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Paleo Diet: Health or Hype?

Published: 11/26/2012
healthy lifestyle

In short, going Paleo is going caveman. Eating-wise, you’ll flash back to the Stone Age (well, hello, Wilma and Fred). We’re talking the hunter-gatherer days. Aligned with that, Loren Cordain, PhD’s Paleo Diet, unveiled in December 2010 to bestseller acclaim, involves nuts and berries, eggs (six weekly, tops), poultry, meat, and shellfish. Off-limits? All dairy, legumes (think beans, lentils, peas), and cereal grains. Yes, we know, what about calcium (who among us wants osteoporosis?). And nixing cereal grains—for reals? To the rescue, nutritionist Joy Dubost, PhD, RD, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson, breaks it down for us.


Paleo differs from other popular diets, including Clinton’s-own heart-healthy plant-based whole foods approach in that it allows meat (albeit only lean cuts). If your man is, or you are, unfailingly carnivorous and can’t imagine life sans the juicy steak, on this diet, no one has to. You are, however, advised to limit lean red meat portion sizes to three ounces, says Dr. Dubost, which provides 13 essential minerals and vitamins and high-quality protein.


In theory, this seems a sensible diet, but there’s a downside. It eliminates dairy and cereal grains, which provide essential nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D, magnesium and phosphorus (found in dairy) and B vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants (found in grains). Legumes, also excluded, are low-cal and low-fat while also rich in protein, essential nutrients, and fiber. Research indicates benefits to consuming these axed food groups such as weight-loss promotion and reduced risk for osteoporosis, hypertension, and heart disease.


Incorporating non-starch veggies and ditching processed so-called “modern” foods can only be a good thing. You’ll pack essential nutrients and protective antioxidants into your body. Nuts (containing healthy fats), eggs, and lean meat are also high in protein. The limits on salt and sugar are also pro-health (2,300 mg daily is the current recommended daily sodium limit for healthy individuals, though most Americans consume 3,400 mg). Sodium reduction lowers high blood pressure, thereby reducing heart-disease risk. And sugar reduction quickly reduces calorie intake (every gram of sugar contains four calories).


Paleo’s hard to sustain long-term. Elimination of food groups is not only risky, says Dr. Dubost, it can also start to feel restrictive and be hard to maintain.

“The best way to lose weight and lower risk of disease is to pack in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and complement that with lean protein and low-fat dairy,” advises Dr. Dubost, “which gels with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines.”

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