Should You Try the Paleo Diet?

The paleo diet—it sounds like something our hunter-gatherer ancestors might have followed. In fact, that's exactly what devotees love about it. Although not as high profile as some other recent diet trends, the paleo diet has developed a definite fan following—if Meetup groups, dating web sites, and message boards are any indication.

The basic premise behind the paleo diet is that by eating the way our caveman ancestors did—lots of animal proteins, plants, and little else—you can achieve your ideal weight and avoid "modern" ailments such as diabetes and heart disease. After all, our Paleolithic forefathers did not have access to processed foods and sugar, mainstays of most diets today. On paper, it makes sense, but does such an ancient way of eating translate into optimum health today?

According to Laura Moore, RD, director of the dietetic internship program at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, the paleo diet has positives and negatives. While she praises the emphasis on lots of fruits and vegetables, "it may be hard to maintain this diet since food groups have been eliminated, [such as] whole grains and dairy," she explains. "Therefore, supplementation may be required." She also points out that increasing your meat intake could mean ingesting more fat than you should. "Followers must select lean meats."

For people who rely heavily on fiber- and protein-rich whole grains and legumes, the paleo diet may be a tough sell. "Vegetarians and vegans would not be able to follow it," Moore insists. Those who love dairy products are also out of luck. The diet might work well for gluten-free diners, who won't have to worry about wheat or barley lurking in their food, and those who shun salt and sugar should find much to celebrate.

Moore cautions that people considering jumping on the paleo bandwagon realize the regimen can be costly given the increased emphasis on meat, chicken, and fish, and they will almost certainly have to add calcium and vitamin D to their diets to make up for its absence in their food. As for claims that the paleo diet's slimming properties can banish modern health ills, Moore has this to say: "If you lose weight on any diet, you may be able to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes."




E-mail from Laura Moore, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.