The Paleo diet is a way of eating like cavemen did thousands of years ago. Proponents argue that the human body is not genetically aligned with the modern diet that came with farming and claim that when you eat the foods your body needs and can easily digest, the rest will fall into place, and you will lose weight.
By following a whole food-based diet and leading physically active lives, hunter-gatherers presumably had much lower rates of lifestyle diseases, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. We say presumably because they had shorter life spans than we do, and therefore may not have developed many of the diseases that we have today. Their diets varied depending on availability and location.
The Paleo diet is basically a high-protein, high-fiber eating plan. It relies on whole foods, that is foods that have undergone a minimal amount of processing by the time it gets to your plate and encourages eliminating ultra-processed foods. It includes unprocessed animal and plant foods: lean meats, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and minimally processed sweeteners like honey and maple syrup—foods that in the past could be obtained by hunting and gathering. It emphasizes the intake of healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats, like those in olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fish.
It limits dairy products, legumes (beans, lentils), grains (bread, rice, pasta) and processed sugar, all foods that became common when farming emerged. It doesn’t place any emphasis on macronutrients and as such you are allowed to eat as much protein, fat and carbohydrates as you want, provided you’ve chosen them from the list of permitted foods. There is no counting of calories and no keeping track of what you’ve eaten.
In addition, the Paleo diet places a heavy emphasis on lifestyle choices beyond just the diet. It encourages incorporating moderate exercise such as brisk walking as well as yoga and meditation.
How easy is it to follow? It eliminates pizza, French fries, sweetened beverages and desserts, so it should be good for your health! Can you live for the rest of your life without cereal, pasta, bread and rice, dairy foods, beans and peanuts, potatoes and processed foods? Are you OK with a sandwich without bread?! It might not be easy to follow long term.
A bit worrisome is that the long-term health risks of eliminating whole grains and legumes (which are good sources of fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients) and dairy products (which are good sources of protein and calcium) are unknown. Also, eating a lot of meat, fish and produce can get expensive.
In the US News Report, among 35 diets, a panel of experts ranked the Paleo Diet #29 in the category of best diets overall, as it is considered to be too restrictive to be healthy or sustainable.
Will it help you lose weight? The high protein content of the diet will help keeping you fuller longer and this may help you lose weight. The available studies were too small and too short in duration to form a definitive conclusion. A review of 11 studies supported the use of the Paleo diet in reducing weight, BMI and waist circumference. The Paleo diet is growing in popularity, and research on its effectiveness continues.
Have you tried it? Share your experience if you did?