The Paleo diet has many pluses and a few pretty substantial risks. Should you forsake all grains and severely limit diary products even if you're not intolerant of them? Should you make a clean break with a traditional way of eating that has been sufficient for many generations before you? Do you really want to deal with the added expense and hassle of "modern hunting and gathering"?
Proponents of the Paleo lifestyle will tell you that chronic diet-related diseases such as hypertension, cardiac disease, diabetes and many cancers were unknown to our paleolithic ancestors. Opponents will say that our stone-age forebears led a brutal existence and didn't get the chance to live long enough to develop these chronic diseases.
5 Risks of the Paleo Diet you Should Know About
1. Over Emphasis on Protein: concerns have been raised that a high-protein, low-carb diet may raise cholesterol levels, strain the kidneys and cause calcium to leach from bones.
2. Dangers of so Much Red Meat: too much fatty animal products in the diet may lead to cardiac disease.
3. Missing Out on the Nutrients in Grains and Legumes: these are great sources of protein, fiber and B vitamins, so why cut them out of your diet?
4. Missing Out on the Nutrients in Dairy Products: great source of calcium and vitamin D - why get rid of them?
5. Possible Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies: the Paleo diet is not a good source of magnesium, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin E.
According to Notable Paleo advocate Christopher James Clark B.B.A.,
By following the Paleo diet, which of course eliminates refined sugar and cereals, you’ll naturally be consuming increased quantities of protein in the 1.2 to 1.6 gr per kg range. If you’re trying to lose weight and just getting started with Paleo, focus on protein, particularly during breakfast and lunch.
Even though the Paleo diet is heavy on red meat, studies have shown it to be heart-healthy:
The Paleo diet may be a good defense against "diseases of civilization":
Does the Paleo Diet Cover Accepted Dietary Guidelines?
Paleo is a high protein diet, and you may expect it to out-pace the government's daily recommendations. Yes it does, by a healthy margin.
Salt. While this nutrient is essential to good health, Americans get far too much of it. Salts have the ability to amplify flavor and preserve freshness leading to an overuse in many common food items. Paleo foods are generally low in sodium and Paleo recipes call for little if any added salt - really fresh foods, Paleo proponents say, don't need salt as a flavor additive. Officially recommended daily maximum is 2,300 milligrams.
This one is a bit difficult to pin down. With all the emphasis on meat in the Paleo diet many health experts urge caution concerning fat intake which may lead to cardio problems down the road. The Paleo guideline includes 5% more daily fat intake than the government's. But the fat on a grass-fed animal is nutritionally different than on a corn-fed one. Coconut and olive oils differ from processed seed and nut oils in the nutrients they deliver to the body. And then there are high fat, very nutritional foods like avocado, oysters and many nuts. So, we may have to start talking about good fats versus bad fats.
The Paleo diet recommends that only 23% of your daily calories come from carbs. The government guidelines clock in at 45% to 65%. The gaping hole, of course, is due to the absence of grains. Pasta and bread, cookies and cakes make up a very large chunk of the accepted diet in our country.
What About Other Important Nutrients?
Vegetarians have to worry about this one, not meat-eaters. The government guidelines suggest 2.4 micrograms daily for adults, which is easily exceeded on the Paleo diet. B-12 is essential for proper cellular metabolism.
Since drinking milk regularly is not part of the Paleo diet and neither are vitamin D fortified foods, this essential nutrient must be gotten from supplements or moderate sun exposure.
All sorts of food products have been exclaiming about their fiber content for years. It promotes good digestion and gives you the feeling of fullness after a meal. The government recommends at least 22 grams per day. With all the fruits and veggies in the Paleo diet, getting adequate fiber should not be a problem.
This is a favorite for Paleo detractors to point to because getting enough calcium in one's diet has been presented as a diary and fortified cereals only option for years. But many greens such as swiss chard, collard and mustard greens, and especially seaweed are good sources of calcium. You can also try bone broth and meal, and the soft bones included in canned salmon and sardines. Calcium is important for strong bones and the proper functioning of muscles and blood vessels. Official recommendations are 1,000 mg to 1,300 mg per day, so the Paleo dieter needs to pay close attention to this one.
This important mineral helps regulate the salt content of blood and is key in the proper functioning of your kidneys. The Paleo diet ensures you get enough with potassium rich foods like almonds, spinach, parsley, avocado, mushrooms and many others. The official recommendation of 4,700 mg per day is easily surpassed with the Paleo diet.
So What's the Bottom Line, Is Paleo Worth the Risks?
The recommendations and restrictions of the the Paleo diet are certainly good for those people who are gluten and lactose intolerant. It has been shown to be an effective diet for weight loss and may be useful in combating a range of inflammatory conditions that can lead to disease. But should a healthy person without dietary restrictions take a chance on such a protein heavy diet?
Perhaps pre-industrial, rather than pre-agricultural, is a better target for someone looking for a healthy middle ground. After all, our ancestors must have got plenty of exercise and probably didn't over eat much due to the work involved in acquiring food. They must have had feasts when food was especially plentiful, but probably went through lean times when the climate and roaming herds didn't provide. They certainly didn't have to contend with the plethora of processed foods and chemical additives that we do. And they probably weren't concerned with the questions of convenience and relative expense that enter into our daily food decisions.
If you're seriously thinking about going Paleo be prepared to change your relationship to the food you eat. Convenient, quick, forgettable meals will be a thing of the past. Food acquisition, preparation and consumption will take more time and effort. It's best to make this a group endeavor by shopping and cooking together, searching out wholesome foods and getting interested about where they came from and how they were grown and raised.
Look at the Paleo lifestyle as a whole concept not just as a small adjustment to your diet. Pay attention to how your body responds to the new way of nourishing yourself. Give it a few months and then make some decisions as to how you want to continue living and eating.