Paleo: Fad or Fab?

Supporters of Paleo claim that modern humans' inability to properly metabolise new and modern types of food has led to modern-day health-related symptoms such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

The Paleo diet is said to be one of the healthiest ways you can eat.

Emerging as a trend in dieting in 2012, the popular clean-eating regime continues to be one of the most-searched-for weight-loss methods on Google today, and one of the most popular dieting methods in New Zealand.

Supporters of the diet claim it’s due to the lifestyle aspect of the regime that makes it a sustainable weight-loss programme and not just another fad diet.

However, the actual health and social benefits claimed by these supporters remains controversial, with health professionals and mainstream nutrition organisations questioning the science behind it.

The focus of the diet is to eat like we would ‘back in the day’, before technology, cars or houses existed – put simply, if a caveman wouldn’t have eaten it, then neither can you.

Paleo is based on the foods our ancient ancestors are likely to have consumed, such as unprocessed meat, nuts and berries. It excludes food to which they had not yet become familiar, like dairy, lollies and, most definitely not MacDonald’s.

The Paleolithic era was a period lasting around 2.5 million years that ended about 10,000 years ago. It was characterised by the use of flint, stone, and bone tools, hunting, fishing, and the gathering of plant foods.

Supporters of Paleo claim that modern humans’ inability to properly metabolise new and modern types of food has led to modern-day health-related symptoms such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Robb Wolf, author of The Paleo Solution, a former research biochemist and one of the world’s leading experts in Paleolithic nutrition, says: “Research in biology, biochemistry, Ophthalmology, Dermatology and many other disciplines show it is our modern diet, full of refined foods, trans fats and sugar, that is at the root of degenerative diseases such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, depression and infertility.”

It’s believed that the nutritional approach works with your genetics to help you stay lean, healthy and energetic; and that followers of the Paleolithic diet may enjoy a longer, healthier, more active life.

Adriaan, a converted Paleo enthusiast, says: “Today, I am a completely different person…My cholesterol is now normal and all of my past daily illnesses/conditions are also gone. I have gone from size XXXL to M shirts and from a 44-inch waist to 30-inch waist.”

Critics of the Paleo diet contest that it’s only got it “half right”. Whilst the diet encourages followers to avoid processed foods, such as white bread and potato chips, it also prohibits more nutritionally rich and valuable sources of nutrients such as calcium-rich dairy products, fibrous grains, vitamins and legumes filled with protein. Others claim paleolithic humans did eat grains and legumes.

Some critics also counter the Paleo supporters’ genetics claims, alleging that human evolution has given us more nutritional flexibility today than our ancient ancestors would have possessed in their Palaeolithic environment.

Emily Patrick