Paleo diet: presentation, advantages and disadvantages, opinions and results

The Paleolithic regime has been talked about in recent years. Better known as the paleo diet, it consists of adopting the same diet as that of our ancestors in order to meet the primary physiological needs of the body and help it function optimally. In addition to promoting weight reduction, the paleo diet would boost energy and improve overall health. But how to follow this diet? Nothing could be simpler, as long as you resist ice cream and other sugary foods and drinks. Zoom on this very fashionable food program.

What is the paleo diet?

Proponents of the "Stone Age Diet" claim that this diet can help with weight loss and reduce the risk of certain health problems. It is a diet that focuses on eating foods that might have been available in Paleolithic times, hence its name.

Why opt for the paleo diet?

Before the development of modern agriculture about 10,000 years ago, foods from hunting or gathering were often consumed, such as fish, lean meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. But the progress of modern agriculture has completely changed the way we eat, so much so that we now gorge ourselves on dairy, processed foods, and a little grain and legumes.

It should be noted that proponents of the paleo diet believe that the human body has not evolved enough to assimilate dairy products, legumes and cereals, and that the consumption of these foods could increase the risks of heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

This is why the "caveman's diet" usually relies on lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Foods that, in the past, could be obtained by hunting and gathering. In addition, this food program limits foods that became common with the arrival of modern agriculture about 10,000 years ago. These foods include dairy products, legumes and cereals.

According to the promoters of the paleo diet, the goal of such a diet is to return to a diet that would be closer to that adopted by the first humans. Indeed, the principle is that the human body is genetically unsuited to the modern diet that has emerged with agricultural practices.

The origins of the regime

It was in 1975 that we speak for the first time of the Paleolithic diet, thanks to the work of the American gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin on the diet of Paleolithic men. A decade later, the American anthropologist Stanley Boyd Eaton also focused on the subject, analyzing the genes of our cave ancestors. According to Dr. Eaton, our genes have not changed in 40,000 years, and the diet adopted by Paleolithic man would be the most adapted to our genome. For their part, foods cultivated by man since the arrival of modern agriculture would promote diseases, cancers, obesity, diabetes …

In 2001, Professor Loren Cordain of the Department of Health Sciences at Colorado State University popularized Stanley Boyd Eaton's theory. In his book "The Paleo Diet", the professor describes the birth of a movement that will later become a real phenomenon in the United States.

Paleo diet: which foods to bet on?

You should know that there are many variations of the Paleolithic diet, and some food programs impose stricter guidelines than others. But as a general rule, all paleo diets only allow natural and unprocessed products: meat, fish, eggs, fruits and vegetables are the food base. Indeed, the base of the paleo food pyramid is made up of animal proteins, from free-range animals or from organic farms.

For fruits and vegetables, they must be seasonal and obviously as little processed as possible. At the top of the paleo food pyramid are oilseeds, salt, spices, herbs and dark chocolate, foods that should be consumed in moderation. The fats consumed must come from animals as well as olive, coconut, avocado or flax oils.

Paleo diet: what foods to consume?

Foods that should be prioritized as part of the paleo diet:

  • Meat: beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, pork and others.
  • Fish and seafood: salmon, trout, haddock, shrimp, crustaceans.
  • Eggs: Choose eggs raised outdoors, pastured or enriched with omega-3s.
  • Vegetables: broccoli, kale, peppers, onions, carrots, tomatoes…
  • Fruits: apples, bananas, oranges, pears, avocados, strawberries, blueberries…
  • Tubers: potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, turnips…
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds…
  • Healthy fats and oils: extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil…
  • Salt and spices: sea salt, garlic, turmeric, rosemary…

Paleo diet: what foods to avoid?

On the other hand, to follow the Paleolithic diet, it is essential to remove or at least limit your diet:

  • Grains, such as wheat, oats and barley.
  • Legumes, such as beans, lentils, peanuts and peas.
  • Dairy products
  • Refined sugar.
  • Potatoes.
  • Highly processed foods in general.

Typical meals of a paleo diet

As you will have understood, fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, seeds and good fats are our new allies when we seek to lose weight and regain health through the Paleolithic diet. To help you find your way around, here's a look at what you might consume during a typical day as part of the paleo diet:

  • Breakfast: grilled salmon and cantaloupe.
  • Lunch: grilled lean pork tenderloin and salad (romaine, carrot, cucumber, tomatoes, nuts and lemon juice vinaigrette).
  • Dinner: roasted lean beef sirloin tip, steamed broccoli, salad (mix of greens, tomatoes, avocado, onions, almonds and lemon juice dressing) and strawberries for dessert.
  • Snacks: an orange, carrot sticks or celery sticks.

Note that the Paleo diet, just like the lifestyle of our Paleolithic ancestors, also emphasizes drinking water and daily physical activity.

Variants of the paleo diet

In recent years, the Paleo community has evolved a lot. Today there are several variants of the paleo diet, many of which allow certain foods that, according to science, are harmless to health. These foods include quality butter from herbs or gluten-free cereals, such as rice.

The cost of a paleo diet

If the Paleolithic diet is indeed known for its benefits on the silhouette and health in general, it nevertheless has the particularity of excluding cheap foods, such as cereals or industrials. On the other hand, it favors more expensive foods, such as meats, fruits and vegetables. The adoption of this diet can necessarily lead to an increase in the budget devoted to food. Fortunately, it is quite possible to save money, by betting on eggs, poultry and lean pork, frozen fish as well as seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Paleolithic diet: what are the health benefits?

