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Paleo 101: A Beginner’s Guide To The Paleo Diet

paleo diet pros and cons

The Paleo Diet is a fairly popular approach that places emphasis on whole, natural foods with an avoidance of highly processed ingredients.

Many people have turned to this way of eating and have found success with regards to improving health, increasing the quality of their food consumption and, of course, weight loss.

At its core, the Paleo approach is quite sound and effective but, as with all diets, it’s not without issue.

In this article, I’ll provide a brief overview of what the Paleo diet is, why it’s effective and, of course, potential downsides that should be considered.

Paleo Diet Overview

The Paleo diet was first considered due to the idea of returning to our ancestral roots.

Many people are under the impression that a lot of our ailments as a society, such as high rates of obesity and other metabolic–based disease states, are due to modern agricultural practices and highly processed foods.

The Paleo diet is essentially based on inclusion of proteins, healthy fats, vegetables, nuts and seeds but also on the avoidance of highly processed foods and other controversial ingredients, such as dairy and even artificial sweeteners.

Interestingly, many have assumed that avoidance of these processed foods more closely aligns their diet with that of our Paleolithic ancestors, leading to the assumption that doing so will alleviate health issues and even lead to weight loss.

As we’ll dive deeper into the Paleo diet, you’ll begin to understand why it may be effective and, additionally, find some tips to make it a bit more beneficial for you as an individual.

How To Use The Paleo Diet

The Paleo diet is for the most part built around consuming natural food choices, which are often high in lean proteins and healthy fats with a minimal amount of carbohydrates from typical sources. For example, consumption of bread or pasta is typically regarded as off limits when practicing the diet.

In fact many would consider the Paleo diet to be almost a modified version of the ketogenic style of dieting, primarily because of the high amount of fat, but also because the Paleo diet allows for a larger amount of protein.

Here’s a list of commonly accepted food choices while practicing the Paleo Diet:

Protein

  • Eggs (whole)
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Poultry
  • Seafood

Vegetables

  • Almost all vegetables are accepted

Fruit & Nuts

  • Fruits low in sugar, such as berries
  • Most Nuts

Healthy Fats

  • Avocado
  • Olive Oil
  • Coconut Oil
  • Animal Fat

It’s important to also remember, however, that there are some other food options, which are typically forbidden when practicing the Paleo diet. Some of those ingredients would include:

Dairy

  • Milk
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt

Grains & Legumes

  • Wheat
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Rice
  • Beans

Additionally, it’s widely regarded that other foods such as highly processed ingredients and artificially sweetened foods or beverages are strictly forbidden while practicing the diet.

Essentially with the Paleo diet, the primary focus is placed on consuming high amounts of both healthy fats and proteins, with avoidance of typical carbohydrate-centric foods like grains and processed foods.

What’s Good About Paleo?

First of all, the Paleo diet places a primary emphasis on avoiding high calorie dense foods, which are highly processed, while increasing consumption of healthy proteins and fats.

Further, when using the Paleo approach, it’s likely that you’ll increase ingestion of vegetables, healthy nuts and seeds and even fruits high in antioxidants.

In addition to improving the quality of the food you’re eating, you’ll also be inadvertently decreasing calorie intake, which may result in meaningful weight loss. For example, foods like lean proteins and vegetables have a low calorie density.

Foods that have a low calorie density are typically quite beneficial for weight loss since they allow for a large volume of food consumption with a relatively low caloric impact.

When individuals switch from their typical diet to one focused on natural, low density foods, there is often a large reduction in their calorie intake, despite the fact that the person doesn’t realize it, since the amount of food being consumed is still high.

Essentially, the Paleo diet can be quite beneficial due to a drastic increase in food quality coupled with an inadvertent reduction of calories, potentially leading to weight loss (1).

What’s Bad About Paleo?

Truth be told, there are very few things that the Paleo Diet doesn’t do well. Realistically, just about anyone would benefit from a significant improvement of food quality.

