Weighing the pros and cons of the Paleo diet

MultiCare Health SystemApril 9, 2014 

The Paleo diet has been steadily gaining traction in the health and fitness world for the past several years. It recently ranked last on the U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Diets Overall” list for 2014 and has garnered attention from supporters and naysayers alike.

The big question people often ask: Is the controversial Paleo diet a healthful one?

Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer. The tricky piece around “diets” in general is that there is a lot of information to digest, and that information is always open to interpretation.

When examining a diet, it’s important to look at the big picture and not be swept away by smoke and mirrors.

Let’s take a closer look at Paleo.

Its central focus revolves around eating the way our ancestral hunter-gatherers did. Key components include the elimination of processed foods, grains, dairy, legumes and added sugars. In addition, emphasis is placed on the increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, meat, fish and poultry.

Benefits are believed to include improved GI health, improved energy, improved mood and decreased risk for chronic disease.

Unfortunately, there is currently limited science-based evidence to support the benefits, as the diet has not yet become the focus of major research. However, with the diet’s increasing popularity, it’s likely we’ll learn more in coming years.

Supporters, such as Diane Sanfillipino, Rob Wolff and Chris Kresser, believe the diet paves the way to optimal health. However, it has faced criticism over concerns regarding potential nutritional deficiencies due to the elimination of grains and dairy.

The diet also has faced criticism for its potentially high quantity of saturated fat, which has been shown to increase our risk for heart disease in past research.

Since there’s not much research to date, it’s hard to recommend Paleo for a client. It also is hard to say how it stacks up in comparison to other popular diets, such the Mediterranean, which has long been revered for its heart-healthy benefits.

However, if you’re looking to improve your health, there are some great concepts that everyone can adopt from the Paleo diet without jumping in head-first. They are the same principles I recommend to my clients on a regular basis, including decreased consumption of processed foods and added sugars, and increased emphasis on a whole foods-based diet.

If you decide to give Paleo a try, check out some of the resources below for reliable information to get you started.

Also, be sure not to get caught up in some of the more “shiny” elements, including Paleo’s crowd-pleasing dedication to bacon, and remember that key staples of the diet focus on the consumption of leafy greens, nuts, seeds and minimally processed, protein sources (for example, grass-fed beef).

With any steps you take toward a healthier lifestyle, don’t forget the importance of moderation, balance and physical activity to round out your journey toward improved health.

The MultiCare Center for Healthy Living offers nutrition services for general wellness, sports and weight management. Our registered dietitians can provide tools to help you reach your goals on your journey toward better health. For more information, visit www.multicare.org/centerforhealthyliving.

Chelsey Lindahl, RD, CD, is a wellness dietitian at the MultiCare Center for Healthy Living. For questions, call 253-301-5095 or email chelsey.lindahl@multicare.org.

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