The Paleo Diet - A Review from a Dietitian
Let’s chat about another diet that is still very popular in diet culture and needs to be debunked. The Paleo Diet. The Paleolithic Diet also referred to as the “caveman” diet is a diet centered around the idea that eating like our Paleolithic era ancestors from 12,000 years ago best aligns with our genetics and will lead to overall better health and decreased disease. The theory behind this diet arose from the idea that chronic diseases present in today’s society were due to the agricultural revolution. Proponents of the diet suggest that as society added grains, legumes, potatoes, refined sugars, vegetable oils, and dairy to their meals, chronic diseases and conditions rapidly rose. The claim is that as these foods appeared, it was associated with an increase in inflammation leading to chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Let’s break down this diet a little more.
Concerns about the Paleo Diet
Some of the biggest concerns regarding the Paleo Diet is its elimination of some incredibly important food groups. The diet cuts out both dairy products and grains entirely from one’s diet. Not only does this type of elimination set you up for nutritional deficiencies, but it also may lead to an over focus on food leading to an unhealthy relationship with nutrition and possible disordered eating habits.
With the elimination of dairy products, this diet can put you at an increased risk for deficiencies in both calcium and vitamin D. These deficiencies are known to cause decreased bone health and conditions such as osteoporosis and bone fractures.
This diet also calls for the elimination of grains and legumes. Fiber-rich legumes, including beans, lentils, and peas are completely eliminated. However, research consistently proves the positive connection between these foods and reduced risk of chronic disease. Not only that, grains and legumes are essential for vitamins and minerals, energy, and fiber that can be incredibly important for proper nutrition. In fact, research actually shows that humans best benefit from getting a variety of foods in their diet. The elimination of these options in the Paleo diet decreases one’s variety and cuts out some very important nutrients.
The paleo diet is also incredibly restrictive. This diet, as mentioned before, cuts out entire food groups leading to a demonization of some really important nutrient-dense foods (i.e. carbs, legumes, and dairy). With this mindset of “yes” and “no” foods, one can begin to develop a restrictive mindset around nutrition in general. This restriction inevitably takes up a lot of headspace regarding food which can lead to an unhealthy relationship with one’s nutrition and body, possibly leading to disordered eating habits.
Another note that is important here is that people living in the Paleolithic period or “cave people” ate whatever their surroundings offered them. Thus, lumping the Paleo diet into a “high-protein” diet is inaccurate as Paleolithic people ate differently every single day depending on where they lived. Those people living thousands of years ago also did not live to the age where chronic diseases typically emerge. With that being said, we are not biologically identical to our Paleolithic ancestors and have access to foods that Paleolithic people did not have (thank goodness for farming and agriculture!). With that being said, people now are incredibly different today than they were then. With human advancement and life longevity has come a necessary and positive change to nutrition and lifestyle. Besides this, there is also no evidence that proves that the Paleo diet is beneficial to one’s overall health long-term.
Diets like the Paleo diet are never harmless. They can cause potential long-term damage to both one’s mental and physical health. The elimination of complete food groups not only can put one in nutritional deficiency but can also cause a continuation of the negative diet culture mentality. Plus, it further encourages the messaging that you don’t know how to feed your body. At Untamed, our recommendation will always be to embrace intuitive eating and begin to reestablish a healthy relationship with your body and nutrition separate from diet culture. Contact us to learn more!