Registered Dietitian Nutritionist's Book Club Review: The Paleo Diet

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Registered Dietitian Nutritionist's Book Club Review: The Paleo Diet

23, September 2013 10:07 AM


Dietitians weigh in on the Paleo DietOur book club meets about four times a year to discuss popular books on food and nutrition. This past month we met to discuss "The Paleo Diet" by Loren Cordain, Ph.D. While the book is a current New York Times bestseller, variations of this dietary concept have been around since at least 1975. The aim of the diet is to improve healthy eating by adopting the habits of the people of the Paleolithic period—about 10,000 years ago—before the agriculture and industrial revolutions. 

The premise behind the diet is that our bodies are not biologically made for an agriculturally-based diet since modern humans have not genetically adapted to consume industrial-era foods. Recommended foods must be ones that can be hunted, fished or gathered. Therefore, according to the Paleo diet, you can eat fish, grass-fed, pasture-raised meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, fungi, roots and nuts. The diet excludes grains, legumes (beans and peanuts), dairy products, potatoes, refined salt, refined sugar and processed oils. The diet claims to improve health and longevity. 

Where we agree 

  • Eat fewer sweets and salty snacks. All eating patterns that include fewer sweets and salty snacks benefit health since these foods are high in calories and low in nutrients. 
  • Eat minimally processed foods. Eating food in the most natural state, a raw apple versus applesauce, provides more nutrients and fiber than a highly processed variation of the food.
  • For some people eating more protein and less carbohydrate helps with weight loss and satiety. 

Holes in the Paleo argument

We were all skeptical of the basis of the diet. Where is the scientific research that this diet is superior? Do we know that the prehistoric humans were healthier than we are now? We know for sure that they didn't live as long as we do; infectious disease and accidents shortened lives so most did not live long enough to develop chronic diseases. Also, it is an incorrect assertion that we are biologically identical to our Paleolithic ancestors. Most people have adapted to be able to tolerate and enjoy grains (less than 1% of Americans are diagnosed with celiac disease1 and gluten sensitivity is estimated to be about 5 -6 %2 ) and dairy (only about 12% of American’s have self-reported lactose intolerance and many of these people can enjoy some types of dairy foods3). And why it recommends avoiding beans and peanuts we could not fathom.

Even if you wanted to eat exactly what our ancestors ate, we do not have access to the same foods. The foods available 10,000 years ago are drastically different than what is available today. Here is an interesting TED talk by Christina Warinner, an archaeological scientist, who describes what the ancient food was actually like and why we can’t purchase them even at the local farmer’s market. 

Is there any evidence to support the Paleo diet?  

Actually yes, there are a few studies that show you can lower blood sugar and reduce body weight when following the Paleo diet. Our book club also reflected on the fact that you get the same results on a vegan diet. Perhaps the common denominator for these highly restrictive diets is that they reduce food choices so you eat less. That alone would lower blood sugar and body weight. 

What the book does not answer:

  • What are the long-term unintended consequences of eating such a high fat, high protein diet that is low in calcium and whole grains on health? 
  • Does the Paleo diet increase the risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease? 

These types of studies have not been done.

Sustainability

If the reader followed the Paleo diet as written, they would be eating many fiber-rich vegetables, wild-caught fish and venison. However, many people use Paleo as an excuse to eat hamburgers or other processed meats which are not recommended on the Paleo diet.

Any diet that excludes one or more food groups is difficult for many people to follow. And the more food categories excluded, the more people are likely to give up on the diet. 

Finally, cutting out food groups also makes for nutritionally unbalanced eating. Excluding dairy reduces calcium and vitamin D intake (milk and milk products contribute 51% of the calcium and 58% of vitamin D in the American diet4); omitting grains reduces fiber and B vitamins and by avoiding legumes you would miss out on a low cost form of protein, vitamins and fiber. Healthy eating should include a wide variety of foods from all five food groups for balanced nutrition.

Want more information on the Paleo Diet? Here are some good sources:

 

Maureen Bligh, MA, RDN
Director, Resource Development and Marketing

 

Maureen is a registered dietitian nutritionist  and member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

 

References:

  1. PubMed, The Prevalence of Celiac Disease in the United States 
  2. Web MD Gluten Sensitivity: Fact or Fad 
  3. Lactose Intolerance: Can Dairy Be Part of the Solution?
  4. Milk + Dairy: The Forgotten Food  Group 

A special thank you to Jocelyn Fry, our summer intern, who helped compile references used in this blog. 




Tags: balanced meals Dietitians Book Review Healthy eating Maureen Bligh paleo registered dietitian book club

10 Comments


  • worldstar hiphop 2 years 35 days ago
    nice post and article

    Reply
  • garry 2 years 120 days ago
    Thank you for this very helpful post!

    Reply
  • wiki 2 years 120 days ago
    Thank you for this very helpful post!

    Reply
  • las 2 years 124 days ago
    I really enjoyed reading your article. I found this as an informative and interesting post, so I think it is very useful and knowledgeable. I would like to thank you for the effort you have made in writing this article.

    Reply
  • Phil 3 years 270 days ago
    What is with all these dietitians saying paleo diet has low calcium and vitamin d lol. I have on word for them salmon lol. I eat wild salmon e eryday bones and all lol. One if the Best sources of vitamin D and calcium. Dietitians you should know better... Smh...

    Reply
    • Andrea 3 years 212 days ago
      Phil, Dietitians are looking at this for the everyday person. Not everyone would eat a salmon whole or has the money to afford to eat it everyday. Good for you that you are conscious of your nutrients and vitamins. The diet does have a lack in calcium and vitamin D for people who do not supplement for it.

      Reply
  • Nicole Beren 4 years 26 days ago
    Thanks for the blog, we have evolved and have new info and choices. Nutrition is very complex. Paleo diet is one of the best ways to get the right amount of carbs, fats, and protein. my source of paleo diet is http://www.paleodieettips.com/

    Reply
  • Maureen Bligh 4 years 170 days ago
    Here is another more recent review of the Paleo Diet.

    http://www.foodnavigator.com/Science/Researchers-poke-holes-in-modern-paleo-diet

    Reply
  • Vashti Hayes 5 years 274 days ago
    Yay. I love the creation of this blog for placing the ideas discussed in the book club meeting. My brother and his wife follow the Paleo diet. They swear that they feel healthier from the diet. I cannot imagine following a diet that is so restrictive, but as long as they are able to get all of their nutritional needs, I can't complain. I wonder if there are many dietitians who follow and promote this soft of life style?

    Reply

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