The Paleolithic (Paleo) diet has surged into prominence as one of today’s popular dietary trends. Based on the premise that we need to eat a diet that’s as close as possible to that of our hunter gatherer ancestors, it is heavy on lean animal foods like meat and fish, along with eggs, fruit, vegetables and nuts, but bans dairy, legumes, grains, processed oils and sugar.
The diet has just as many proponents as critics for the validity of its approach. But rather than focus on “who’s right” regarding the science behind the Paleo diet, in today’s blog post, dietitian Zoe Nicholson outlines the pros and cons that someone thinking of trying this diet should keep in mind.
Being a dietitian, people often ask me what I think about the Paleo diet. The (modern) Paleo diet can be a healthy way of eating and no doubt many people have improved their eating and health by “going Paleo”. However, there are some important factors to consider and I have summarised a number of these with a few pros and cons.
1. You will significantly reduce your intake of many less healthy processed foods.
2. You will start eating more vegetables.
3. You will significantly reduce your intake of sugary processed foods.
4. You’ll significantly reduce your alcohol intake.
5. If you’re dedicated and happy to forgo many of the wonderful foods the modern world has made possible, you can achieve healthy eating and weight control.
1. It’s almost impossible to follow a true Paleo diet. Hunter-gatherer’s ate only wild game, not domesticated beef, lamb or chicken. Modern vegetables are very different to how they were 1000s of years ago and nuts didn’t come ready to eat in packets.
2. You need to be ultra organised to prepare all your own food from scratch. Most healthy convenient snacks are out.
3. You need to really know what you are doing to ensure you get enough calcium from non-dairy sources.
4. If you have a history of yo-yo dieting or disordered eating, going Paleo has the potential to make matters worse. I have seen this occur with a number of my clients.
5. It can be confusing as there are many different versions. One of my clients said she could eat sweet potato and 70% dark chocolate (not sure this was around 1000s years ago), while another said absolutely no carbs or sugar.
But the biggest reason against Paleo…7 billion people cannot follow a Paleo diet, it is simply NOT environmentally sustainable. Agriculture and the reliance on grains such as rice, corn and wheat is what has allowed so many people to live on this planet. Some may argue we have too many people, but does this stop them having their own children?
So think about it. How would the many millions in China and India survive without rice as their staple? How would the many millions in Africa and South America survive without corn as a staple?
While a Paleo diet may be a healthier way of eating for some people, it is not healthy for our planet. However we choose to eat, we need to consider whether or not it is ethical and whether or not it is environmentally sustainable.
A final important point to make is that while eating Paleo may have a number of pros and works well for some people, it is very possible to do all these things in the context of your “normal” diet (a dietitian can show you how).
Nearly all diets advocate less processed food (especially sugary foods), more vegetables and less alcohol. Therefore, given it’s impossible to eat as hunter-gatherers did, could the Paleo diet be just another fad diet rebranded?
Zoe founded her dietetics practice in 2004, since then figureate has grown to become a very successful private practice with three locations across Melbourne (Malvern, North Melbourne and Coburg).
In addition to private consulting, Zoe conducts nutrition seminars and workshops for various workplaces and corporations. In June 2012, Zoe created her figureate Facebook page where she takes great pleasure in providing balanced information on the latest food fads, nutrition topics and practical tips on eating well.
A passion for food is key to being a dietitian and one of Zoe’s primary goals is to help people enjoy all types of food, especially favourite foods. Zoe strongly believes we do not need to eat “diet” foods or deny ourselves and she educates on how to manage health without dieting.