What Is the Paleo Diet?


By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D., "Ask Brierley: Should I try the Paleo Diet?,"May/June 2012

Our nutrition expert reviews the pros and cons of the trendy Paleo diet plan.

Our diet and lifestyle have evolved more quickly than our physiology, leading to health and weight problems, say proponents of the Paleo Diet. So this diet tries to replicate what our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate: lean protein (game meats, wild-caught fish, free-range chicken and grass-fed beef, eggs), “natural” carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables) and nuts. And you avoid grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, salt and processed foods.

The diet offers a little more protein and fat than the average American diet. But the protein is leaner and the fat has a healthier profile (e.g., more mono- and polyunsaturated fats, less saturated fat). It’s roughly the same amount of carbs, but they’re mostly from an abundance of fruits and vegetables—and not cereal, bread, etc.—so there’s nearly 5 times more fiber.

As for weight loss, there’s very little research to suggest this diet helps—and the studies that do exist are small. There is, however, a growing body of research that shows it may help to improve heart health and, for people with diabetes, improve blood sugar (glucose) control.

Bottom Line: The Paleo Diet may help you kick-start weight loss (protein and fiber help you feel satisfied), but ultimately you should stick to a more balanced diet that’s less limited. By skipping dairy you could miss out on calcium and vitamin D. And you could fall short on carbohydrates, hindering your memory and mood, or on nutrients we typically get from whole grains, such as magnesium.