The Pros and Cons of the Paleo Diet

April 10, 2016 | 2,391 views

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By Dr. Mercola

The Paleo diet has certainly gone mainstream, with high-end restaurants now promoting “Paleo menus,” celebrities endorsing this type of diet, and cookbooks and websites being dedicated solely to Paleo cooking. But what exactly does “Paleo eating” mean, and can it truly benefit your health?

In this article, I will shed some light on the benefits and disadvantages of the Paleo diet, and how it compares to my dietary recommendations.

The ‘Caveman Diet:’ Going Back to the Basics

The Paleo diet revolves on the principle that, to achieve optimal well-being, you must go back to how our early ancestors ate. During the Paleolithic period several thousands of years ago, cavemen ate primarily fruits, vegetables, nuts, roots, and meat, depending on the season and availability.

This gave them the lean and healthy physique that allowed them to thrive even through harsh living conditions.

Unfortunately, most of these dietary staples have been replaced by refined sugar, carbohydrates like cereal and bread, and pasteurized milk products. This large shift in dietary choices has led people toward obesity, weight gain, and other debilitating diseases.

By going back to the diet that the hunter-gatherer cavemen have survived on, proponents of the Paleo diet believe that people will be able to “normalize” their system and avoid these conditions.

Is the Paleo Diet Inherently Flawed?

Despite its supposed benefits, many critics have pointed out flaws of the Paleo diet. Some claim that the diet is “unrealistic,” because the whole food choices that make up the foundation of Paleo eating can no longer be found in supermarkets. Others say the diet is too restrictive. Another criticism is that there’s not enough research to back up its claims.

I do not believe that the Paleo diet is “unrealistic,” as you can find the types of foods this diet calls for in your farmer’s markets — all it takes is a bit of resourcefulness and smart dietary choices. As for the research, there are a handful of clinical trials that support the benefits of Paleo eating. One study found that out-of-shape volunteers who followed a Paleo diet for two weeks had decreased blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and improved triglyceride levels. 

As for being restrictive, I believe that the Paleo diet’s restriction on grains is one of the reasons why it’s generally healthy. I do not, however, advise removing dairy from your diet, especially raw dairy products, as it is one of the most healthful foods you can eat today.

The truth is, the Paleo diet is not perfect, and has some inherent flaws. One is that it has too much protein — in the Paleo diet, protein is commonly recommended as a substitute for carbs. However, most people need only 40 to 70 percent protein, and those who need higher amounts are people who are aggressively exercising and pregnant women. Excessive protein consumption may actually be detrimental to your health.

Some people who are used to a high-carb diet may also find the transition to a low-carb Paleo diet difficult, as the scarcity of glucose may cause hormonal changes that can impact your blood lipid levels.

How the Paleo Diet Compares to My Nutrition Plan

It is true that the Paleo diet has some similarities to my dietary recommendations, in that they both restrict sugar and grains and focus on increasing fresh vegetables. However, they do have some striking differences. In particular, my nutrition plan contains important dietary advice that is not found in the Paleo diet:

  • Focus on consuming less protein, and opt for higher amounts of healthy, high-quality fat from avocados, nuts, eggs, olives and olive oil, and butter.
  • Add full-fat dairy to your meals. Raw milk, cheese, yogurt, and other whole raw dairy products have worthwhile nutritional components that you cannot find in other foods.
  • Eat seafood with caution, as most seafood today is contaminated with toxins, mercury, and heavy metals. Choose wild Alaskan salmon, or smaller fish varieties like anchovies or sardines.
  • Add fermented foods to your diet. Fermented vegetables can help promote the healthy balance in your gut flora.

Finally, I believe you will reap more benefits if you incorporate intermittent fasting into your diet. The Paleo diet can support this dietary strategy, but does not highlight it. Scheduling your meals is a powerful intervention that can shed excess weight and reduce your risk of chronic diseases. My personal recommendation is to fast every day simply by scheduling your eating into a narrower window of time.

For more facts about the Paleo diet, read my article “Paleo: Right and Wrong About Eating Like a Caveman.” However, remember that everyone has unique nutritional needs, so don’t be surprised if the Paleo diet is not as effective for you as it is for some people. Instead, I recommend my Nutritional Plan — a comprehensive program that will help you transition to healthy dietary and lifestyle habits.