The paleo diet: Understanding its health pros and cons

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A Look at the Paleo Diet

The Paleo diet, short for Paleolithic diet, is a popular nutritional plan inspired by the presumed eating habits of our ancestors from the Paleolithic era, about 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago.

The diet typically consists of lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds — foods that could be obtained by hunting and gathering during the “old stone age”.

Foods like dairy products, legumes, and grains, which became staples with the advent of farming, are usually excluded.

The paleo diet has gained popularity in recent years, with many people touting its potential health benefits. But what does the science say about this dietary approach? Let’s delve into the research.

Potential Health Benefits of the Paleo Diet

Weight Loss

One of the most often-cited benefits of the paleo diet is its potential for weight loss.

Since the diet emphasizes whole foods and eliminates processed ones, people often end up consuming fewer calories overall, which can result in weight loss.

Several studies have confirmed this, with participants on a paleo diet losing more weight than those on a standard diet.

For example, a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people on a paleo diet lost more weight and had greater reductions in waist circumference than those on a low-fat diet.

Improved Glucose Control and Insulin Sensitivity

The paleo diet may also help with glucose control and insulin sensitivity, which are particularly crucial for individuals with diabetes or prediabetes.

A small study in 2009 found that participants on a paleo diet saw greater improvements in glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity than those on a Mediterranean diet.

Lower Blood Pressure and Better Lipid Profiles

Another potential advantage of the paleo diet is its effect on heart health.

Research suggests that this diet may help lower blood pressure and improve lipid profiles (cholesterol and triglycerides), thus reducing the risk of heart disease.

A study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that participants following a paleo diet had lower blood pressure and better cholesterol levels than those on a reference diet.

Potential Risks of the Paleo Diet

Despite the potential benefits, there are some concerns about the paleo diet.

Nutrient Deficiencies

One major concern is that by excluding certain food groups — notably dairy, grains, and legumes — you may miss out on essential nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and fiber.

This could potentially increase the risk of deficiencies.

High Intake of Red Meat

The paleo diet often emphasizes the consumption of lean meats, which can include high amounts of red meat.

Some research has linked a high intake of red meat to increased health risks, such as heart disease and certain types of cancer.


Another critique of the paleo diet is its sustainability. It can be challenging to follow due to its restrictive nature and potential high cost.

Some experts also argue that it’s not environmentally sustainable due to the high reliance on animal products.

Final Thoughts

Like any diet, the paleo diet has its pros and cons. The focus on whole foods and the exclusion of processed items can lead to weight loss and improve several health markers.

However, the potential for nutrient deficiencies, high red meat intake, and questions about its sustainability are valid concerns.

If you’re considering a paleo diet, it’s essential to do it in a balanced, flexible way.

For instance, including some nutrient-rich, non-paleo foods like legumes and whole grains could provide needed nutrients and increase the diet’s sustainability.

Before embarking on any new diet, it’s always wise to consult with a healthcare professional or a dietitian.

They can provide personalized advice, taking into consideration your health status, lifestyle, and dietary preferences.

In conclusion, while the paleo diet can provide certain health benefits, it’s important to approach it with a balanced perspective, focusing not just on food groups to exclude, but also on creating a diverse, nutrient-rich eating pattern.

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