Popular Paleo Diet Hard to Maintain, Says SLU Dietitian
ST. LOUIS -- The Paleo diet, which is based on how cavemen ate more than 10,000 years ago, has made a comeback, but there are healthier ways to eat, a Saint Louis University dietitian says.
"The basis for including or excluding foods in the Paleo diet relies on the premise that eating the way we did when we were a hunting and gathering civilization leads to a healthier, disease-free life," says Rabia Rahman, assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University.
"The thinking goes, ‘If the caveman didn't eat it, neither should we.' However, since leaving our caves, we've learned much about nutrition."
For instance, the Paleo diet is fairly restrictive -- not allowing any grains, dairy products and legumes -- and therein lies one problem, Rahman says.
"By removing dairy and grains, people are at risk for missing out on key nutrients, particularly calcium, which is present in dairy products and fortified cereals; vitamin D, which is in dairy; and fiber from legumes and whole grains," Rahman said.
"To avoid developing a deficiency in these important nutrients, those who follow this diet need to supplement with fish oil, calcium and vitamin D. I tell everyone who is following this diet to be aware of the food choices they are making so they don't miss out on key nutrients. I also advise them to take a calcium and vitamin D supplement. This is not the diet for someone who is at risk of osteoporosis."
In addition, fiber reduces cardiovascular disease and some studies show those who consume low-fat dairy products are more likely to lose weight than those who do not, reasons people sometimes opt to follow a special diet.
The Paleo diet includes an unlimited amount of vegetables and fruits and plenty of chicken and fish.
"You will not feel hungry on this diet as fiber in fruits and vegetables and protein are very filling. However diets that are high in protein, such as the Paleo diet, can put added strain on your kidneys, which is not a good idea if you have kidney problems," Rahman says.
"In addition, any diet that entirely excludes a particular food group becomes difficult to follow. People find it easy in the short term, but quickly become dissatisfied with the list of foods they are allowed to eat."
One important key to this diet is the quality of the products you eat -- organic fruits and vegetables, wild-caught fish, grass-fed and hormone-free meats and poultry and organic eggs. And no salt or sugar is allowed.
"A number of my clients have tried this diet and found the most difficult part is avoiding all processed foods. They have told me they thought they had been eating relatively healthy, but once they tried the Paleo diet they were surprised by how much packaged and processed foods they actually consumed before," Rahman says.
While she likes the idea of avoiding processed foods, Rahman acknowledges the diet is pricey.
"The cost of wild-caught fish and grass-fed, hormone-free meats and poultry and organic fruits and vegetables can be expensive. Meal planning also takes a little more time until you get the hang of this diet," she says.
Rather than strictly following the Paleo diet, borrow some of its basic principles to eat healthy, Rahman recommends.
"Some of the foundations of the diet, such as avoiding processed and packaged foods, are sound advice for anyone to looking to improve their health. For those who ask which diet I think is healthiest, my vote goes to the DASH diet or Mediterranean diet," she says.
"The DASH diet incorporates lots of fruits and vegetables, nuts, low-fat dairy, lean meat, fish and poultry, whole grains and heart-healthy fats. The Mediterranean diet is similar to the DASH diet but calls for replacing butter with olive oil, using spices and herbs instead of salt, having an occasional glass of red wine and limiting red meat consumption to a few times a month. It's an overall healthy diet that doesn't exclude any major food groups, and research supports its efficacy in weight loss and heart health."
Long a leader in educating health professionals, Saint Louis University offered its first degree in an allied health profession in 1929. Today the Doisy College of Health Sciences offers degrees in physical therapy and athletic training, biomedical laboratory science, nutrition and dietetics, health informatics and information management, health sciences, medical imaging and radiation therapeutics, occupational science and occupational therapy, and physician assistant education. The college's unique curriculum prepares students to work with health professionals from all disciplines to ensure the best possible patient care.