The Paleo Problem: The Pros and Cons of Eating Like a Caveman
What is Paleo?
Many fad diets are prevalent in our society today, from low carb to the ketogenic diet. However, one fad diet that has become increasingly popular in recent decades is the paleo diet. But what exactly is the Paleo diet? The Paleo diet (short for Paleolithic diet) is a dietary regimen that incorporates basic foods that were eaten by people during the Paleolithic era about 2.5 million years ago (Paleo diet: Eat like a cave man and lose weight?).
How does the Paleo diet aid in weight loss?
The Paleo diet is designed for quick weight loss by drastically limiting the foods one is allowed to consume. According to an article by Mayo Clinic, “participants that engage in this diet are only allowed to eat such foods as lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds” (Paleo diet: Eat like a cave man and lose weight?). Basically, a person following this diet is only allowed to eat foods that were obtained by ways of hunting and gathering in the past. Furthermore, the Paleo diet tends to limit foods that became more prevalent about 10,000 years ago with emergence of farming. The Paleo diet excludes all refined sugars, carbohydrates from bread products, dairy products, legumes, and grains (Paleo diet: Eat like a cave man and lose weight?).
Benefits of Paleo
Although fad diets generally aren’t considered safe, they can also be beneficial in some ways. Some of the benefits of the Paleo diet include:
-Being more likely to eat whole foods that are free of additives, preservatives, and chemicals
-Anti-inflammatory effects from antioxidants in fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and oils
- Increased consumption of red meat will increase intake of iron, which is especially beneficial for individuals that are anemic
- Becoming full quicker from increased consumption of fiber from fruits and vegetables
(Pros and Cons of the Paleo Diet)
Disadvantages of Paleo
However, as with anything else, you can never have too much of a good thing. Just as there are some benefits of the paleo diet, the unfortunate reality is that there are more disadvantages associated with this diet, such as:
- It can be VERY EXPENSIVE
- The lack of nutrients from this diet (i.e., no dairy or grains) can eventually become detrimental to one’s health (Evolution of the Human Diet: Linking Our Ancestral Diet to Modern Functional Foods as a Means of Chronic Disease Prevention)
- This diet isn’t practical for all people
- Although helpful for weight loss, this diet would otherwise be disadvantageous for athletes as it does not provide the ample supply of carbs that athletes require for sustained energy (Paleolithic Diet—Effect on the Health Status and Performance of Athletes?)
- We are NOT cavemen
- Humans today are much more complex as compared to what the early man was 2.5 million years ago (we have much more diverse nutritional requirements that must be obtained from a variety of food groups) (Impacts of carbohydrate‐restricted diets on micronutrient intakes and status: A systematic review)
- The availability of very limited food choices
- Much research has been done to suggest the health benefits of foods that are not included in the paleo diet (Evolution of the Human Diet: Linking Our Ancestral Diet to Modern Functional Foods as a Means of Chronic Disease Prevention)
Although there are both benefits and disadvantages of the paleo diet, a peer reviewed article by the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that this diet, overall, may be too good to be true (Chan, Diet Review: Paleo Diet for Weight Loss). Although the paleo diet may incorporate nutrient-dense foods and encourages people to avoid highly processed foods, the downfalls of this dietary regimen heavily outweigh its benefits. For example, the exclusion of whole grains, legumes, and dairy products can ultimately lead to severe deficiencies of key nutrients that can prevent one from achieving optimal health. Not enough evidential support and research is currently available for this diet to be recommended by dietitians and other nutritional experts (Chan, Diet Review: Paleo Diet for Weight Loss).
Written by Ali Qazi on behalf of Supriya Lal, RD
1. 3 Minute Read Medically Reviewed by Sports Medicine April 2, 2016. “Pros and Cons of the Paleo Diet.” UPMC Health Beat, 18 Apr. 2019, share.upmc.com/2016/04/pros-cons-paleo-diet/.
2. Chan, T.H. “Diet Review: Paleo Diet for Weight Loss.” The Nutrition Source, 28 Oct. 2019, www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/diet-reviews/paleo-diet/.
3. Churuangsuk, Chaitong, et al. “Impacts of Carbohydrate‐Restricted Diets on Micronutrient Intakes and Status: A Systematic Review.” Obesity Reviews, 2019, doi:10.1111/obr.12857. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31006978/
4. Fenton, Tanis R, and Carol J Fenton. “Paleo Diet Still Lacks Evidence.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 104, no. 3, 2016, pp. 844–844., doi:10.3945/ajcn.116.139006. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27587607/
5. Frączek, Barbara, et al. “Paleolithic Diet—Effect on the Health Status and Performance of Athletes?” Nutrients, vol. 13, no. 3, 2021, p. 1019., doi:10.3390/nu13031019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8004139/
6. Jew, Stephanie, et al. “Evolution of the Human Diet: Linking Our Ancestral Diet to Modern Functional Foods as a Means of Chronic Disease Prevention.” Journal of Medicinal Food, vol. 12, no. 5, 2009, pp. 925–934., doi:10.1089/jmf.2008.0268.
7. “Paleo Diet: Eat like a Cave Man and Lose Weight?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 25 Aug. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/paleo-diet/art-20111182.