It’s not surprising that the Paleo diet has health benefits that derive from weight loss, according to its critics. Any diet that restricts calories will lead to weight loss—no matter if it eliminates some food groups as in the Paleo diet, or if it replaces processed foods and sweets with healthy vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.
The more important question is whether low-carb weight loss plans, such as the Paleo diet, can result in long-term weight loss and health benefits. It’s difficult to stick with the Paleo eating plan over many months or years because it’s so restrictive, according to the diet’s critics. As a result, its weight loss benefits – and the healthful effects of weight loss—are soon lost.
Good nutrition relies on variety, balance and moderation, according to Marion Nestle, PhD, director of nutrition, food, and public health at New York University, who also wrote an editorial on the Paleo Diet for the Wall Street Journal in March 2015. When one restricts entire food groups, as in the Paleo diet, the risk for nutrient deficiencies greatly increases, according to Dr. Nestle.
A diet that is too restrictive can also take away the joy of eating one’s favorite foods. And while highly processed “junk foods” should be kept to a minimum, a healthy diet can include moderate amounts of your favorite pasta or even an occasional chocolate.
A diet high in saturated fats such as the Paleo diet can lead to obesity as well as health risks such as cardiovascular disease and some cancers, such as colon cancer, according to Paleo diet critics. A diet rich grains and legumes can also be quite healthy and reduce one’s risk morbidity and mortality, according to Dr. Nestle. In fact, many studies show that Asian and Mediterranean diets—rich in carbohydrates and healthy fats such as olive oil, and low in meats and saturated fats—promote health and longevity.
The Paleo diet does get kudos even from its critics for cutting down on processed foods like white bread, artificial cheeses, cold cuts, processed meats, and sugary cereals. These processed foods contain less protein, fiber and iron than their natural counterparts, and are high in sodium and preservatives that increase the risk for heart disease and some cancers.
The Paleo diet is also based on some fallacies, its critics say. Although Paleo diet proponents say Paleolithic hunter-gatherers did not experience cardiovascular disease, signs of atherosclerosis have been found in the Paleolithic era remains. Paleolithic hunter-gatherers were less likely than modern man to succumb to cancer, obesity, and diabetes—but it may not have been because of their diet. Paleolithic people also did not live long enough to acquire these diseases since they were at great risk for morbidity and mortality from infections and parasites.
The Paleolithic diet was not uniform either. It varied greatly based on geography, season, and opportunity. Our Paleolithic ancestors may have evolved and survived, not because of their reliance on a single type of diet, but because they were flexible eaters—a trait that helped them endure in changing times and conditions.
- 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.