Is the Paleo Diet healthy?
All involve eating whole foods (as opposed to packaged and processed) and filling your plate with quality sources of protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and vitamin-, mineral-, and fiber-rich vegetables. (Again, we’re talking about the ones that fall somewhere on the healthy spectrum, not unhealthy fad diets like, ahem, the Grapefruit Diet.)
However, each proposes a slightly different path that leads to fulfilling those principles.
In this column, we’ll be breaking them down for you one by one so you can figure out which (if any!) is right for you. We’ll quickly explain the facts and then provide quick, actionable tips on how to follow the diet as part of a Nutritious Life (with recipe suggestions!).
First up, going Paleo.
The Paleo Diet
The Paleo Diet focuses on mimicking how our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors ate as closely as possible, using foods available now. Followers say it will help minimize your risk of chronic disease (based on the premise that those ancestors didn’t suffer from the ones we now face) and lead to weight loss.
What you Eat
Meat from animals raised the way nature intended (i.e. grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken) wild-caught fish and other seafood, fresh vegetables and fruits, eggs, nuts, seeds, healthy oils like olive and avocado, and small amounts of raw honey and maple syrup.
What You Don’t Eat
Processed foods. Grains (not even the ancient ones are ancient enough)—so that means bread, pasta, rice, quinoa, crackers, chips, etc. Legumes are also a no-no, as are vegetable seed oils and refined sugar. The true Paleo diet also outlaws dairy, although many followers disagree and do eat foods like grass-fed butter and Greek yogurt.
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Pros and Cons
Eating high-quality meats and fish with tons of veggies and no processed foods is basically a great formula for weight-loss and long-term health.
However, too much of anything is …too much, and with all grains, beans and dairy off the table, Paleo eaters often end up leaning way too heavily on meat.
How to eat Paleo as part of a Nutritious Life
Go heavy on the veggies. For example, at lunch and dinner, make them three quarters of your plate, with one quarter occupied by meat—instead of the other way around. If you’re OK with just Paleo-ish, you could even replace a few meat dishes each week with a plant-based meal that incorporates legumes or Greek yogurt (cue the fainting of Paleo purists).
Which brings us to my second point: there are few science-backed benefits to getting wrapped up in every nitty gritty ingredient in attempts to truly follow what your ancestors ate. I mean, there are now Paleo-approved packaged snacks, and I doubt cavemen were wandering the aisles of Whole Foods. If you take the basics and tweak them to fit your lifestyle, you’ll be better off.