how it is deficient in Bs, calcium and Ds. If you understand the diet – and don’t get me wrong, I think the name paleo diet is just dumb – the leafy greens and veggies give you the calcium (more so than what is found in dairy), plenty of B in meat and they advocate sunlight (or D supplement where needed). Not to mention standard SAD diet is also deficient in D. Oh, and please show is the research around why saturated fat is bad. Thanks. Let’s just get it right. Eat real food.

  • Gail {A Healthy Hunger}
    Posted at 07:01h, 16 January Reply

    I agree whole heartedly with you. There are a lot of aspects of paleo that are appealing, but it can be limiting, and any diet that says absolute no to entire food groups is suspect to me. I also have a hard time with Paleo-ized “bad for you” recipes. It seems to me that if you’re going to embrace a healthy lifestyle you should do it in spirit as well as practice.

    Great article Toby- thanks for sharing this.

  • Dr. Mark
    Posted at 21:50h, 20 January Reply

    There is not one nutrient in dairy, legumes, and grains that I cannot find in plentiful (even greater) amounts in leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits. These are also much better sources of any nutrient you can find in processed grains. I would also encourage you to look into the current research regarding saturated fats. The low-fat dogma is old and tired.

  • Carly
    Posted at 21:54h, 21 January Reply

    I find I do best with monitoring the type and amount of carbohydrates I eat, so in that respect I think Paleo is good in that you are forced to choose healthier sources of carbohydrate.

    In the long run I think it is too restrictive for most.

    I’m also not convinced on the science of eliminating legumes…I love legumes>

  • John
    Posted at 14:06h, 26 February Reply

    I agree with most of the article, however some old myths about food seem to remain in Joni’s thinking…specifically the caution to buy lean cuts of mean to avoid saturated fat. That school of thought is on longer valid. Saturated fat from healthy animals is very good for you and will NOT cause heart disease, atherosclerosis etc. I really wish that people writing about health and nutrition would educate themselves on the latest science regarding these issues. Grains contain no essential nutrients that can’t be gotten from other, better sources. Spinach has much more bio-available calcium than milk does.

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