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Lifestyle Choices for Wellness

Timely discussion on topics of health and wellness to encourage action and improvement in personal wellness.

9/13/2012- What's All This 'Paleo' Talk?

I'm not one for "fad diets"; as a nutrition professional, those are thought to be "the devils handiwork." That being said, I guess it depends what is considered a "fad" diet. Some of the trendy diets we hear about in the media today actually do have scientific evidence of being nutritionally/healthfully sound. Exhibit A: The Paleo Diet.
I'm not advocating for this "diet" but, I will openly admit, I am a follower. It is a new experiment I'm trying. In the world of fitness, an amazing concept called Crossfit (google it) exists. This is the BEST workout I've ever had in my entire life! It's my newest obsession. A great thing about Crossfit is that it focuses not only on the physical activity, but also acknowledges the importance of diet, in that, it promotes Paleo. This is where I have become so infatuated with the concept, and have taken it upon myself to really look into the benefits/drawbacks/and bottom line of this diet as I attempt to follow it.

I found this article written by Lauren Innocenzi (American Dietetic Association) which is a short and sweet overview of the diet.
The Paleolithic (Paleo) diet, also called the "Caveman" or "Stone Age" diet, centers around the idea that if we eat like our ancestors did 10,000 years ago, we'll be healthier, lose weight and curb disease. "A quick and pithy definition of the Paleo diet is–if the cavemen didn't eat it then you shouldn't either," says Academy Spokesperson Jim White, RD, ACSM/HFS. That means foods that can be hunted, fished or gathered: meat, fish, shellfish, poultry, eggs, veggies, roots, fruits and berries. No grains, no dairy, no legumes (beans or peas), no sugar, no salt. Why? "According to proponents, our bodies are genetically predisposed to eat this way. They blame the agricultural revolution and the addition of grains, legumes and dairy to the human diet for the onset of chronic disease (obesity, heart disease, and diabetes)," says White.

On one hand, this way of eating encourages including more fruits and vegetables and cutting out added sugar and sodium–which aligns with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The combination of plant foods and a diet rich in protein can help control blood sugar, regulate blood pressure, contribute to weight loss and prevent Type 2 diabetes, says White.

But a typical plan also exceeds the Dietary Guidelines for daily fat and protein intake and falls short on carbohydrate recommendations, according to a review from U.S. News & World Report. The exclusion of whole grains, legumes and dairy can be risky as well. "These foods are nutrient-rich and contain important vitamins and minerals such as calcium and vitamin D. Without these foods, supplementation is necessary," says White. "Eating this way ... can be very healthy but the lack of certain foods may result in certain deficiencies."

Eliminating whole grains and dairy is not necessarily the ticket to ending disease and ensuring weight loss. Whole grains contain dietary fiber, which may help reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, and other health complications. And studies suggest that dairy may play a role in weight loss. "The crux of the problem, with respect to grains and dairy, stem from over consumption, and as with anything, excess quantities will become problematic," explains White.

The Paleo diet might also be hard to sustain. "We live in a society where it is not possible to eat exactly as our ancestors ate. For example, wild game is not readily available as most of the meat we consume has been domesticated. And the plant food we eat has also been processed rather than grown and gathered in the wild," says White. "While strict conformity is not realistic, it is possible to modify the plan, eating only wild caught fish, grass-fed meat, and organic fruits and vegetables." But even that can be hard to follow because of lack of variety, need for planning, supplementation and cost, White adds.

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