Diets 101: Paleo

Going into the start of the new year, I’m doing a series on the different popular diets out there right now.  My in house recommendation is and always will be Flex Dieting, but that doesn’t mean I’m opposed to some of the other options out there.  Throughout this series I’ll be referencing research hoping to provide an accurate, unbiased overview.

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The Caveman Diet

The core of the Paleo diet is focusing on consuming foods that our ancestors (theoretically) ate.  The thinking here is that humans are genetically predisposed to react better to certain foods and that the industrialization of the food industry has taken us away from the foods that are best for us.  A Paleo diet focuses on the consumption of fruits, veggies, nuts, roots, and meats while avoiding food that must be processed such as dairy, grains, and legumes.

This diet began to gain popularity in 2002 with the book The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain.  In this book, Cordain recommends a daily breakdown of 55% of calories from meat/seafood, 15% from fruits, 15% from veggies, and 15% from nuts/seeds.  In my experience though, most Paleo participants are more concerned with food choice than the caloric balance.

The Research

Thankfully, the rise of fad diets has been accompanied by a rise in scrutiny as researchers fact check the claims each camp makes.  The article “Cutting through the Paleo hype: The evidence for the Palaeolithic diet” by Christopher E. Pritt acts a compilation of much of the current literature that exists on the Paleo diet.  I will be using this piece as the source of my information.

While there hasn’t been much research on Plaeo (relative to other diets) the results of the studies we do have are positive.  People placed on a Paleo diet lost more weight in the short term, lost inches in their midsection quicker, and felt more satisfied by the food they were eating.  Some concerns do include low levels of calcium which may result in decreased bone mass and some people experience hormonal imbalance on a low carb diet.

Conclusions

Pritt believes that there isn’t enough research to form any solid conclusion yet.  Many of the papers in his review had small sample sizes and focused on short term effects.  He recommends that there need to be more large population, long term studies before official and medical recommendations can be made.

Personally, I believe the results of the Paleo studies sound very similar the to results of any high protein diet.  55% protein by calorie is much higher than my flex dieting recommendation (which typically falls around 40%).  The body’s reaction to increased protein would largely explain many of the the listed results.  The increased thermic effect (additional work it takes to digest protein) would explain why people on Paleo lost weight quicker.  Reduced carbohydrate intake would explain the inches lost as the water stores associated with high carb diets faded.  Additionally the hormonal response to a high protein diet would explain the increased satiety  participants experienced.

The Verdict

Paleo works, but so do most diets if you pay attention and stick to them.  There isn’t much research on the long term effects of Paleo though. From what I’ve read, I believe many of the benefits come from its high protien focus which can be achieved with other diets.  I’d recommend giving this a try if the food selection is easy for you to stick to or the mentality of a primal diet is appealing.

Additional Reading

Metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet