Guru Kate: How healthy is the Paleo diet?

The word “Paleo” in the term “Paleo diets” is short for “Paleolithic,” or the early part of the Stone Age when primitive stone tools were used. Proponents of the Paleo diet say that our gut evolved to eat red meats high in saturated fats. Biochemically, it is akin to the Atkin’s diet: fat and protein with very limited carbs.

In Paleo diets, there are rules about how raw the meat should be, where it is sourced from, how often you eat it and what to cook it with. Some folks follow Paleo books like a bible while others take a few key points and incorporate it into their diet.

To support moderation, I choose the second group as the healthier one. There are some great takeaway points from the Paleo camp.

For one, the Paleo diet prohibits consumption of packaged or processed foods. Packaged foods often have high levels of preservatives and sugar, and processed foods can have awful amounts of salt. Overconsumption of sugars has been linked to Type 2 diabetes and overconsumption of salt can lead to heart disease. Eating Paleo avoids these harmful additives and improve overall health.

In addition, Paleo followers tend to pay stringent attention to the sources of their food. This is a great tool for anyone looking to increase overall wellbeing. Grass-fed beef has more unsaturated fat than its corn-fed siblings, more antioxidant vitamins and is lower in overall calories.

Some proponents of Paleo say it goes beyond a diet to a full-fledged lifestyle. These modern-day cavemen and cavewomen attribute their weight loss and healthy demeanor to eliminating all sources of external stress (no alarm clocks) and increasing natural exercise (barefoot running).

However, eating unlimited amounts of saturated fats goes against everything I’ve learned in my Dietetics courses. For that matter, eating unlimited amounts of anything is not great advice — but especially saturated fat.

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Although some saturated fat is necessary in our diet, consuming spoonfuls upon spoonfuls of coconut oil is not the way to go. Increased saturated fat consumption has been linked to three of the biggest health problems in our nation: heart disease, diabetes and cancer. This is simply one aspect of the Paleo diet I cannot support, at least until vast research has been done on the subject.

And cutting out all cereal grains and legumes? Not a great plan. There are some cereal grains that are perfectly healthy, and there is anthropological evidence that our ancestors ate them. Consider the “ancient” grain of amaranth. It’s high protein, high fiber and has twice the calcium of milk. Cutting out legumes is a bad idea for the good bacteria in your gut and your wallet. Beans are cheap, easy and help keep that good bacteria thrivingg.

With these details in mind, it is important to note that every gut is different. Every body is different and therefore requires different ratios of nutrients. For some people, Paleo is the way to go. For the rest of us, we can maintain our current lifestyle while channeling our inner Flintstone.