PALEO DIETE – PROS & CONS

Mongolian kids eating healthy paleo diet

Photo via Gerasim.turbina.ur

Have you ever heard someone raving about this Paleo Diet ? What does It consist of ? Will It really bring good results ? or maybe It is just another quick fix that will turn out to be unhealthy and impossible to live on. By understanding the philosophy of this diet you can decide whether it is for you. Let’s take a look.


The Approach

Paleo diet which stands for Paleolithic diet, and as the name suggest it’s simply the diet that the cavemen would have been on. Philosophy behind this approach is to eat whatever mother nature intended us to eat. Some scientists argue that human bodies are still genetically programmed for this type of diet. There is no doubt that our eating habits changed since Paleolithic age. Modern technology, cooking processes and production practices degraded the nutrition content of our daily diet, all that counts is the scale of food production which is mainly aimed to make more and more money with our health and wellbeing being secondary to it. Let’s move back in time and see what the cavemen diet looked like and what it has to offer in terms of health benefits.


Ingredients

paleo-ingredients
I am sure you will argue and find paleo diets that allow consumption of eggs, bacon, red potatoes and some other ingredients that are off the menu in this article. Considering differences and arguments about what you should and shouldn’t it in paleo, we will soon need to create subdivisions like in vegetarianism, meanwhile we have to assume that paleo consists of strict and less strict approach. Essentially, you are going to pick up the food that was available thousand years ago. This means that you will primarily eat lean meat, fish, plenty of fresh veggies and fruits, and also nuts and seeds. You will need to pick lean meat, this diet is reliant on it. Nowadays meat isn’t as lean as it used to be thousands years ago. Today animals are given very little room to move and often are stuffed with food, resulting in fattier meat, so choosing lean parts is important. The only dairy product in this diet is an egg, it wasn’t very easy for a caveman to catch a wild animal and extract milk from it. Neither they grew crops, they didn’t know how to process it. Salt was not on the menu and only sugar they had was honey. In other words, cereal grains, legumes, starchy vegetables, processed or fat meats and foods that are very high in salt are NO!!!


Meat Dilema

Paleo diet allows you to eat plenty of meat, and yes I heard about all the consequences of eating too much meat, sceptics will shout- risk of kidney disease, osteoporosis, cancer, l-carnitine linked to heart attacks. I am not saying that all these studies have been lying to us, but there is the other side of this story. In fact, many conclusive research indicate that cavemen did not suffer from kidney diseases, heart attacks or other cardiovascular problems, well, maybe apart from blood loss:). A few studies also indicate benefits of practising paleo today, citing reduction in the risk of  heart attacks in patients who took part in those studies. It seems that a problem related to the health conditions associated with meat consumption, lies in kind of meat that we eat, cooking practices that we use to prepare it, and kind of life style that some of us indulge in? Let’s ask ourselves a few questions.

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Photo by Matt York

Did primates eat processed meat? Did they toss it in flower and deep fry it ? Were their animals fed on genetically modified food and injected with steroids, hormones and antibiotics ? The list of practices associated with meat production goes on and on. Also, people who eat this kind of unhealthy meat, tend to make a habit out of eating it and usually consume very little fibre, green vegetables and other healthy food that we need to eat along the meat to facilitate healthy absorption of nutrients from it. You can’t just blame the meat, let’s get real, we are the ones to be blamed.


The Difference Between Paleo & Other Diets ?

Modern diets usually restrict carbohydrates consumption and recommend consumption of dairy products which were not available at the Paleolithic age. They are very high in proteins and fat at the same time, and lack of vegetables and fruits which are high in fibre, micro and macro elements and mass of very important for us nutraceutics. Yes, diets based on low levels of carbohydrate will result in losing body weight, but they also strip you of your muscle tissue, and this is something that you probably do not want. You will also encounter a number of complications and side effects associated with low carbohydrate nutrition. Constipation, fatigue, dizziness, depression, weakness, even kidney failures are reported in long term users. Dairy products are rich in lauric or palmitic saturated fats which will increase levels of your bad cholesterol. Paleo diet doesn’t contain dairy, and saturated fat found in red meat, is stearic, which does not effect the level of your cholesterol.

