The “Paleo” diet is a buzz word right now. The cross fitters are doing it, mums who want to lose weight are doing it and even those diagnosed with mental illness are recommended to do it (not by Dr’s or Nutritionists, usually via internet websites).
So what is the Paleo diet and why is everyone jumping on board?
The Paleo, short for paleolithic, diet is meant to represent what our paleolithic ancestors ate. Paleo fans believe this diet will help everyone lose weight, function better and reduce disease risk. Basically it recommends that we more fat, more meat, no dairy, no grains, no starchy carbs (potato, sweet potato, pumpkin, lentils, peas, beans, bananas etc) and little or no fruit. There are a few different versions of the Paleo diet being advertised, but in short it’s a high fat, moderate to high protein, low carb diet.
If you read my last blog post you will know why healthy carbs are essential. Carbs not only supply glucose for energy but a multitude of vitamins and minerals, not to mention fibre, which are all essential for our bodies to function effectively. Fat is also an essential nutrient, it has many important roles in the body, but what some people don’t realise is that fat has double the calories compared to protein and carbs. Fat contain 9 calories (37 kj) per gram compared to carbs 4 calories (16 kj) or protein 4 calories (17 kg) per gram. Those who follow a Paleo diet generally consume good fats such as coconut oil and olive oil, but some have really high intakes of butter, ghee and other saturated fats from animal. I’m not necessarily calling these fats bad, they are not in the same category as trans fats which are truly bad, but not everyone benefits from high fat diets because unused fat is stored as fat in the body, it’s a simple process.
The reason I feel the need to write about this is because I currently have a patient who has been on the Paleo diet for close to a year and has put on 20kgs. She tried the diet for weight loss and for the promised health benefits as she had a number of medical conditions. Adding 20kgs definitely did not help her mental state or her health. When I asked her to complete a food diary it was completely obvious she was having way too much fat. Her overall calorie intake was much higher than what she was burning and as a result she had put on a significant amount of weight.
On the other hand one of my best friends, Seth, is an avid cross fitter and was advised to go Paleo by his training buddies and is benefiting greatly. Seth is stronger, leaner and most likely healthier than he has ever been. The biggest difference between Seth and my patient who as put on all this weight is the amount and intensity of exercise they are each doing. In addition, I also believe that a lot of Seth’s benefits have come from him reducing his alcohol intake and increasing his physical activity levels. My patient was not a drinker and had a relatively healthy diet before starting to follow the Paleo diet, but she does little physical activity.
What I do like about the Paleo diet is that it encourages people not to eat processed and packaged food. I’m all for dropping foods full of refined carbs, preservatives, colours, flavours and additives that are not good for us, but I’m not subscribing to a notion that this is the miracle diet that will benefit everyone. At the end of the day people need to be smart about their food choices, we can all make some simple changes that will have massive long term health benefits such as reducing sugar, processed food and/or alcohol.
Finally, if you want more info click on the link below to hear an interview with Marlene Zuk from University of California, author of the Paleofantasy:
Dr Denise Furness, PhD BSc RNut REP
Registered Nutritionist & Personal Trainer with Mill Park Leisure