The Good & Bad of the Paleo Diet

Have you ever noticed how nutrition is kind of like religion?

I mean with religion you get people who have the higher purpose goal of trying to live good lives, help others and find a way to heaven. I realize this is an over-simplistic view but let’s go with it with for this purpose.

But get two people together of different religious views and not only will they not agree on a number of points, but disagreements, fights and even wars will sometimes ensue.

With nutrition we can act in a similar way. Although I am not familiar with any global conflicts between countries because one is vegan and the other is omnivore.

What the Paleo Diet includes and excludes

What the Paleo Diet includes and excludes

And this takes me to the concept of the Paleo Diet aka at the Caveman Diet or the hunter/gatherer approach to eating. With this nutritional plan you would:

*avoid processed foods
* have no sugar, dairy, grains
* no omega-6
* no nightshades
* no salt
* no coffee
* no alcohol

Now just as with religion you can have differences from one rite to the next so you will also find some people following a Paleo lifestyle who will eat some dairy, rice and only eat berries if having fruit.

But overall the general guidelines of the diet are the same. And the premise is that this is how our early ancestors of the Paleolithic Period ate and that since we have gotten away from this the incidence of lifestyle-related disease has increased.

Now before we examine the claim that the Paleo diet was how our ancestors ate it is important to note that some research studies have some positive results of this nutrition lifestyle. These results include:
* reduced waist circumference
* reduced bodyfat
* improved glucose sensitivty

So the diet does show some promise and has been proven in the literature. Does that mean all the claims are true? Does that mean we can just accept everything that is put forward to us by the Paleo community?

Obviously not. Let’s look a few examples that don’t support the Paleo argument.

1. No Grains

This is a big one in the Paleo community. They contend there were no grains until the agricultural period began around 10,000 years ago. Anthropological evidence shows otherwise.

There have been remains of grains found in tools and dental artifacts dating back from 30,000 to 100,000 years ago. This exceeds the 10,000 year limit of the Paleo position and provides proof our ancestors did have and eat grains.

2. Less Movement

The Paleo position contends that our declining health is attributed to the change in our diet from our caveman ancestors. And while there is more obesity, metabolic syndromes and general sedentarism, wouldn’t a lot of this have to do with the fact we don’t move as much?

We have more options to propel us from A to B, more light to avoid sleep during the night and more technological advances to allow physical activity to be non-essential. It should be obvious that our health should decline with these changes yet the Paleo Diet does not consider this as part of the problem.

3. The Blue Zones

There are certain areas in the world with the longest life expectancy including Okinawa (Japan), Loma Linda (CA), Sardinia, parts of Greece and others I can’t recall. Besides living long and healthy lives the people of these areas:

* eat grains
* eat legumes & lentils
* drink coffee & alcohol

And none of the people of these Blue Zones follow a Paleo lifestyle.

***quick side note, thanks to Alan Aragon for letting me in on the Blue Zones***


So at this point some people will be confused. They understand what the Paleo Lifestyle is and what some of the benefits in the research are.

At the same time they know now there are other healthy people out there living long & healthy lives but not following a Paleo lifestyle.

What should you do?

Take the good points from the Paleo approach. This would include:

* reduce or eliminate processed food
* reduce or eliminate added sugar
* making most of your meals yourself

As for the consumption of grains you need to consider your health:

* are you highly active?
* are you diabetic?
* are you celiac or gluten-intolerant?

If you answered Y,N,N than you can safely consume whole grains in moderation as part of a healthy diet. Answers different than this may mean more consideration as to how much, which type and when grains are consumed.

With regards to consuming coffee and alcohol you can do a quick check at to find out your tolerance for them. Either way, moderation is best.

The take home message is to analyze a nutrition approach for the benefits as evidenced in the research. Look to take the good points with you and incorporate in your plan.

However whenever someone says ‘never eat x’ or they are not open to discussing other ways you should turn and turn. There are lots of ways to healthy eating, some better than others.

Because let’s face it…it’s not like this is religion:)

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2 Responses to The Good & Bad of the Paleo Diet

  1. Jen says:

    Blue Zones – saw this on Oprah one day years ago. 😉

    Costa Rica, Japan, Italy and California.

    In Costa Rica they showed a farmer in his 90s still doing manual labour – no combines in Costa Rica. He was doing a lot of squatting and swinging.

    In Japan it was the diet high in fish and seafood.

    In Italy it was no stress. Red wine, afternoon naps, a sense of community.

    In California it was an area of strong faith. I believe the 7th Day Adventists.

    I personally think it’s a combination of all of these things: a diet of mostly whole foods + movement + less stress. And of course a little luck in the gene department. 🙂

    • Chris says:

      You got it Jen. It’s definitely a combination of all these things. I would add that it’s important to prioritize the things of value in our lives and then put appropriate time and attention to each. The most important item should get the most time and the least important the least or possibly eliminated.


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