10 Things to Know Before Trying the Paleo Diet

Brittany Risher
by Brittany Risher
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10 Things to Know Before Trying the Paleo Diet

While you may never want to live like a caveman (Who regularly lives in fear of animal attacks?), many people aim to eat like one and follow the Paleo diet. The gist is you only eat what cavemen did, which to proponents means no grains, legumes, dairy or sugar and lots of meat, coconut, vegetables and fruit.

A lot of the beliefs about why you should eat this way have been debunked by research, but there may be some benefits to going Paleo. Before you make the change, consider what registered dietitians have to say.

1

It may not have benefits over other diets

While there is research on the Paleolithic diet, the studies have been small and short. According to a 2016 review of controlled clinical trials comparing the diet to others, the strongest of the studies found no long-term differences between people following a Paleo diet and those on a control diet after two years. “Discuss with your doctor or dietitian to ensure you’re following the Paleo diet correctly and meeting your nutrition needs and that it’s right for you,” recommends Ginger Hultin, a Seattle-based registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

2

Planning and cooking are key

Although many restaurants and meal kit services have Paleo offerings, “relying solely on ordering out gets expensive quickly,” says Sidney Fry, RD, a James Beard award-winning food and nutrition author. “Choose the less expensive but more time-consuming route and cook.”

3

Vegetables should be the star

Many people think Paleo is all about meat, but fresh produce should be the focus of your plate. “If we really are emulating the diet of hunter-gatherer ancestors, the foundation of the diet should be fiber in the form of fruits and veggies,” Hultin says. “Or if we’re simply using the Paleo diet as a low-carb plan to cut out grains and processed food from the diet … the foundation should be fiber in the form of fruits and veggies.” So when you think Paleo, think veggies.

4

Be mindful about meat

Most Paleo plans recommend more meat than the current USDA guidelines. Choose high-quality animal proteins, says Fry, who recommends reasonable portions of grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and eggs and sustainably raised seafood.

5

It may help clean up your diet

The “avoid” list for Paleo includes processed foods, sugar, soft drinks, artificial sweeteners, margarine and trans fats. “Avoiding processed sugars and sweeteners is a good thing, Paleo or not,” Hultin says. “Cutting out these types of foods and opting instead for a whole-food based diet could be beneficial for many people.”

6

Paleo beliefs about grains are false

The Paleo diet nixes grains, believing they cause inflammation. “Research actually shows the opposite to be true,” Hultin says. “Legumes and whole grains show up again and again as beneficial in heart health studies. Whole grains contain many nutrients like B vitamins, antioxidants and minerals, and a diet rich in whole grains has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and some forms of cancer.”

7

Be mindful of your calcium

Because the Paleo diet cuts out dairy, beans and tofu, it may be difficult to get adequate calcium, Hultin says. In one study, people on the diet consumed 53% less calcium than the daily recommended intake. This could increase the risk of fractures and osteoporosis, so talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian to be sure the diet is appropriate for you and you are getting enough calcium.

8

You could gain weight

“There are lots of Paleo recipes that aren’t very ‘ancestral,’” Hultin says. How about Paleo angel food cake, brownies or lemon bars? “The sweeteners and flours used for baking like dates, honey, coconut flour and tapioca starch can still add up in calories and cause undesired weight gain,” Hultin says. A dessert once in a while is fine, but focus on vegetables, fruit, lean meats and healthy fats.

9

Many experts aren’t on board

“Despite its popularity and social media fame, U.S. News & World Report ranked Paleo as number 32 of 40 on its annual list of Best Overall Diets,” Fry says. “The experts couldn’t accept that entire food groups, like grains and dairy, are excluded, labeling it as ‘only somewhat complete nutritionally.’”

10

It’s not really a Paleo diet

“Referring to the Paleo diet as a ‘Paleolithic Era’ dietary pattern is not quite correct,” Hultin says. “There is evidence that people at that time inhabited many geographical areas. They ate what they could get their hands on, including a ton of fiber. I think that we could refer to Paleo as ‘low carb’ or ‘unprocessed low carb’ rather than calling it an ancestral diet.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

There are benefits to eating a Paleo diet, such as consuming whole, unprocessed foods and lots of produce and being aware of the importance of high-quality meats. However, Fry and Hultin dislike that the diet eliminates healthy foods such as legumes, whole grains and high-fat dairy. “I wouldn’t recommend following the Paleo diet because I think there is a more balanced way to eat healthfully,” Hultin says.

About the Author

Brittany Risher
Brittany Risher

Brittany is a writer, editor and digital strategist specializing in health and lifestyle content. She loves experimenting with new vegan recipes and believes hummus is a food group. To stay sane from working too hard, she turns to yoga, strength training, meditation and scotch. Connect with her on TwitterInstagram, and Google+.

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3 responses to “10 Things to Know Before Trying the Paleo Diet”

  1. Phil says:

    With respect….I would offer that unless you have tried it, don’t knock it. Today, 48lbs. lighter, blood chemistry much improved, and no belly bloat from grains, I am a much healthier person. I would also submit that you as a reader not use USN&WR as an official source for nutrition “wisdom”. They ranked the Slim Fast Diet as #26. Really a good source? Hmmmmmm…..

    • Serenawolf says:

      If you read what they actually say about each diet, they explain in detail how they score each diet and why it’s high or low. And considering slim fast does as it says it will, is easy to follow, and gives complete nutritional content a person needs in each product-it scored fairly high compared to others. But it’s not top ten for good reason. The paleo diet does not provide ease for new people to follow, misguides newbies based on “paleo sweets” and where the food focus should be, and does not include full nutritional needs as a consideration-rather eliminating food groups unnecessarily-which is why it is so low. As for your personal experience-anecdotes do not count as evidence, and your own likely wheat sensitivity does not mean it is best for everyone. But congratulations on improving your health.

  2. 10 very important things you have shared that should everybody know before going to start the Paleo diet. Thanks for sharing this type of helpful post.

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