The Paleo diet is a growing trend in the world of fitness, with many athletes promoting its propensity for building muscle and increasing energy, thanks to high protein and clean eating.
“Paleo” is short for “Paleolithic” because the premise is that cavemen didn’t have to worry about modern health issues like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure — and we’re hoping that by eating as our ancestors did, we might also avoid these problems.
Back before industrialized farming, people had to hunt and gather for meals, which means there were no legumes, grains or dairy products, eliminating these choices from the Paleo diet (along with sugar, alcohol, starchy vegetables, salty, or processed foods). Whole, natural foods such as vegetables, nuts, fruits, fish, lean meats, seafood, healthy fats and eggs are allowed.
If you are considering going Paleo to see if you feel better, stronger and more energetic, you should know the pros and cons of adopting this diet. Below, the positives and negatives are listed to help you decide if eating like a caveman is right for you.
The Pros of Paleo:
1. Real Food is Best—
Eliminating processed foods full of chemicals, dyes, additives and preservatives from our diet is always a good thing, no matter what.
Many people have food allergies and negative reactions to the extras added to processed foods without even realizing the cause — and it can be hard to pinpoint which chemical is causing the problem when you’re eating entire lists of them.
By choosing foods in their natural, simple state, you will eliminate the risk of ingesting carcinogens, allergens, gluten, or otherwise inflammatory response-inducing substances.
2. Less Carbs, Lower Blood Sugar—
Without grains and starchy vegetables, which can elevate glucose levels, the Paleo diet is great for people with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes who are trying to control their blood sugar to avoid medication/insulin therapy.
Protein is a large part of this caveman style of eating, with meat, eggs and nuts being a primary source of calories. Protein is a highly recommended food option for diabetics because it has a lower glycemic index and takes longer to burn, providing steady energy without blood sugar spikes.
One study found that participants following the Paleo diet showed improved glucose tolerance, increased insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity compared to the group eating carbohydrates. (Source: The Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology.)
3. Vegetables are Healthy—
Unlike the Atkins/high-protein diet craze, the Paleo diet recommends that followers eat plenty of vegetables.
If leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach are included, the calcium in these will help make up for the calcium sources formerly provided by dairy.
Eating plenty of non-starchy vegetables will also provide the body with plenty of vitamins, minerals, and the fiber needed to keep the digestive system moving smoothly, avoiding the constipation sometimes caused by eating too much meat.
The Cons of Paleo:
1. Modern Meat is Fatty—
The animals our ancestors hunted ran free and were naturally lean, unlike the animals of today’s industrialized farming system with no room to exercise, crowded into pens, and overfed on purpose.
This means today’s meat is not as healthy as Paleolithic era meat would have been, making it important to buy free-range, grass-fed and antibiotic-free meat whenever possible.
Saturated fats can lead to high cholesterol, kidney problems and inflammation, so most nutritionists recommend Paleo participants choose fish, nuts, seeds and lean protein sources while eating plenty of vegetables on this diet, rather than using the plan as an excuse to overindulge in steaks and burgers.
2. Not Vegetarian/Vegan Friendly—
If you eschew meat or all animal products, this may not be the diet for you, as eliminating starchy vegetables, legumes and all grains will leave you with less food options than you already have.
For example: Beans and rice combined create a complete protein to replace meat, but neither food is allowed on this diet.
Vegetarians will still be able to use eggs as a source for protein, but vegans will be left with mainly nuts, avocados and seeds. Vegetables do contain a surprising amount of protein, however, so if careful food choices are made, a vegan can go Paleo.
3. Time and Money Consuming—
Because of the limited nature of the Paleo diet, those who follow it must plan weekly menus extremely well to include a variety of foods, or nutritional deficits may form quickly.
If plenty of different vegetables are consumed, this will greatly increase the chances of meeting vitamin and mineral needs, especially if plenty of calcium-rich greens are included in the diet.
Another caveat: Grass-fed, lean, free-range meat and organic, fresh vegetables can be expensive, so this diet may also be expensive to maintain.
The Paleo diet has plenty of positives to offer, such as whole, natural foods and fresh vegetables. With more people than ever before becoming gluten intolerant, this grain-free way of eating may be very appealing. But vegetarians, those with kidney problems, cardiovascular issues, or trouble digesting meat will find the caveman life intolerable.
Read the pros and cons above before you go Paleo to decide if it’s the right dietary plan for you.