Evaluating the Paleo Diet

Monday, March 31, 2014
The main benefit of the Paleo diet is that it promotes eating whole, nutritious foods while avoiding refined, processed foods.
Beef steak on grill

The Paleo diet has gained a lot of momentum in the United States in a short amount of time. That's ironic, since the diet is based on food our ancestors ate some 10,000 years ago. "Paleo" is short for Paleolithic, and this diet was created by Loren Cordain, PhD, a professor at Colorado State University. It is not only a diet, but also includes a holistic mindset, encouraging functional movement and exercise, getting enough sleep, and reducing stress in order to have optimal health.

The Paleo diet focuses on whole foods that were available to hunter-gatherers. Those include:

  • Grass-fed meat
  • Organ meats (liver, bone marrow, head cheese)
  • Wild-caught fish
  • Pastured eggs, chicken, and pork
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds

Legumes, grains, dairy, refined sugar, soy, vegetable oils (including canola), and processed foods are all avoided because there were not available to people in the Paleolithic era.

Why do people follow this diet?

Dr. Cordain believes that humans have not evolved to catch up with agricultural crops such as grains and legumes. As a result, people are unable to digest these foods efficiently, leading to chronic health conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Is Paleo for me?

The Paleo diet is not for everyone. It can be lacking in calcium and fiber.

Opponents of the diet argue that the diet is too meat-heavy. Others argue that people have evolved to eat whole grains, dairy and legumes, and therefore there is no reason to cut them out of the diet.

The main benefit of the Paleo diet is that it promotes eating whole, nutritious foods while avoiding refined, processed foods. For more information about the diet visit a collection of research at thepaleodiet.com. Or consider this paper, "Evaluation of biological and clinical potential of paleolithic diet."

— By Katie Abrahamson, dietetic intern, and Debra Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University.

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