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Paleo Diet: Did Our Ancestors Have It Right?

Paleo Diet

Picking a diet can often feel being the audience member asked to “pick a card, any card” who then anxiously waits for the magic to take place; we all choose what we want to believe. As long as people continue to look for new ways to lose weight another diet will come along to provide someone with the hope that “this will be the one.”

The trendy Paleo diet is no exception. Those putting their faith in it should do so knowing that there are the usual questions and concerns that go with any plan that ventures beyond the principles of eating a balanced diet of proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

The ISSA doesn’t necessarily recommend the Paleo diet, but instead aims to make sure you’re up to date on fitness and nutrition trends to stay relevant with clients.

Paleo, Stone Age, and Cavemen

The Paleo diet, also known as the Stone Age diet and the caveman diet, is named for The Paleolithic Era, which dates back 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago, when humans got their food by hunting and gathering. Following the diet means eating only what our early ancestors ate.

Farming was introduced as a way to produce food approximately 10,000 years ago, and with it came the addition of dairy products and grains to the human diet. That’s when things got off track, according to proponents of the Paleo diet.

Eating Like Our Ancestors

The basic premise of the diet is that the body is genetically mismatched with the modern diet, which has led to a rise in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. The Paleo diet is made up of lean meats (preferably grass fed), fish, fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Forbidden foods include dairy products, legumes, and grains. Potatoes are sometimes listed as a vegetable to avoid because it falls into the starchy vegetables category and is high in carbohydrates.

The Paleo diet puts an added emphasis on drinking water. Soft drinks, including the sugar-free variety, as off limits, as are juices, due to the high sugar content. Coffee also is on the “no” list. Beer is not allowed (it’s made with grains), but hard ciders are OK. Wine falls into a gray area due to the possible addition of processed sugar.

Believers appreciate the diet’s simplification: Anything that comes in a box, a jar or a bag is off limits. They also like the fact that there is no calorie counting or measuring of food. While the diet has become popular in recent years, it’s origin dates back to 1975, with the book “The Stone Age Diet”, written by Dr. Walter Voegtlin.

Like any diet, there are those who swear by it, and the Paleo diet has its merits as a weight loss program for the simple fact that it cuts out processed food and limits sugar intake. But there are plenty of other diets that do the same, leaving some to wonder whether it is nothing more than a fad or gimmick.

Much ado about grains

The most controversial aspect of the diet centers on the ban on consuming grains, due to the fact that they are high in carbs and can lead to a spike in blood sugar. The body’s preferred source of energy is fats. In a diet that is high in carbs, the body burns carbs rather than fat, and the fat is stored, which can lead to weight gain and other health issues, such as heart disease.

However, because grains are widely considered to be an important part of a balanced diet, there are concerns that Paleo diet can lead to a vitamin and calcium deficiency.

Highly active people can actually benefit from a diet that is higher in carbohydrates, since they are more readily used for energy production than fats and proteins. As with any healthy eating plan, simple carbs should be avoided. Carbs that are absorbed slowly help control hunger, blood sugar, and energy levels, so they clearly play an important role in establishing a healthy diet.

Whole grains and legumes also are high in fiber, which promotes healthy digestion. They also are said to have other health benefits as well, including reducing the risk of heart disease and Type II diabetes. So, there are reasons for questioning the decision to eliminate them from one’s diet.

Similarly, dairy products are a great source of calcium and Vitamin D, which promote bone health, so eliminating them from should be done knowing that those important vitamins and minerals need to be compensated for in other ways.

Along with the possibility of not getting the benefits of certain banned foods is the idea that too much of a “good thing” can be bad, too. In particular, red meat. Portion size is an issue, and the average person’s plate includes too much meat (protein). The Paleo diet doesn’t limit how much meat—including red meat—can be consumed. Any diet high in red meat consumption could lead to an increase in the risk of heart disease.

Everyone considering the Paleo diet should consider all the pluses and minuses before deciding if it is the right diet plan for them. Regardless of the plan, it has to coincide with consistent cardio workouts and weight training in order to achieve and maintain good fitness.

Eating nutritious foods and getting plenty of exercise? That’s a successful combination that is as old as time.

If you’re ready to boost your nutritional expertise, sign up for the ISSA’s Fitness Nutrition course and help your clients meet their meet their health and fitness goals.Paleo Diet Handout

Click HERE to download this handout and share with your clients!