However, the Paleo diet is also built upon restriction of foods, which I almost never agree with.

Surely diets come with restriction, but the more dietary restriction you place on yourself, the more likely you either won’t be able to sustain the diet or have an even higher the risk of bingeing.

For instance, many people enjoy consuming artificially sweetened or even regularly sweetened beverages like soda. Full calorie soda is certainly an issue, since it provides a large amount of calories, with very little benefit.

However, this issue could be resolved by simply switching to a lower calorie or calorie free version of the same drink. By doing so, you avoid the calories but still get to enjoy the beverage you desire (2).

With the Paleo diet, you can’t do this. You essentially need to completely remove this beverage from your diet. Doing so can lead to accidental binges and even feelings of guilt if you ever deviate.

Dairy is also unfortunately not allowed when following the Paleo approach, despite being an optimal food choice for dieting. Ingredients such as Greek yogurt, milk and cheese all provide a large amount of high quality proteins and fat, which can be quite beneficial when dieting (3, 4, 5).

The Paleo diet is also built on avoidance of typical carbohydrate sources. Completely removing these ingredients from the diet can often be difficult since many people truly enjoy these foods and also because they are readily available ingredients in many dishes, including those at restaurants.

When practicing the Paleo approach, you may find that consuming just the acceptable ingredients is either difficult, boring or a combination of both.

Lastly, it’s important to point out that the Paleo diet can make consuming adequate quantities of carbohydrates quite difficult. If you’re an athlete relying on carbohydrate for performance, you may want to consider avoiding this diet or manipulating it to fit your needs.

Paleo 101: A Beginner’s Guide To The Paleo Diet 

Overall, the Paleo approach is sound with a strong backbone of natural, unprocessed foods. By using this approach, you can expect to significantly increase the quality of your food while also inadvertently reducing calories.

The Paleo diet does, however, also include restriction of ingredients such as dairy and traditional carbohydrate. It’s first suggested that you consider this fact before following it and second to manipulate the diet based on preference and need.

The Paleo approach is a sound tactic for improving health and potentially encouraging weight loss with little effort.

References 

  1. Frassetto, L. A., Schloetter, M., Mietus-Synder, M., Morris, R. C., & Sebastian, A. (2009). Metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet. European journal of clinical nutrition, 63(8), 947-955.
  2. Peters, J. C., Beck, J., Cardel, M., Wyatt, H. R., Foster, G. D., Pan, Z., … Hill, J. O. (2016). The effects of water and non-nutritive sweetened beverages on weight loss and weight maintenance: A randomized clinical trial. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 24(2), 297–304.
  3. Lorenzen, J., Frederiksen, R., Hoppe, C., Hvid, R., & Astrup, A. (2012). The effect of milk proteins on appetite regulation and diet-induced thermogenesis. European journal of clinical nutrition, 66(5), 622-627.
  4. Chan, G. M., Hoffman, K., & McMurry, M. (1995). Effects of dairy products on bone and body composition in pubertal girls. The Journal of pediatrics, 126(4), 551-556.
  5. Zemel, M. B., Thompson, W., Milstead, A., Morris, K., & Campbell, P. (2004). Calcium and dairy acceleration of weight and fat loss during energy restriction in obese adults. Obesity, 12(4), 582-590.

About the author

Rudy Mawer, MSc, CISSN

Rudy has a 1st class BSc in Exercise, Nutrition & Health and a Masters in Exercise & Nutrition Science from the University of Tampa. Rudy currently works as a Human Performance Researcher, Sports Nutritionist and Physique Coach. Over 7 years he has helped over 500 people around the world achieve long last physique transformations.

He now works closely with a variety of professional athletes and teams, including the NBA, USA Athletics, World Triathlon Gold Medalists, Hollywood Celebrities and IFBB Pro Bodybuilders. If you would like to get in contact or work with Rudy please contact him on social media.

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