The Pro’s and Con’s of Paleo

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According to an online study by professor Hamilton M. Stapell, “Based on the limited data available, we estimate the current size of the ancestral health movement within the United States to be between one and three million people.” That is quite a few people jumping on the ancestral diet trend, and for good reason. Keep reading for the pro’s and con’s of Paleo

Paleo has some excellent pro’s including:                  

  • A focus on fresh unprocessed whole foods like fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, meats and fat
  • Organic, pasture raised, grass-fed, antibiotic-free and wild caught meats are promoted
  • High quality saturated fats are usually at the center versus inflammation promoting unsaturated fats
  • The Paleo Diet has been shown to help cure chronic sinus infections, and is a wonderful diet for autoimmune disorders as well as IBS and digestive disorders.

Many people initially thrive on a paleo diet for the first year or two. Often past that point we start seeing food cravings, lowered thyroid, decreased metabolism, lower body temperatures, blood sugar issues and even some food sensitivities. Because the paleo diet it restrictive in that grains and legumes are off limits, we see fat metabolism for energy vs. carbohydrates (meaning more of your calories come from fat that is burned for energy vs carbohydrates).

The cons of Paleo:

Paleo can be restrictive and may not be sustainable in the long run. But my biggest concern is this: A one-size-fits-all “best diet” approach doesn’t work. Strictly following a list of “good” and “bad” or “allowed” and “not allowed” foods is problematic for most people.

Even more, long-term, it’s tough to be consistent on a strict diet regime like Paleo. Folks with thyroid and adrenal issues need typically need more carbs.

Restricting carbs can slow metabolism and the inactive thyroid hormone (T4) to the active thyroid hormone (T3).  This can lead to constipation, increased dependence on the bodies stress hormones and impaired detoxification.

The Paleo diet tends to favor fat metabolism for energy versus carbohydrates. Excessive fat burning for energy activates the stress response and decreases carbon dioxide in the body (decreased carbon dioxide accelerates the aging process).

The diet focuses on muscle meats which can be a bit inflammatory.  We need a balance of anti-inflammatory like shellfish, whole fish, bone broth, gelatin, eggs and raw grass-fed dairy.

I often see intense cravings in my Paleo clients. Paleo demonizes sugar, but all carbohydrates (starches, fruits, grains) eventually break down into single sugars in the body (glucose and fructose).  Our bodies are wise and I believe cravings can lead us to appropriately filling in nutritional gaps. Cravings for sugar likely mean more carbohydrates are needed. Cravings for coffee can mean the body has an increased dependence on the bodies stress hormones and need to be addressed.

Paleo often restricts dairy. Yes, folks with food allergies or poor digestion should not eat dairy, but the right kind of high quality dairy can be very healing and nutritious. The healthiest diets tend to include the widest variety of foods.

Signs Your Paleo Diets Needs Correction:

  • Craving sweets and coffee like they’re going out of style
  • Bloating
  • Weight gain
  • Low waking temperature and pulse
  • Fatigue/low energy
  • Poor digestion
  • Strong salt and/or chocolate cravings

Although, we’re all bio individual and some may thrive on a Paleo diet, I believe that if properly executed a paleo diet done short term can be very healing. The first step to Paleo would be going gluten-free, second step balance blood sugar and insulin and the third step, and heal your digestive system to heal your whole body. Next, poorly tolerated foods can be reintroduced and a well-balanced diet would be most ideal.   Nutrient dense carbohydrates (sugar) can safeguard us; increasing our resistance to stress, and providing anti-aging benefits when used appropriately in a nutrient dense diet.   When adding grains back into the diet I recommend starting by adding soaked or sprouted grains (like brown rice) and seed grains, such as quinoa or buckwheat.  Look for sprouted grains when purchasing or soak them on your own to ensure the highest nutrition content and digestibility.

Whole 30 an honorable mention

The Whole 30 is a month long elimination plan developed by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig to help people target potentially problematic foods and develop a plan for which foods to avoid long term and which to reintroduce.  It’s meant to be short term and strict and help you decide whether Paleo may be right for you.  Use caution with the Whole 30. One fundamental issue I have with the plan is the inclusion of eggs.  Eggs are one of the top 5 food sensitivities seen today. And, it’s not bio-individual, meaning it wasn’t tailored just for you and may not be what’s best for your body. Every body is different.  So if you think you may have food allergies or sensitivities’, I highly recommend working with a trained nutrition counselor.  However, if you have strong digestion, I believe Whole 30 may be a great way to explore a Paleo diet.

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This post was also printed in Talega Magazine and on Mind, Body, Green.

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Sources:

Hollox, E. Evolutionary genetics: Genetics of lactase persistence – fresh lessons in the history of milk drinking. European Journal of Human Genetics 20o5;13:267-269. doi: 10.1038/sj/ejhg.5201297.

Peat, Ray. Glycemia, starch, and sugar in context. 2009. Retrieved July 1, 2014 from http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/glycemia.shtml

Schwartz, David B. and Stapell, Hamilton M. (2013) “Modern Cavemen? Stereotypes and Reality of the Ancestral Health Movement,” Journal of Evolution and Health: Vol. 1: Iss. 1, Article 3. http://dx.doi.org/10.15310/2334-3591.1000

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Melissa Schollaert is a Holistic Health & Nutrition Counselor and founder of Real Nutritious Living. Helping others achieve their health goals to attain their healthiest, happiest life is her greatest ambition.

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MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: This content is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease, or as a substitute for medical advice. Please consult with your advising physician before starting any treatment for a medical condition. Real Nutritious Living, LLC shall not be held liable or responsible for any misunderstanding or misuse of the information contained on this site or for any loss, damage, or injury caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly by any treatment, action, or application of any food or food source discussed in this site.

Author: Melissa Schollaert

I'm Melissa—Holistic Health Coach & loving mama. My passion is to help others thrive through strategic eating (not dieting), living a toxic free life & creating healthier families.

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