One of the recent ‘fad’ diet concepts is the Paleo Diet. While I am labeling it as a fad that does not necessarily mean that, it is one. However, you should not just take my word for it. The diet is one that takes us back your “roots”. Let’s jump into the diet and look at the core concepts behind it along with advantages and disadvantages; then you can be the judge at how effective it could be and whether or not we should label it as a fad.
When thinking of the Paleo Diet, the term “fad” comes to mind to describe the program due to its popularity. The concept originated in the mid 1970’s by a man named Walter Voegtlin who was a gastroenterologist. He originally wrote a book titled The Stone Age Diet, which was a study in a different style of diet based on very in-depth studies of human ecology.
The eating style mimic’s the one employed by our ancestors of the Paleolithic era, which was an era that ended just over 10,000 years ago. The era itself ended by the agricultural revolution and a change in the way early man obtained food. Prior to the agricultural revolution, early man was a ‘hunter-gatherer’ rather than a farmer.
Since Voegtlin’s original book, the book is often referred to as, ‘the Caveman diet’, a ‘Hunter-Gatherer Diet’, or the ‘Paleo Diet’ as a shorter version of Paleolithic.
The basic idea behind Voegtlin’s study is that the human genetics have not changed over the last million or so years except in minor ways. Because of that, the ideal diet for a human should be able to mimic the one employed a million years ago. He point was to link health issues and weight problems with the creations in agriculture and development of processed foods and the like. From there over multiple centuries, humans have always eaten in a certain manner, which goes against the fundamental basics we had as a species in a more primitive time.
The basic structure of a Paleo diet is natural. You focus you’re eating on things you would expect someone should be able to hunt and gather. That means the foods will focus primarily around meats and vegetables along with fruits and nuts.
Acceptable Paleo Foods:
- fish and seafood
- lean meats
- most nuts
Unacceptable Paleo Foods:
- dairy products
- refined products that are mainly comprised of sugars or oils
- processed foods
You eat normal meals based around these foods such as an omelet for breakfast with vegetables mixed in, a salad with chicken for lunch, etc. You eat a normal number of calories but now only consuming nutrient dense carbohydrates and low fat proteins.
This diet actually makes a good deal of sense. By eliminating sugars and processed foods, you are going to retrain your body a bit to create a very even level of energy during the day. Often people experience regular peaks and valleys in their energy levels because the regular intake of sugar creates insulin spikes followed by valleys.
By re-calibrating your body, it will allow you to be on an even keel all the time. Many people have reported similar benefits when they stop drinking soda or sugar-laden drinks like coffee. Suddenly they have more energy and feel better.
Also sugars, processed foods, excess grains, and pointless carbohydrates have a tendency to turn into fat easily. By eliminating these from your body, you also retrain your body in how it stores and uses energy. The basic concept in the diet is that after you have adjusted, the body will look to burn pockets of fat in certain areas for energy first and not store as much.
As the blood sugar levels become steadier, better sleep is often a result. Many people do not realize eating sugar of any type close to bed can cause un-restful sleep. The better sleep combined with higher levels of energy helps improve mental sharpness which in turn helps combat depression and anxiety. On top of everything else, lowering levels of gluten from a different eating style means improved digestion for most people.
Did we mention improved health from getting more nutrients? Unless you already eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, you will see an increase in health from the addition of so many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in leafy, green vegetables and fresh fruit. For most people the vegetables or fruit are only a quarter or third of your meal, but in this diet style they are usually half or more.
The biggest negative points for most people are the restrictions on what you cannot eat. From a nutritional standpoint, certain beans like soybeans or lentils are extremely useful. So are things like sunflower seeds or popcorn. Whole grain pasta is an excellent source of energy and dairy products like cottage cheese and yogurt are wonderful and convenient. However, this type of diet does not allow it. On top of that, it can be a rather drastic change for most people to adapt. In many ways, it is an all-or-nothing affair. While you will notice some benefits even if you stray, little blips tend to throw off the whole system.
But then again, most healthy diets are like that.
The Bottom Line:
Conceptually this is a very good diet style. Regardless of what it is mimicking, the fact is that all the foods they want you to eat are in the top group most health and nutrition experts agree people should be eating. It can be a difficult switch depending on how you currently eat because for most people that means overhauling every meal. But the benefits to your long term health seem worthwhile if your goal involves having a lean body with all of its nutritional needs met.