Does the Paleo Diet Really Make You Healthier?

  • By Dr. Anand Thakkar
  • 16 Mar, 2016
This question has a somewhat complicated answer. You've probably heard its followers praising it with almost religious intensity, but you've likely seen similar gusto from those who oppose it. One side swears by its efficacy while the other curses it for its narrow-mindedness. Since you probably love pasta and ice cream, you might have opposed it in the past as well.

However, now that you need to lose weight, you've looked at this diet with a little less fury. Supposedly, it cuts out everything that contributed to your weight gain, and it promises significant weight loss. You know you need to lose weight to prevent chronic disease, so you've given this diet some serious thought.

But before you buy paleo books and purge the grains and dairy products from your home, have a look at the information below. Paleo may help you lose weight, but it doesn't necessarily make you healthier.

Advantages of the Paleo Diet

This diet doesn't bring you the perfect combination of nutrients, but it does have its benefits.

1. It cuts out unnecessary junk.

When you follow the paleo diet, you can only eat whole, unprocessed foods. This means that you get to scour disease-causing substances from your meals. These substances include:

Added sugars
Excess salt
High-glycemic carbohydrates
Trans fats
This diet doesn’t totally eradicate substances like salt—after all, your body needs salt to function properly. It just keeps you from eating these substances in excess. And once you've stopped eating these substances, your body will begin burning the fat away.

2. Its emphasis on whole foods packs your body with rich nutrients.

In addition to cutting out harmful substances, the paleo diet also replaces those substances with health-boosting nutrients. These nutrients include:

Certain antioxidants
Low-glycemic carbohydrates
Monounsaturated fat
Omega-3 fatty acids
Soluble fiber
The paleo diet focuses primarily on meat, eggs, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Basically, if the food occurs in nature (and if our cave-dwelling ancestors ate it), then paleo dieters can eat it. This means that only nutritious, pure foods go into your body, which flushes out contaminants.

3. You'll have improved energy levels.

Since you'll eat so much fruit and protein, you'll likely have a boost of energy after you begin this diet. Some people don't experience this result, but many will. You'll get quick energy from fruit and long-lasting energy from protein.

4. It regulates your insulin and helps with nearly all chronic diseases.

As stated above, this diet flushes sugars, fats, and other harmful substances from your body and replaces them with helpful nutrients. This means that your body doesn't have to use an insulin spike to regulate your blood sugar. This diet can help lower your risk for diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Disadvantages of the Paleo Diet

Although this diet has some wonderful benefits, it also has some drawbacks.

1. It falls short on several nutrients.

Since you can't eat any dairy when you follow this diet, you could develop a calcium and vitamin D deficiency. Even if you take supplements, you might not get enough of these substances to build strong bones. Grains and legumes also contain certain antioxidants and other nutrients that you can't get anywhere else, and vitamin supplements just won't cut it.

2. It doesn't have solid reasons for totally excluding dairy, grains, and legumes.

While dairy products, grains, and legumes often undergo a lot of harmful processing, the foods themselves don't pose any health hazard. The processing creates that hazard. Without the processing, these foods still have significant nutritional advantages.

3. It doesn't account for recent human evolution.

Paleo proponents believe that mankind hasn't evolved in the last 10,000 years. Sure, we look and function a lot like our cavemen and -women ancestors, but our species has constantly evolved since those times. In the last 8,000 years, humankind has evolved to digest dairy. Some people can digest it without any side effects. Others have mild to severe lactose intolerance. If you don't have lactose intolerance, you can eat unprocessed (but clean) dairy products without incident.

4. It doesn't account for different body types.

As mentioned above, some people have lactose intolerance, and some don't. Some people's bodies naturally process sugars better than others. Others have the genetic predisposition to burn all calories more quickly. These differences in body type result in different dietary needs, and paleo doesn't allow for that.

5. The ingredients this plan requires often cost a lot.

This reason may not matter as much as some of the others, but if you have to live on a budget, you probably shouldn't turn to this diet. Meat costs a lot of money, and fresh fruit and vegetable prices will begin to add up as well.

Ways to Adapt and Improve the Paleo Diet

The paleo diet has many helpful advantages, but it doesn't necessarily make you healthier. You need the nutrients in dairy, grains, and legumes to keep your body and your immune system strong.

If you want the weight loss benefits of this diet, you should adapt it to avoid malnutrition. Follow the diet, but make sure you eat enough legumes, grains, and dairy to get your daily dose of calcium, vitamin D, and antioxidants. If you don't eat more of them than that, you'll still enjoy a healthier lifestyle without becoming vitamin deficient.

For more tips, ask your weight loss specialist.
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