Recently, Best Food Facts received a reader question about the Paleo diet - what is it, and is it safe? We asked Best Food Facts nutrition advisor, Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RD, about the diet and if it is safe for otherwise healthy adults.
Carolyn shared this summary of important points about the diet made by Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, in her review of popular Paleo diet books.
The Paleolithic (Paleo), or Stone Age Diet, is based on eating plants and wild animals similar to what cavemen are presumed to have eaten around 10,000 years ago. (Keep in mind they didn’t live that long!) The diet is based on foods that were hunted, fished, and gathered during the Paleolithic era -- meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, tree nuts, vegetables, roots, fruits and berries. But a true Paleolithic diet is impossible to mimic because wild game is not readily available (and is often expensive), most modern plant food is cultivated rather than wild, and meats are domesticated.
At best, you can eat a modified version of the original diet that includes lean meat, organ meats, fish, poultry, eggs, vegetables, fruit and nuts. But, you won’t find any dairy, grains, sugar, legumes, potatoes, processed oils, or any foods that were grown after agriculture started. Salt and sugar are also on the list of foods to avoid. You can drink water, coconut water or green tea, and you can sweeten with raw honey or coconut palm sugar, but only in small amounts.
Supporters of the Paleo diet say people are genetically programmed to eat like cavemen did before the agricultural revolution. They also say it's a way to cut the spiraling cases of obesity and related conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. The plan encourages people to be physically active on a regular basis. After all, hunter-gatherers had active daily lives seeking food, water, and shelter. Watch out for that charging mastodon!
For years, nutrition experts have been recommending that we all eat a healthier diet, based on lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and less sugar, sodium and solid fats. But lists of healthy foods also typically include low-fat dairy, legumes, and whole grains based on the wealth of research that supports the role of these foods in a healthy, well-balanced diet. You can satisfy dietary requirements without these foods, but that requires careful planning and supplementation.
Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD points out, “Eliminating all grains, dairy, processed foods, sugar, and more will most likely lead to weight loss. But it may be tough to follow this plan long-term due to the diet's strict nature.”
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