The Paleo diet is all the rage, based on the idea that we too can achieve the well-sculpted, lean, toned, toga-wearing physique of our hunter-gatherer ancestors if we ditch the diet of modern Western culture (think: processed foods, refined grains, sugar-and-salt heavy packaged products, etc.) in favor for caveman cuisine (think: wild game, greens, berries, nuts, seeds, roots, etc.).
Certainly, there does seem to be something to all this. There have been dozens of studies published on Paleo diets since the 1990s. On the upside, most of these studies reported favorable results. The downside: most of them were quite short, they involved very few subjects and they were carried out with little to no basis for comparison.
So let’s look at what we DO already know: Countless solid studies have shown that high vegetable and fruit intakes yield incredible health-protective benefits that help you avoid disease, weight gain, cardiovascular problems, cancer and many other common health problems that plague today’s population. The healthy fatty acids abundant in nuts and seeds have proven to boost brain health, immunity, heart health, metabolic processes, skin and hair health, etc., while steering clear of chemical-heavy refined foods that have been stripped of all natural health benefits keeps your body clean and working at its optimal level. All good here.
Where eye brows start to rise is in response to the modern-day Paleo diet’s heavy emphasis on meat consumption.
Firstly, Fred and Wilma weren’t eating the same kinds of animals that we eat today, farmed with growth hormones, antibiotics, unnatural feeds and artificial living environments, fattened-up body mass indexes, added preservatives, food coloring and other chemical additives.
And even if modern-day Paleo eaters hope to avoid all that by buying strictly organic wild game and grass-fed meats from the grocery store (which definitely leads to your wallet losing weight), it’s important to remember that actual hunter-gatherers didn’t do this either – they actually had to hunt for their own meat…and that ain’t easy! The availability of animal foods depended upon enough people-power, the season, environment, and good ol’ fashion luck, and limited means for long-term food storage in ancient times meant that a steak dinner was actually quite a rare luxury.
The reality is that meat was more of a side dish for Paleolithic people at best, while the majority of authentic Paleo meals consisted of veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds and other edible vegetation. The hunter-gather diet – or rather, the gatherer-hunter diet – never was meat-heavy. And modern-day attempts to live off of such a meat-heavy lifestyle have been linked to increased rates of cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer, and early mortality.
Further, the Paleo diet’s ban on legumes isn’t only historically inaccurate (archeological evidence shows that ancient hunter-gatherer groups from around the world consumed a diverse diet that included legumes), it also forces Paleo eaters to lose out on an excellent source of low-fat, high fiber, prebiotic, protein-packed nutrition that has been linked to good heart health, digestive function, better weight management and other health benefits. Take a look at this study, for example, that showed how people who did nothing more than increase the amount of beans they ate every week managed to lose weight even more successfully than people who restricted their daily calorie intake.
Moreover, many ancient societies relied on legumes and whole grains as major staples of their cuisine, as do many cultures and regions of the world today, and these cultures have shown lower disease rates and better health measures than those eating typical modern Western diets. For individuals who tolerate these foods well, evidence and population studies don’t support Paleo diet claims that require dieters to completely eliminate beans, legumes and whole grains from their diets to achieve good health and weight loss.
The Verdict on Paleo Diet & Weight Loss
Research has shown, without a doubt, that the Paleo diet’s promotion of eating far more fresh whole vegetables, fruits, natural nuts and seeds while cutting out processed, artificial and chemical-based foods from your diet can definitely rocket-launch you towards weight loss and better health.
On the other hand, trendy takes on Paleo eating that do little more than swap out bagels for bacon and fruit for frankfurters are completely missing the point, misconstruing how real Paleo eaters actually ate long ago and missing out on all the real health advantages that clean eating can bring to all of us today.
Try making this fresh veggie-packed weight loss meal tonight: Kale & Ancient Grains Buddha Bowl with Green Goddess Dressing.