We are always hearing new things from the weird and wonderful world of diet and nutrition, but isn’t it time someone explained what they are really all about? Dietician, Claire Wylde, investigates the Paleo Diet.
I was asked to review the Paleo diet, so rather than just read up on the scientific research about it, I thought I would just follow it myself for a week and see if nothing, else, if I felt better.
So what is the Paleo Diet? Also known as the Caveman Diet or the Hunter-Gatherer diet, its focus is based on only eating foods that would have been available to our ancestors back in the Stone Age. Alongside dietary changes, it also demands activity levels similar to that time period (heavy duty and high labour intensive).
Their argument? The ‘modern’ human has, over the years, adapted to the types of food available back in hunter-gatherer times and genetics haven’t really changed. So it would make sense to eat foods that we have adapted to. The result? Improved health outcomes, weight loss, better heart health, reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and even better skin.
What can you eat? Anything that can be hunted or gathered! Fish, shellfish, grass-fed meats (i.e. not pork), eggs, vegetables (including root vegetables), fruit, mushrooms and tree nuts.
What can’t you eat? Grains, Legumes (beans, peanuts), dairy, potatoes, salt, sugar, processed oils, alcohol.
Essentially it boils down to a higher protein, super low carbohydrate, gluten and dairy free diet. And also means that some days you consume very few calories (just like you would if no animals/fish could be hunted on that day!!).
So what did I think? The diet, for me, would be impossible to sustain in the long term. For this last week I have basically lived off salads, fruits, eggs (in all differing forms possible) and soups! The only glimmer of light that kept me going was that I knew I was only following it for seven days and three meals in the week were allowed to be ‘non-paleo’. These were my favourite days, where I enjoyed cheese and carbs! Whilst I did manage to cut dairy out my diet for a week, it was really hard and I struggled for replacements (soya or oats are not allowed). There’s no way I would want to cut dairy out of my diet indefinitely without medical rationale or an excellent evidence base for health benefits. In fact, if you do follow the Paleo diet for a significant period, then you would need to take calcium supplements to ensure you meet nutritional requirements. Cutting down significantly on carbs is one thing, but to remove starchy carbohydrates completely is a whole different ball game. Getting carbohydrates solely from fruits and vegetables is too restrictive, and in my opinion, unnecessary. You can still significantly reduce carbohydrate intake and allow yourself starchy foods to form a daily part of that. If anything, having such a dramatic cut in your diet, will probably mean that you’ll give in and the diet fails. Excluding alcohol wasn’t really a huge issue for me as I don’t drink much anyway, but obviously I like to have the choice, which the Paleo diet removes. I would drink mainly water during the day before following the Paleo diet, but I really did miss a cup of tea – again for me, this would be an unrealistic long term change, especially when I am not convinced that by cutting it out, provides a dramatic health benefit. As for exercise – I exercise regularly anyway (4-5 times a week) which I assumed was enough to keep in line with the Paleo’s diet requirements.
Conclusion: I don’t think that I felt better for making all these dietary changes. If anything, it just makes you think about all the foods that you’re missing, which for long term weight management is just not going to work. However, I do agree that exercise is extremely important and most people don’t do nearly enough. Diet wise, the age old adage ‘everything in moderation’ is what suits me best. On the plus side, for those of you that want to lose weight, then it does tick that box. I lost 3lb in the 7 days. But I have to say, I am looking forward to putting all three of them back on now that I have finished testing the Paleo diet, because ultimately once you stop these restrictive diets and return to your usual intake, sustaining that weight loss is unlikely.
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