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Is the Paleo Diet a Fad Diet?

Is the Paleo Diet a Fad Diet?

The Paleolithic diet, also known as the Paleo diet or simply Paleo, is a diet based on what our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate that has gained popularity over the past few years. 

The Paleo diet has been controversial due to exaggerated claims that the diet can cure or prevent certain diseases, and it has been the subject of criticism from health professionals. Unlike other fad diets, the Paleo diet has been studied in several controlled clinical trials which led us to the question: is there any medical evidence to support the Paleo diet? Let’s break it down.

Why Paleo?

The concept behind the Paleolithic diet relies on the idea that human evolution ceased roughly 10,000 years ago and thus our Paleolithic genetics are unable to manage modern lifestyle and diet.  This disparity is theorized to enable the development of “diseases of civilization.”

Therefore if we focus on consuming foods our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate, we are only then able to optimize our health.  It’s important to note that this idea is controversial and often criticized.

What does the Paleo diet include?

Focusing on a diet our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate, the Paleo diet advocates eating grass-fed meat, wild fish, vegetables, fruits, and nuts while avoiding items such as processed foods, refined sugars, dairy, legumes, grains and cereals. 

Unfortunately there are no universal guidelines for the Paleo diet, and although the broad principles of the diet are clear, other aspects of the diet continue to be up for interpretation by the individual.

What’s the paleo diet lacking?

One of the biggest issues with the Paleo diet is that it lacks an adequate amount of calcium.  One study by Osterdahl et al concluded that the Paleo diet provides approximately 50% of the recommended dietary intake of calcium; thus, calcium deficiency continues to be a problem in people strictly adhering to the diet. 

What are the medical benefits of the Paleo diet?

There are several small studies over the past ten years that on a short-term level have shown some medical benefits of adhering to a paleo diet.  For example a 2014 study by Mellberg et al showed improvements in weight loss, blood pressure and lipid profile.  Another study by Jonsson et al in 2013 showed an association between the paleo diet and improved satiety.

Additionally, there are several controlled studies that do not show any medical benefits of adhering to a paleo diet. The most recent study on the paleo diet in 2015 by Bligh et al showed no significant difference in glucose and insulin responses between the paleo diet and the World Health Organization-based diet.

What can we currently conclude about the Paleo diet’s benefits?

We need more evidence to draw strong and specific conclusions about the Paleo diet’s implications on our health.  It’s difficult from the existing studies to draw such conclusions at this point. What we do know now is that the Paleo diet helps us focus on eating well and being conscientious about our health.  

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