The explosion of CrossFit onto the fitness scene in recent years has pushed one particular diet into the mainstream consciousness that was unheard of a few years ago.
This diet has several monikers – Caveman, Stone Age, Hunter Gatherer – but its most common name echoes back to the era of our ancient ancestors: Paleo.
Like many healthy eaters, I’ve been burned by fad diets before, be it Atkins, Slow-Carb, or (embarrassingly enough), the lemon cayenne cleanse.
So when I heard about Paleo, I was skeptical.
I investigated the diet to see if the science checked out, and in this (brief) article, I’ll give you an overview and weigh in on whether Paleo gets the Hack Your Fitness stamp of approval.
According to Wikipedia, the Paleo (short for Paleolithic) diet is comprised of, “foods presumed to have been available to Paleolithic humans” as far back as 2.6 million years ago.
The premise is that back in the caveman days, human beings were hunter-gatherers and primarily ate meat, fruits, vegetables, and nuts because that’s all they had available.
Cavemen weren’t chowing down on bread, chips, Oreos, or processed food.
Other foods not included in the Paleo diet are:
- Dairy products
- Processed oils (natural oils are fine)
As memorized and chanted verbatim by its loyal followers, here’s CrossFit’s take on Paleo:
“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar.”
The Alleged Benefits
Proponents of the Paleo diet claim the following benefits:
- Rapid weight loss (without having to count calories)
- Protection against cardiovascular disease and diabetes
- Reduced allergies
- Improved sleep
- Better workouts
Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Well, not all scientists agree.
The Debate Over Paleo
Arguments exist about what humans actually ate millions of years ago, and if early humans did follow the Paleo diet (what trendsetters!), some scientists point to another issue:
Our genetic makeup is different than that of our ancient ancestors.
Human beings have evolved since the Paleolithic era, meaning our bodies have adapted to the new circumstances and advancements in food technology over the years.
The benefits and reasons for this diet may not apply today like they did back then.
In a Nutshell
Regardless of the evolution or history behind the Paleo movement (it might just be one large marketing gimmick for all we know), the macros of this diet look like this:
- Higher protein
- Lower carbohydrate
- Higher fat
Paleo also cuts out all processed food and most sugars, thereby eliminating the culprits being blamed for many of the health problems society is experiencing.
Now that you know the basics, let’s examine Paleo through the Hack Your Fitness lens and figure out the good and bad parts of this trendy diet.
- Advocates a high protein diet, which we like.
- Emphasizes lean meats and excludes processed meats.
- Includes complex carbohydrates (fruits and veggies), which pair great with protein.
- Excludes added trans fat, sugars, and simple carbs (mind that insulin spike).
- Contributes to an inadequate calcium intake due to the exclusion of dairy.
- Leaves out legumes, which are part of a balanced diet for the benefits they provide.
- Misses out on the health benefit of whole grains, including reduced inflammation and a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
- Relies on the incorrect notion that you don’t have to count calories to lose weight. We at Hack Your Fitness know better, though – it’s about calories in vs. calories out.
Seeing as how the positives outweigh the negatives, the Paleo diet gets the Hack Your Fitness stamp of approval, with the caveat that you must count your calories to lose weight.
Paleo is a much healthier alternative than the processed foods diet of many people.
I’m less stringent on following the hardcore tenants of Paleo – I eat grains and I’ve got to have my Quest Bar – but all things considered, it’s about 80% the right way to eat.
Speaking of 80%, I agree with Paleo guru and 80/20 advocate Mark Sisson, who teaches that consistency is more important than commitment, so pick a diet you can stick with.
If you think Paleo might work for you, by all means, pick it and stick it.