If you haven’t heard about the Paleolithic (Paleo) Diet, you may as well have been living in a cave with a few Neanderthals for company!
But this diet really has become incredibly popular over the past few years, thanks to its intriguing concept and purported health and weight-loss benefits.
The concept is simple: the Paleo Diet closely resembles what our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors consumed millennia ago.
It’s based on the premise that we’re biologically adapted to eat pasture-raised meat, fish, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. These are the foods that our Paleolithic ancestors lived off for around 2.5 million years until the end of the Paleolithic era, when agriculture and the wide-spread domestication of animals were introduced.
On the other hand, many of the modern foods we consume today (e.g. bread and milk) have only been around for a couple of hundred years or less, and tend to be over-processed – so much so that they don't quite work in harmony with our biology.
Most experts tend to agree that modern, processed food has detracted from our overall health. By consuming what our forebears ate, we can match more closely what our bodies were meant to consume – or so proponents of the Paleo Diet say.
We share a few fascinating facts.
FACT #1: The Paleo Diet can be used to prevent and treat health problems
The main reason why people stick to the Paleo Diet, and become advocates of it, relates to its health benefits.
Many folks use it to help manage or prevent health problems, which range from auto-immune conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and diabetes to anxiety, thyroid problems, poor digestion and infertility. This is because the Paleo Diet is high in antioxidants, known to fight and stave off disease.
As John Davidson, author of Medical Conditions Requiring Paleo Diet, says, “It can successfully transport you to an era where food is still pure and diseases are rare.”
FACT #2: The Paleo Diet works with our genetics
Many scientists believe that our genes determine our nutritional needs and were shaped by the selective pressures of our Paleolithic environment. So, utilising the nutrients in the foods included in the Paleo Diet is said to be hardwired into our genes.
“It’s the diet to which all of us are ideally suited and the lifetime nutritional plan that will normalise your weight and improve your health,” says Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet.
Elan Lohmann, another advocate of the Paleo Diet and founder of Sleekgeek (a social community that supports people in achieving their healthy lifestyle goals), agrees: "Since I started eating Paleo, my body is much happier. I dropped 17kg, haven’t had heartburn, and my energy has never been better. Life is simply better.”
These claims are backed up by some science: research shows that overconsumption of processed foods may lead to overweight, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and certain types of cancer. Cutting out these foods makes the Paleo Diet a healthy choice.
A research study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (April 2015), for example, demonstrated that the Paleo Diet improved glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes. Another small study, published in Lipids, Health and Disease (October 2014), showed that the diet improved cardiovascular risk factors in people with the metabolic syndrome.
But when it comes to nutrition, things are never simple. Eating too much red meat, and cutting out dairy and wholegrains as part of the Paleo Diet, may increase one’s risk for the same chronic diseases mentioned above.
So the jury is still out on whether this diet can really prevent these chronic, non-communicable diseases in the long run.
FACT #3: The Paleo Diet promotes good gut health
The Paleo way of eating stresses the importance of good gut health. Cutting out sugar, processed foods, and unhealthy fats means you’ll be removing sources of stress and inflammation from your digestive tract.
Eating more fruit and vegetables will also add prebiotics to your diet, giving the healthy bacteria in your gut (the so-called probiotics) a chance to thrive. As a result, symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, and cramping may become a thing of the past.
On the other hand, a diet devoid of yoghurt (a forbidden food if you’re on the Paleo Diet) may make it difficult to continually boost your probiotic levels.
FACT #4: The Paleo Diet is effective for treating food addiction
Going Paleo may be an effective way to treat food addiction, or the uncontrolled over-consumption of unhealthy foods. This is because you’ll be:
- Avoiding hyper-palatable foods, for example, foods rich in sugar and fat.
- Controlling the type of food environment you find yourself in. For instance, only stocking up on the healthy foods included in the diet will mean that unhealthy foods aren’t easily accessible.
- Building positive emotions and relationships with food. You’ll learn that we eat to live and that we don’t live to eat.
- Creating a “new norm” for what people consider as food fit for consumption.
So, the Paleo Diet certainly does seem to have many benefits. But it’s always best to consult your doctor or dietician before trying out a new diet. What works for one person, may not necessarily work for another.
Remember to talk to your healthcare practitioner about your fibre, B vitamin, vitamin D and calcium intake, as these nutritional needs may not be adequately met by the Paleo Diet.
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Image: Paleo foods from iStock
Scott, J. 2014. Primal Paleo Cookbook. Dylanna Publishing.
- Boers, I. et al. 2014.Favourable effects of consuming a Palaeolithic-type diet on characteristics of the metabolic syndrome: a randomized controlled pilot-study
- Masharani, U. et al. 2015. Metabolic and physiologic effects from consuming a hunter-gatherer (Paleolithic)-type diet in type 2 diabetes