Written by Tara Cristobal-Rivera MSN
Archeological studies show that our ancestors thrived on foods like meat, seafood, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables that they hunted and gathered - because they didn't have any other options. Today, we have options and live in a VERY different world than our ancestors.
The Paleo diet, still popular among wellness influencers, was created to mimic the foods eaten during the Paleolithic era from about 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. You might also hear it called the Stone Age diet, Hunger-Gather diet, or the Caveman diet.
Obviously, we have evolved as a human species and are living longer. So should we still be eating like our ancestors?
Let’s look at what some of the research is saying:
A small, only 29 participants) 2007 study by Lindeberg and colleagues showed a decrease in weight but an increase in glucose sensitivity after eating a paleo diet over a 12-week period (not long enough to assess long-term effects).
In a 2014 study (also small, 34 participants) conducted by Boers and colleagues, showed a decrease in weight and improved cholesterol.
A longer study of 24 months conducted by Mellberg and colleagues in 2014 indicated improved blood tests (blood sugar, cholesterol) at the 6-month mark, but it was not sustained at the 24-month mark.
Bligh and colleagues conducted a study in 2015 with 24 participants showing no significant difference between a Paleo diet vs the World Health Organization recommended diet (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, limited added sugar and salt).
Many of the existing studies show some short-term improvements, while others showed inconsistencies. Basically, longer studies (beyond 2 years) with more people (greater than 500) are needed do make any significant conclusions about possible longer-term effects of the Paleo diet. It may have worked for our ancestors. But we have evolved over time, our genetic makeup and the way we digest food varies.
Here are some concerns with the Paleo diet:
Access to the "recommended" foods is not addressed and the "allowed foods" tend to be about 10% more expensive than typical everyday foods (i.e. grass-fed meat vs. conventional meat)
This diet restricts dairy. Calcium and vitamin D are crucial to bone health and could potentially increase osteoporosis risks.
The recommended intakes of red meat and high-fat meat could potentially increase cardiovascular risks.
Also, categorizing food into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ can lead to guilt and shame feelings.
No one diet works for everyone. Evidence in support of an anti-diet approach, like intuitive eating, has been overwhelmingly positive.
Rebuilding trust with your inner body cues (hunger, satisfaction, fullness) and not focusing on whether food is ‘bad’ or ‘good’, healthy or unhealthy allows you to not only heal your relationship with food, it eliminates the need to rely on external sources of nutrition information that may not have adequate scientific evidence backing up their recommendations.
Here's to developing a healthy relationship with food, encourage body acceptance and diversity, and rely on your body signals to guide food choices.
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