At first glance, the paleo diet may sound ideal for meat lovers.
Versions of the diet are called the caveman diet or the paleolithic diet because you’re supposed to be eating foods that were available to our prehistoric ancestors. Think things that can be hunted and gathered like meat, produce and nuts. You’ll avoid foods like dairy and grains that humans started eating after agriculture and manufacturing came to be.
But carnivores beware. Dietitians say just because steak and eggs are allowed, doesn’t mean you should be loading up on meat all day long at every meal. Here is what you need to know:
What is the paleo diet?
The term paleo diet was coined by Loren Cordain in his 2002 diet book, “The Paleo Diet” (a revised edition of the book was published in 2010). It is based on paleolithic nutrition theory, which posits a lot of chronic disease (like cancer and heart problems) became more common after the advent of agriculture and the industrial revolution, according to anthropologic evidence.
What does the research say about the paleo diet?
The science on the topic is murky at best.
While some studies do show people can reap some health benefits by switching to a paleo-style diet, researchers say the jury is still out on whether those benefits are any better than switching to other healthy diets that have been more thoroughly researched.
For example, a 2015 review published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that studies that compared paleo eating with diets with dairy, legumes and grains, revealed that people eating paleo were better able to lose weight, improve glucose tolerance, lower triglycerides and control blood pressure and appetite.
But the story gets more complicated when you look at the trials more closely, explained Deirdre K. Tobias, ScD, associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The diets with legumes and grains (the “control” groups) were somewhat high in processed foods. And everyone in those trials had risk factors for metabolic problems to begin with. So it’s tough to say with certainty that the benefits they saw could really be attributed to paleo eating. “Was it instead that those benefits came from cutting out processed foods and ramping up fruits and vegetables?” Tobias asked. “Because there are so many aspects of the diets being altered, it is virtually impossible to attribute any one component of the patterns to its success.”
Also, a lot of other components of our lifestyles have changed since the caveman era. So linking the advent of chronic disease to specific foods is still fairly theoretical.
What will I eat on a Paleo diet?
Any paleo-style diet includes:
- nuts and seeds
Some versions allow for limited quantities of non-paleo foods like grains, dairy, legumes and other processed foods. Cordain’s original paleo diet recommends following the 85-15…