“If it wasn’t on a caveman’s menu, it shouldn’t be on yours.” That’s the basic premise of a Paleo diet. The question remains, as it should for any diet—is Paleo healthy?
But is Paleo healthy?
In modern terms, what does a Paleo diet look like?
Most books on the Paleo diet give few specifics. It’s more like “eat 20 ounces of meat, poultry, or seafood and 12 cups of vegetables and fruit a day.” But we did find this sample day’s worth of food (2,200 calories) for a young woman in The Paleo Solution, by Robb Wolf (Victory Bell Publishing, 2010), one of the best-selling Paleo books on amazon.com:
- Broiled salmon (12 oz.)
- Cantaloupe (1 ¾ cups)
- Broiled lean pork loin (3 oz.)
- Salad—lettuce (1 ½ cups), carrots (1/2 cup), cucumbers (3/4 cup), tomatoes (1 1/3 cups), walnuts (5 halves), lemon juice (2 Tbs.)
- Lean sirloin tip roast (8 oz.)
- Steamed broccoli (3 cups)
- Salad—mixed greens (3 cups), tomato (3/4 cup), avocado (1/2 cup), almonds (35), onions (1/4 cup), lemon juice (2 Tbs.)
- Strawberries (1 cup) for dessert
- Orange (1/2)
- Carrots (3/4 cup)
- Celery (1 cup)
Assuming this is typical, is Paleo healthy? And if so, how healthy ?
On the plus side, it’s rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber, vitamins, potassium, and magnesium. It also has no refined sugar or white flour and it’s low in sodium (unless you pour on the sea salt).
But the diet has some drawbacks. Red meat—and especially processed meats (like sausage, ham, and bacon)—may raise the risk of colorectal cancer. The red meat (and the coconut oil and butter in some books) are high in saturated fat which raises the risk of coronary heart disease. (Paleo books recommend lean meats, but the meats in their recipes often aren’t.) The diet is also high in cholesterol and low in calcium and vitamin D.
A safer bet:
We recommend the diets used in the OmniHeart study, which tested three variations of a lean meat and poultry, vegetable-and-fruit-rich diet and lowered blood pressure, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and triglycerides.
They’re similar to the Paleo diet in that they have far more fruits and vegetables and far fewer grains and sweets than the average American diet. But the OmniHeart diets limit red meats, saturated fat, and cholesterol.
NUMBER OF DAILY SERVINGS*
* We converted Paleo servings into OmniHeart servings for comparison.
Have you tried the Paleo diet? How did it work for you? Let us know in the comments.
Source: JAMA 294: 2455, 2005
This post was originally published in 2013 and is updated regularly.