Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I Don't Recommend You Go PALEO

If you pay any attention to diet fads, then you know that the Paleo Diet is totally hot right now.  The Paleo Diet, or “Caveman Diet”, is based upon eating whole foods that our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have eaten during the Paleolithic era. The diet encourages eating meats (preferably grass fed), fish, seafood, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and “healthy” oils. The diet does not include any dairy, grains, legumes, and refined sugars.
          The Paleo Diet definitely has some great qualities, especially since it encourages the consumption of real, natural, whole foods, and lots of fruits and veggies. However, my biggest problem with it is the part that discounts the importance of dairy, grains, and legumes in the diet. Through this diet, it would be incredibly difficult for any person to get in enough calcium, and they would be missing out on the fibers, phytonutrients, and antioxidants found in grains and legumes that have shown to be incredibly important for disease prevention and weight management. Beans and whole grains are especially important for regulating blood sugar and lowering blood cholesterol levels.
Another aspect of the Paleo diet I am not so keen on is the encouraged meat consumption. The most recent dietary guidelines emphasize the importance of a mostly plant based diet (and plant based proteins like beans), for optimal nutrition. The USDA recommends three cups of beans each week since they are a great way to get in plant based protein, various types of fibers, and nutrients like iron and potassium. The USDA also encourages incorporating other plant-based proteins like nuts and seeds as well as fish and shellfish. There are countless studies showing that people who eat the most red meat are at an increased risk of developing certain cancers, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, stomach ulcers, and a whole array of other conditions. All the major health organizations (WHO, AHA, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics), still encourage everyone to limit their intake of saturated fat, whether that comes from lard, grass fed beef, or coconut oil. The Paleo Diet says these saturated fats are fine, which is not consistent with what the experts recommend.
In a recent article in the Washington Post that I blogged about below (Paleo Diet Article Blog) an evolutionary biologist explains that the Paleo diet is flawed. He explains that we don’t really know what the cavemen actually ate since it was so long ago and the diets varied depending on which part of the world they lived in. Humans are able to adapt to their environment, just like some humans began to digest lactose where cow’s milk was prevalent. By developing the lactase enzyme to break down lactose, certain populations gained access to a high quality protein and tons of vitamins and minerals like calcium, riboflavin, phosphorus, and potassium. The evolutionary biologist also makes the point that what you are buying the supermarket, whether it is fish, fruits, or grass fed beef, is incredibly different than it was 10,000-100,000 years ago. Just as genes in humans change, genes in agricultural products change. So, in today’s world it is impossible to eat just like the cavemen did no matter how hard you try.

MY RECOMMENDATION: Most people find they will lose weight on any diet. You may lose weight on the Paleo diet if you currently over-consume ice cream and snack foods and decide to cut them out. But, as most people know, the vast majority of people gain the weight back (plus some!) after any restrictive diet. If you tell yourself that any food or food group is off limits, you will most likely fail. Stick to the foods you know are healthy, and still don’t eat too much of them. The other reason you will most likely lose weight on the Paleo Diet is because diet encourages consuming more fruits and vegetables than most people are used to. I really like this aspect of the diet. For all of my clients, I have them eat more fruit and a ton of vegetables- the more veggies the better. Vegetables and fruits are low-energy density foods, filling, and contain lots of fiber, so they are fantastic for weight loss. However, you don't need to follow a "diet" to get these results! Choose mostly non-starchy vegetables, fresh fruits, non-fat or low-fat dairy, whole grains, and nuts, seeds, beans, seafood, and lean cuts of meat (in limited amounts). Try to limit the amount of processed foods in your diet- cook the grains yourself, eat fruit instead of juices, and cook a fresh turkey instead of buying lunch meat. I assure you that you won’t get fat from eating the proper serving sizes (appropriate for YOUR body) of barley, low-fat plain yogurt, and lentils. 

U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th Edition, Washington,                
DC: U.S. Government Printing Ofice, December 2010.


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