The Paleo Diet has become one of the most well-known diets in recent years, but its principles are based on a diet that's 2.5 million - 10,000 years old. While the modern version of paleo was devised by nutrition researcher Loren Cordain and popularized by Crossfit athletes, it was actually a gastroenterologist in the 1970s who first proposed that the key to a healthy diet might be taking a cue from the diets of our Paleolithic ancestors. So what is a Paleo Diet and what are some of its potential benefits?
What is the Paleo Diet and Why Do People Follow It?
The basic premise of Paleo: eat what prehistoric humans might have eaten. That typically means foods that could be hunted and gathered, such as meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Any foods that emerged when farming became popular around 10,000 years ago - like dairy, grains, refined white sugar, and legumes - should be limited or avoided.
The theory behind this style of eating is that human bodies are not well-adapted to our modern eating habits. Paleo proposes that farmed foods like wheat and dairy, along with more highly processed foods, became staples in the human diet relatively fast and our bodies didn't have a chance to adapt.
Therefore, paleo proponents believe that eating like our great great great great great great (you get the point) grandparents can help maintain healthy body composition and improve overall health.
What are the Benefits of the Paleo Diet?
1. Wide array of nutrients
Because the paleo diet prioritizes vegetables, fruits, and nuts, chances are you'll get a well-rounded variety of vitamins in your diet (as long as you're not eating steak at every meal and calling it paleo). Yes, you can incorporate fruits and veggies into any diet, but the structure of paleo can be helpful for planning healthy meals.
2. Eliminates notoriously unhealthy foods
High sugar content and highly processed foods are common in the average American diet, but forbidden on a paleo diet. Research has shown that regular consumption of these foods can be detrimental to our health, so removing them from your diet means most of your daily calories are coming from nutrient-dense whole foods rather than "empty calories."
3. May improve heart health
Two small studies found that people following the paleo diet experienced improved HDL (good) cholesterol and reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol, as well as reduced blood pressure and triglycerides - all of which are risk factors for heart disease.
4. May help support healthy blood sugar
Some research suggests a paleo diet can help reduce blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes. In fact, one small study found that a paleo diet was more effective than a traditional diabetes diet at reducing A1C, a marker of long-term blood sugar control.
Are There Any Downsides to the Paleo Diet?
The most common criticism of the paleo diet is its restrictiveness. Yes, paleo eliminates some notoriously unhealthy foods, but it also eliminates legumes and whole grains, which can be great sources of fiber, energy, and nutrients. In general, most health professionals caution against eliminating entire food groups except for treatment of health conditions or food allergies.
The level of restriction can also make a paleo diet difficult to stick to long term. In a study comparing the paleo diet to a Mediterranean Diet and intermittent fasting, only 35% of participants who chose the paleo diet were still following it after 12 months. Many people find it helpful to take an "80-20" approach to allow for enjoying a meal out with friends or occasional treats in moderation.
As with any dietary plan, it's best to talk to a doctor or health professional before making any major changes. This is especially important for those with underlying health conditions like diabetes, autoimmune disorders, or kidney disease because drastic changes in carb or protein intake can have serious health effects.
The bottom line: While the premise of the paleo diet isn't necessarily proven, it can be a great way for some individuals to build their meals around healthy foods like lean protein, vegetables, and nuts.
P.S. Most Yumbutter flavors (excluding Peanut Butter and Peanut Keto) are paleo-friendly, including:
- Creamy Almond Butter, Superfood Almond Butter, Inergy Almond Butter Minis, No Sugar Added Almond Butter, and Plant Protein + Probiotic Almond Butter
- Cashew Butter
- Sunflower Seed Butter
- Keto Nut Butters - Pecan, Chocolate Almond, and Macadamia