Red meat also contains some amounts of palmitic saturated fats, but if we look at the amounts of those in paleo diet, it is nothing that our body could not metabolise. Paleo diet is very reach in unsaturated fats which you will find in fish, nuts or olive oil, and can boast a great balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Not everyone knows that these fats apart from having a positive effects on our organism, can cause imbalance in form of increased amounts of omega-6 over omega-3 fatty acid that can result in lower levels of HDL (good cholesterol), and at the same time increase LDL (bad cholesterol) deposits in our arteries.


How Often Should We Eat In Paleo ?

I can’t find any conclusive answers for meal frequency. Some people suggest the hunter gather food consumption model, in which you pick at and nibble on food all day along, others tell me I should it occasionally with longer breaks between meals. I think if you are looking for fat loss and have high blood sugar levels, you should eat multiple small meals, 4 or 6 a day, this will reduce your insulin spikes, keep the blood sugar levels stable and help you lose fat. For body weight maintenance you can eat as often as you want. Athletes should eat within few hours before training session and eat within an hour after the workout. You might have to keep carbs to protein ratio 4:1 if your session is very intensive.


Calcium & Vitamin D

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Some People say that because paleo excludes dairy products, the diet falls short on calcium and vitamin D. However, after doing more research on this subject, I found that this doesn’t seem to be a case. Not only are there some better alternatives to milk, but when you exclude the processed food from your diet, calcium requirements will be much lower. In fact calcium balance seems to be more important here than amount of it. Processed food like soft drinks use the calcium in their digestion, so if you tend to eat or drink a lot of this kind of food, you might need more calcium.

Leafy green veggies, wall nuts, hazel nuts or fish, all can provide more than enough vitamin D and calcium in paleo. Also, we all know that the main source of vitamin D is sunlight. It is produced by cholesterol in our skin when it comes in contact with UVB. That cholesterol is important constituent of a healthy life style, that’s why those on statins to lower their cholesterol, are often bothered with vitamin D deficiency. So don’t forget to spend some time outdoor.


Pros

  • Simplicity: Without ten different types of of cereals in your pantry, there is less food choices which will make it easier to stick to the plan.
  • Sugar levels: High amounts of low GI carbohydrates will stabilize your sugar levels, improve your moods, decrease cravings and reduce risk of diabetes.
  • Good cholesterol: Plenty of healthy fats will improve your cholesterol profile and reduce risk of coronary diseases.
  • Increase of muscle tone: It is very rich in proteins which are the key to building the muscles.

Cons

  • Macronutrients Goals: You might find it difficult to get in large amount of complex carbohydrate. If you are an athlete who happens to be on the 3 times a day programme regime and needs a lot of carbs, you might find it difficult. Since high intensity exercise will be able only to utilize glucose as a fuel source, therein lies the problem that must be solved. The one way around it is to eat the highest carbohydrate fruit like bananas or pineapples.
  • Vegetarians: If you are vegetarian you will find it hard to get necessary protein. Since most vegetarians rely on quinoa, soy, lentils or chickpeas, they don’t have many options. All other legumes are banned too.
  • Cost: It may be pricey. Healthy organic food is quite expensive nowadays.

Conclusion

The overall picture of the Paleo seems to have a lot of benefits for your health. Focus on fresh fruit, vegetables, lean meat, it sounds healthy to me. I’ve tried it and made it my diet, maybe not as strict with my tendencies to occasional indulgence, but I pretty much practice it, and I have to say It really does what it says. You will get leaner and you definitely should feel better. A strict approach might be too much for many people, but if you combine it with a few healthy tweaks of the modern diet, it might be something for you. Just remember, sitting indoors for hours and doing nothing maybe detrimental to your health. So get out as often as you can and “hunt”.


References

Nutr Metab (Lond). 2010; 7: 85.;
Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009 Aug;63(8):947-55.;
ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00548782


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