The paleo diet promises a “clean” approach to eating, as well as weight loss and increased longevity. It’s based on the idea that our bodies have not genetically adapted to our modern agricultural offerings, and by eating only those foods available in the Paleolithic era, we can optimize metabolism and overall health. Foods generally excluded on the paleo diet include grains, legumes, dairy, potatoes and foods with added salt, sugar and refined oils. Foods that are allowed include fish, grass-fed meats, eggs, nuts, fruits, vegetables and fungi.
So what does the science say about this diet? Certainly, it’s always healthy to increase fruit and vegetable intake, and to avoid foods loaded with added salts and sugars. Additionally, lean proteins such as fish, poultry and certain cuts of beef can assist with satiety, which supports weight loss.
However, drawing a direct comparison to humans 10,000 years ago is challenging. We know that life spans were much shorter, so chronic diseases were often unable to develop. This makes the data naturally skewed. Also, emerging research shows that ancient cuisine was different from modern offerings across every category, not just those identified in the diet. Clinical trials have shown that a paleo eating pattern may improve some metabolic parameters, but the increase is similar with vegetarian and other calorie-restricted diets.
Bottom line? The best diets are those that are fruit and veggie focused, low in added sugars and sodium, and, most importantly, individualized. Many people can tolerate grains, dairy and beans, while others can’t. Rather than excluding entire food groups, an individual approach is the key to successful dieting and healthy eating.