Seunga (Jasmine) Han, PharmD Candidate
The World of Diet
In the past, we’ve covered a handful of topics on weight loss such as weight loss products, detox teas, intermittent fasting, flexible dieting, and other ways that may promote weight loss. Today, we’ll be discussing the Paleo diet, which has gained popularity among many health-oriented individuals. It claims to enhance weight loss, promote health, prevent diseases, and optimize athletic performances.1 But what does it really entail? What are the risks and benefits? Should you try this? We will uncover these topics today.
What Is the Paleo Diet?
The Paleo diet, short for Paleolithic diet, goes by many other names such as hunter-gatherer diet, paleo diet, stone-age diet, and caveman diet.2 The name comes from the fact that the diet was modeled after foods consumed during the Paleolithic era, which ended with the start of the Agricultural Revolution about 10,000 years ago.1,2 While there may be some variation, the modern version of the Paleo diet limits food choices to the following:1,2
- Unprocessed meat
- Fruits and vegetables
While it restricts consumption of other industrial products such as dairy, margarine, oils, refined sugar, legumes, and cereal grain products, it doesn’t have any restrictions on calorie intake and portion size.2
What Are the Benefits?
While the diet may provide higher fat and protein intake, it helps to reduce carbohydrate intake, which has been shown to play an important role in the prevention and management of many health conditions. Furthermore, the diet promoted reduced sugar and sodium intake while increasing fibre, vitamin C, vitamin D, and potassium intake. In addition to these nutritional benefits, recent studies in healthy individuals showed that following the Paleo diet for four weeks may decrease body weight, fat mass, and waist circumference. Even though there is no restriction on calorie intake and portion size, the diet has shown to decrease hunger and the desire to eat.2
What Are the Limitations?
Because the diet promotes high protein intake, it may put individuals at a higher risk for kidney damage. However, this risk seemed to be outweighed by the benefits associated with the diet. Regardless, this does increase concern for some individuals, especially in the populations mentioned below:2
- Those with genetic hemochromatosis or carrier of hemochromatosis (condition where there is high iron build up in the body)
- Those on blood pressure medications such as angiotensin-converting inhibitors (ACEIs), angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), and water pills (diuretic)
- Those with type 2 diabetes
- Those on warfarin
To date, there isn’t enough evidence from human studies to support the Paleo diet. Also, existing studies have many flaws with the study methods such as: 2,3
- Small or unrepresentative sample size
- Inadequate control of the diet
- Varying definition and composition of the diet
- Short duration of studies.
Moreover, this diet may not be appropriate for elderly populations as many studies were often done on a younger population.1 Furthermore, the diet often provides lower calcium content than a regular diet due to the absence of dairy and cereals, which is essential in older individuals due to the risk of fractures and osteoporosis.4
Also, there is decreased iodine intake, which is essential for the production of thyroid hormone. As mentioned in an article about hypothyroidism, thyroid hormone is important for the regular functioning of body processes, and deficiency can lead to fatigue, weight gain, and other associated symptoms. Lastly, it affects levels of other micronutrients found in dairy and cereal, such as iron, vitamin B1 (thiamine), and vitamin B2 (riboflavin).1
The Bottom Line
Based on current available evidence, the Paleo diet may be something that young, healthy individuals may consider to improve overall health. However, it’s important to talk to your health care professional prior to starting the diet, especially if you are on any medications or have medical conditions. If you were to choose a diet for improving your overall health, the plant-based Mediterranean diet is the diet of choice as it has strong evidence for preventing nutrient deficiencies and promoting long-term health, including in the elderly.4
We hope you took away something valuable from this piece. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this article or others, feel free to reach out to us on Instagram, Facebook, or at email@example.com with your feedback. We’d love to hear from you.
- Beals K. PONDERING PALEO: Is a Paleolithic Diet the Key to Achieving Optimal Health and Athletic Performance?. Acsms Health & Fitness Journal [serial on the Internet]. (n.d.), [cited May 1, 2018]; 20(6): 18-25. Available from: Science Citation Index.
- DynaMed Plus
- Andrikopoulos S. The Paleo diet and diabetes. Medical Journal Of Australia [serial on the Internet]. (2016, Aug 15), [cited May 1, 2018]; 205(4): 151-152. Available from: CINAHL Plus with Full Text.
- Hoffman R. Can the paleolithic diet meet the nutritional needs of older people?. Maturitas [serial on the Internet]. (2017, Jan 1), [cited May 1, 2018]; 9563-64. Available from: Scopus®.