Proponents of the paleo diet, as well as some scientists, claim that this diet program offers many health benefits, including stimulating weight loss, reducing the risk of diabetes, and lowering blood pressure.

Weight loss

A 2008 study found that 14 healthy participants saw their weight decrease by an average of 2.3 kilograms by following the paleo diet for 3 weeks. Later in 2009, researchers compared the effects of the paleo diet to a diet for diabetes in 13 people with type 2 diabetes. The small study found that eating the paleo method would reduce participants' body weight and waist circumference.

In addition, a 2014 study of 70 postmenopausal and obese women showed that the paleo diet helped them lose weight after 6 months of treatment. However, after 2 years, there was no difference in weight loss between participants following the paleo diet and those adhering to regular nutritional recommendations. These findings suggest that other healthy diets may be just as effective as the paleo diet in lowering weight.

The authors of a 2017 review noted that the paleo diet helps lower weight in the short term, but they very quickly concluded that this result is due to calorie restriction or a decrease in calories ingested.Overall, research suggests that the paleo diet may help people lose weight in the beginning, but that other diets that reduce calorie intake may be just as effective. That said, more research is needed before doctors recommend the paleo diet for weight loss.

The fight against diabetes

Would following a paleo-diet reduce the risk of developing diabetes? The results of some initial studies point in this direction. In fact, insulin resistance (or insulin resistance) is known to be a risk factor for diabetes. Improving a person's insulin sensitivity decreases the likelihood that they will develop diabetes and can thus help people with diabetes relieve their symptoms.

A 2015 study compared the effects of the paleo diet to those of a diet based on the recommendations of the American Diabetes Association in people with type 2 diabetes. While both diets improved the metabolic health of the participants, the paleo diet also improved insulin resistance and blood sugar control.

An older study, undertaken in 2009 on 9 sedentary volunteers without obesity, also found that the paleo diet improved their insulin sensitivity. More recent research is needed on the Paleo diet and diabetes, but evidence to date suggests that adopting the Paleolithic diet may improve insulin sensitivity.

Lower blood pressure

High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease. The paleo diet is thought to control blood pressure and keep the heart healthy. But this claim still needs to be substantiated.

A 2008 study of 14 healthy people found that following the paleo diet for 3 weeks improved systolic blood pressure. The food program also lowered weight and body mass index (BMI). However, as the study did not include a control group (placebo), its results were inconclusive.

Nevertheless, a more recent study in 2014 confirmed these early results. The researchers compared the effects of the paleo diet with those of a diet recommended by the Dutch Board of Health, to 34 participants with characteristics of metabolic syndrome, a disorder that multiplies the risk of heart disease.

The results showed that the paleo diet reduced blood pressure and blood lipid profile, both of which can improve heart health.Although initial studies suggest that the paleo diet may reduce blood pressure and maintain heart health, more recent and in-depth studies are needed to draw conclusions.

Paleo diet: a dangerous diet for health?

Faced with the growing enthusiasm of the French for paleo diets, many scientists have looked at the real effectiveness but also the risks that this diet presents for health.

Cardiovascular risk

Several studies have been conducted on small groups of volunteers who had at least one cardiovascular risk factor, such as low-density lipoprotein (LDL). The paleo diet was thus compared with the Mediterranean diet and the dietary recommendations of health organizations. In general, the paleo diet significantly reduces blood pressure as well as levels of bad cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose.

However, where the downside lies is that the paleo diet does not impose quantities. Thus, an excess of meats could lead to an increase in bad cholesterol via a consequent intake of saturated fats. Similarly, a high consumption of fruit could cause an increase in the level of triglycerides, via an excessive intake of fructose. Hence the interest of limiting your consumption of meat and fruit in order to avoid any cardiovascular risk.

Blood sugar risk

We have seen that the paleo diet has been tested on people with diabetes. Indeed, it seems that this diet reduces blood sugar and glycated hemoglobin levels as well as insulin resistance.

On the other hand, since cereals and sweet products are banned from the paleo diet, the only foods that provide carbohydrates are fruits. Admittedly, there are no studies showing that the paleo diet can lead to hypoglycemia (lower blood sugar), but it is better to be careful. For this, it is advisable to eat at least one fruit before and after intense physical activity, which induces a high muscular consumption of carbohydrates. And as for people with diabetes, it is worth talking with your doctor before starting the Paleolithic diet.

Bone risk

Since the paleo diet excludes dairy products, this shortcoming could lower calcium intakes and possibly have a harmful impact on bone health. True, Drs. Eaton and Cordain claim that Paleolithic men had strong bones and did not suffer from osteoporosis. But this pathology probably did not have time to develop because these ancestors lived only until 35 years. But one thing is certain: bone strength is attributed to the calcium intake of fruits and vegetables, the alkalizing effect of the plant-rich diet, as well as sun exposure.

The risk of colon cancer

Again, it is meats that are likely to affect cancer risk. The French agency Santé Publique France, the WCRF (World Cancer Research Fund) and the Inca (National Cancer Institute) recommend not to consume more than 500 g of meat per week, to prevent colon cancer. Since the paleo diet prioritizes meats, it is preferable to reduce the risk of cancer by avoiding exceeding the recommended limit, and especially to vary your diet (poultry, fish, seafood, eggs …). Note that the paleo diet already provides the right intake of antioxidants and other essential nutrients.

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