The Paleolithic Diet (a.k.a. Paleo) is a modern fad diet that mimics what early humans ate in the prehistoric ages. Paleo advocates reason that humans are designed to eat foods that existed before modern farming and agriculture, because they believe that foods in the modern diet lead to obesity and chronic diseases. So, the goal of Paleo is to only eat foods that can be hunted and gathered. This includes meat, eggs, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. It doesn’t include dairy, legumes (soy, peas, lentils, beans), grains (rice, wheat, oats, corn), sugar, and alcohol.
Onto the big question: Is Paleo right for you? Let’s look at the pros and cons.
|Paleo is high in whole, natural, foods. Lean meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds are nutrient-dense, which have countless amazing health benefits! This can be a huge improvement from the traditional Western diet, especially if you’re used to eating a lot of processed foods.||Paleo can be low in carbohydrates. The diet is not coined as a “low carb” diet, but the lack of grains and legumes make this diet inherently low carb. Carbohydrates are the body’s key energy source for brain function and high intensity exercise.|
|Paleo is low in refined sugars and trans fats. This can lead to improvements in blood sugar, blood lipid profiles, and insulin sensitivity.||Paleo can be low in fiber. Legumes and whole grains are high in dietary fiber. A bunch of evidence shows that diets high in fiber reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other nutrition-related diseases.|
|Paleo foods have low-calorie density. Nutrient-dense foods in Paleo mean you can eat a pretty large volume of food without excessive calories. Research shows Paleo is favorable for short-term weight management.||Paleo is nearly impossible for vegetarians or vegans to follow. A vegetarian or vegan Paleo dieter is limited to eating only fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. This severely restricts the energy and critical nutrients (protein, B-vitamins, Vitamin D, iron, essential fatty acids, zinc, calcium, and phosphorous) these people can get from their diet.|
|Paleo is low in calcium and phosphorous. Dairy is a key source of calcium and phosphorous, which are essential for bone health, among many other things.|
|Foods can be expensive. Eating 100% perishable and fresh foods can be expensive. Lesser expensive foods such as rice, beans, pastas, corn, and bread are not allowed in the diet.|
There are a few flaws with the Paleo logic:
- There is no “ONE” Paleolithic diet. Early humans’ food options were based on geography and available resources.
- Modern farmed meat is not as lean as the wild game that our ancestors used to hunt. So, a modern diet that prioritizes meats is likely high in fat, especially saturated fat.
- Not all modern agriculture is evil. Sure, modern food practices gave way to ultra-processed, sugar-filled, foods that have virtually no health benefits. But, why do all naturally grown foods need to be clustered into that category as well?
So, is Paleo right for you? While there are benefits to the Paleo, its cons outweigh the pros. For CrossFitters especially, high-intensity and strength workouts can take a big hit from a low-carbohydrate diet. My advice: take the best of both worlds! Your diet DOES NOT have to be black or white. If your body can tolerate it, eating a complete and well-balanced diet (including some of your favorite treats) is way more favorable and sustainable than a very restrictive diet. This will give you the best outcomes for your health, fitness, and quality of life. But, if you are considering making big changes to your diet, talk to your doctor or a dietitian to ensure it makes sense for you.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (2019). Should We Eat Like Our Caveman Ancestors? https://www.eatright.org/health/weight-loss/fad-diets/should-we-eat-like-our-caveman-ancestors
Eaton SB, Eaton SR, Konner MJ. (1997). Paleolithic nutrition revisited: a twelve-year retrospective on its nature and implications. Eur J Clin Nutr. 51(4):207–216. doi: 10.1038/sj.ejcn.1600389.
Obert, J., Pearlman, M., Obert, L. et al. Popular Weight Loss Strategies: a Review of Four Weight Loss Techniques. Curr Gastroenterol Rep 19, 61 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11894-017-0603-8
University of California Davis Health. (2015). Is the paleo diet safe for your health?. https://health.ucdavis.edu/welcome/features/2014-2015/06/20150603_paleo-diet.html