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Apparently the cave dwellers of the Stone Age knew a thing or two about nutrition, because modern nutrition experts have developed a new craze with the Paleo diet, purporting a myriad of health benefits such as fat loss and a boost in energy. However, though some individuals have reported increased energy while on a Paleo plan, many others have reported a slump in energy levels. For this reason, I want to remind readers that it is essential to determine what works for YOUR body. Paleo may work wonders for you, or it may be a turn in the wrong direction too.
For those of you who are unclear on what defines a Paleo meal diet, let’s look at what food items are allowed on this meal plan: meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds. Foods which are banned from Paleo plans are: grains, legumes, refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, processed foods, dairy. Here is a more detailed breakdown of the Paleo philosophy:
About one-quarter to one-third of the calories you ingest daily will come from protein sources, all of which are from animal sources.
Carbohydrate sources consist of vegetables and fruits and comprise about 40% of your daily caloric intake.
Fat intake is relatively high, consisting of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and Omega-3 fatty acids.
Paleo plans are low in sodium and high in potassium due to the whole food sources which are allowed.
Benefits of Paleo
Some people may notice a marked improvement in digestion after implementing a Paleo meal plan, which can be explained in part by the large amounts of fiber delivered with this dietary approach. Those who are gluten sensitive or intolerant usually notice a pronounced improvement in gut health after going the Paleo route, since irritating and inflammatory grains are eliminated from the diet.
Since blood glucose levels remain relatively stable due to the low glycemic index of foods ingested in Paleo plans, people may notice mood stabilization, a decrease in food cravings, and better focus and concentration. Another benefit which Paleo diets can confer is weight loss. I have heard of people suddenly dropping those last five or ten pounds rather quickly after following a Paleo plan, so Paleo can be a godsend for those who are at their wit’s end about trying to lose weight.
Negative Aspects of Paleo
If you’re passionate about remaining a vegetarian, you can forget about going Paleo, since it relies heavily on animal protein sources. With so much meat in the plan, some individuals cannot tolerate the high amounts of protein. Others cannot tolerate the sudden massive intake of dietary fat, and develop increased gut permeability, which is ironic since many people who switch to Paleo plans are trying to find a way to heal a leaky gut. Digestive upset which surfaces while on a Paleo diet may also be a result of consuming the excessive supplements which are required to ensure optimal nutrition while on a Paleo plan.
Paleo plans do not guarantee relief from food intolerance either, since foods considered Paleo safe, such as beef or walnuts, can trigger massive inflammation in the gut. The solution is to either get a food tolerance test from your physician’s office, or eliminate foods one by one until your symptoms disappear. However, the problem with food elimination while on a Paleo plan is that you are already quite restricted on the foods which you are allowed to eat. Another problem with the limited number of foods allowed on Paleo plans is that macro and micro nutrients are often inadequate. Some women simply cannot consume the massive amounts of protein which are required on the plan, and caloric needs are often not met because the caloric densities of the staple foods on a Paleo plan are rather low. In addition, the body’s daily requirements for vitamins and minerals is often not fully met, making it necessary to take many supplements to compensate for the nutrient deficit.
I have also noticed that a fair percentage of women (and men too, for that matter) do not function well on extremely low carbohydrate diets. These women would fare better on a Paleo plan which allowed some root vegetables such as potatoes for starchy carbs, or on a non-Paleo plan which incorporated grains.
After all is said and done, the Paleo approach is restrictive, and in my humble opinion, not sustainable for the long term. As one who has followed restrictive non-Paleo contest prep plans, I can honestly say I had more variety with some of them than what I have seen with Paleo plans. I believe that a Paleo diet can be an excellent short-term way to jump start weight loss, especially for someone whose weight loss efforts have stalled.