More than one-third of U.S. adults are obese—and at high risk for obesity-related diseases such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. Yet is the Paleo Diet, one of the newest weight-loss trends, the most healthful way to reduce the risk of obesity-related diseases?
The Paleo diet—which relies on eating like our hunter-gatherer ancestors — is one of today’s most controversial diets. It is based on the nutrition of our ancestors living in the Paleolithic period between 2.5 million and 10,000 years ago. The Paleo nutrition plan is a low-carb diet based on meat, non-starchy vegetables, and fats such as coconut oil. It eliminates many of the products of modern agriculture—such as grains, dairy products, beans, and soy products.
Since the 1990s, researchers have known that lifestyle factors, such as diet, can lead to obesity-related health risks, morbidity, and mortality. Yet whether the Paleo diet really plays an important role in avoiding these risks is hotly debated among leading nutritionists.
Arguments for the Paleo Diet: A Good Bet for Reducing Health Risks
The Paleo diet is not only helpful for losing weight—it also has the potential to reduce the incidence of diabetes, high cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, and hypertension, according to some nutritionists. Paleo diet proponents even claim that the Paleo nutrition plan can decrease the risk for cancers and inflammatory diseases.
Some studies do show that a Paleo diet can be beneficial for those with metabolic syndrome, and it can also lead to lower HbA1c levels, lower triglycerides, and lower blood pressure levels, according to Kellyann Petrucci, a naturopathic physician, who wrote an editorial for the Wall Street Journal in March 2015.
Dr. Petrucci argued that some studies suggest that the Paleo diet can be as healthful as the Mediterranean diet for reducing risk for cardiovascular disease and some cancers. She argued that studies have suggested that the Paleo diet in patients with ischemic heart disease may lead to better glucose tolerance and a larger drop in abdominal fat than the Mediterranean diet. She also maintains that diets high in carbohydrates increase risk for colon cancer, while the Paleo diet may reduce this risk.
Some scientific studies have found no evidence that diets high in saturated fats and low in carbohydrates increase risk for heart disease, according to Paleo diet proponents. The criticism that the Paleo diet leads to nutritional deficiencies is also unfounded, according to nutritionists who favor the Paleo diet. Paleo diet foods such as salmon, kale, and broccoli, for instance, are high in calcium. Necessary dietary fiber and nutrients can also be found in the vegetables and fruits, seafood, eggs, and meat found in the Paleo eating plan.
- Petrucci K. and Nestle M. Is a Paleo Diet Healthy? The Wall Street Journal. March 23, 2015.
- Jabr F. How to Really Eat like a hunger-gatherer: Why the Paleo Diet is Half-Baked. Scientific American. June 3, 2013.
- Hamblin J. Science Compared Every Diet, and the Winner Is Real Food. The Atlantic. March 24, 2014.