It’s a brand new year, and that means lots of people are on the lookout for the perfect diet: the silver bullet that will cure what ails you and make you a lean, mean whatever-it-is-you-love-to-do-best machine.
One of the most tempting diets of all still seems to be the Paleo Diet. You know the one: Eat like a caveman, and you’ll get strong and healthy without having to give up meat.
If you’re a carnivore, it sounds awesome.
Is it too good to be true? Let’s take a look.
First, a quick refresher on the Paleo Diet. This meal plan encourages you to eat the way our ancestors did in prehistoric times, long before factories brought us the joys – and empty calories – of processed food. Specifically, the Paleo Diet calls for:
- Lots of protein: Based heavily on the hunter portion of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, Paleo adherents eat lots of meat and seafood, presuming that cavemen did the same.
- Lots of fiber and veggies: Gatherers would have scooped up piles of leafy greens, berries and nuts to round out their diets between hunting successes. Therefore, Paleo peeps eat lots of raw foods, too.
- Low carbs: This diet takes you back to the land before time – or at least before agriculture, so there’s no place for bread, pasta and other things made of cultivated grains. Even rice is off the table.
The Problems With Paleo
Despite its popularity and the presence of Paleo proselytizers on the Internet, the Paleo Diet doesn’t always score well with nutritionists. In fact, you’ll have to scroll way down to the bottom of the rankings in U.S. New and World Report’s Best Diet List to find it at all. Here are some of the weaknesses of the Paleo Diet:
- Too much red meat. The Paleo Diet gives eaters carte blanche to fill up on lots of manly meats like steak, steak and more steak. In the quest for protein and eating things that would have been hunted, this diet neglects warnings from the American Heart Association to eat less of the stuff, which is filled with heart disease-causing saturated fat and cholesterol.
- Not enough calcium. Cutting out all grains and dairy can create a vitamin and mineral deficit if you’re not careful. It’s worth mentioning that cavemen weren’t the picture of oral health, and they often had really short life spans.
- Bogus claims about human evolution. Though it sounds great to anyone who’s watched an episode of “The Flintstones,” the Paleo Diet seems to be based on a misunderstanding of what our earliest ancestors actually ate.
So What Works?
The Paleo Diet, like most diet plans, does get some things right. It’s no-nonsense approach to cutting out processed food and modern convenience like chicken nuggets and sugary sodas is solid. Processed foods are high in sugar, fat and salt, and they’re just plain bad for you.
Also, a diet that encourages you to eat fistfuls of fruits and vegetable is going to improve your health. This is especially true if filling up on these fiber-packed, low-calorie goodies doesn’t leave room on your plate for ice cream and cookies.
The bottom line, though, is that it just doesn’t make sense to live in the past – or eat like you do. There’s no perfect diet, and the real trick to a healthy lifestyle is keeping your food in balance. You don’t have to deny yourself healthy grains like whole wheat pasta and brown rice just because cavemen couldn’t figure out how to grow it. Making healthy choices from a wide variety of foods will serve you better in the long run than noshing like a Neanderthal.