What is the Paleo Diet?

The Paleolithic diet, or “Paleo diet”, is a popular fad diet which attempts to mirror the eating habits of early humans. This diet is based on the fact that many chronic diseases and obesity were not common concerns for our ancestors. So, if we eat what they ate, we won’t suffer from these things either – right? While this logic may sound convincing, little is still known about what early humans actually ate. In other words, it is difficult to mirror what we don’t know to be true.

What foods are allowed on the Paleo diet?

The Paleo diet includes foods like vegetables, fruit, nuts, and fish. Red meat is also a key feature of this diet. It’s important to note, however, that the meat that was eaten thousands of years ago was likely much leaner than the meat we eat today.

What foods are not allowed on the Paleo diet?

Dairy and grain products are not allowed on the Paleo diet. This stems from the notion that ancient people did not eat these foods. However, archaeologists have discovered that people living in the Paleolithic era likely did eat grains and even some dairy products. Legumes are considered “toxic” on this diet because they contain lectin which can cause unpleasant symptoms like nausea and vomiting. This is not a concern for us today because our methods of preparing legumes (soaking, boiling, etc.) almost completely remove lectin from legumes. The Paleo diet also discourages added sugar and low nutrient processed foods.

Is it possible to eat a healthy diet on the Paleo diet?

The Paleo diet eliminates food groups which makes it difficult to obtain enough nutrients. Namely, it limits important nutrients like fiber, calcium and most likely vitamin D. It would be difficult to have a nutritionally balanced diet due to the limited food choices. Also, this diet includes a higher protein intake, lower carbohydrate intake, and moderate to higher fat intake than what is currently recommended in the Dietary Reference Intakes.

Is it realistic to be able to follow this diet?

It is not currently possible to replicate what early humans ate. Many of the foods that were eaten by our ancestors simply do not exist anymore or have been modified for palatability. Archaeologists have found evidence of grain and legume products on the dental plaque of early humans – we are still discovering what was eaten in that time period so we should not rule out certain foods (especially such healthy ones!). Since this diet restricts inexpensive legumes, it is also difficult to follow on a budget.

Is the Paleo diet a healthy way of eating overall?

The bottom line is that the Paleo diet does not promote weight loss or have any health advantages compared to another diet. The Paleo diet (like all other fad diets) is restrictive and is not based on sound evidence. However, some of its components can help improve one’s diet such as eating more vegetables and eating less processed foods and added sugars.

This article was written by Meagan Vurzinger and Claudia Wong – dietetic students in collaboration with the UBC Dietetics Program.