Huffpost Women

6 Health Lessons From The Paleo Diet

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PALEO DIET
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Not since paleolithic times has it been so fashionable to eat like a hunter-gatherer.

While everyone from professional athletes to mommy bloggers seems to be touting the whole food, grain-free, meat-heavy Paleo Diet, it's not without its critics.

The Paleo Diet -- which also goes by the names "Caveman" or "Stone Age" diet -- advocates eating pre-agrarian foods. If our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn't eat it, Paleo eaters don't want to eat it either. That means no grains, legumes, dairy, alcohol or sugar. Instead, Paleo eaters choose grass-fed beef, lamb and chicken, fish, fruit and vegetables (although many eschew nightshade veggies, like eggplant and tomato). In an ideal Paleo diet, practitioners would stick to wild animals -- which have less fat and saturated fat than farmed -- and forage for plants.

Following this plan, it is easy to see the appeal: the list of forbidden foods closely resembles the foods Harvard Medical School counsels patients to avoid.

“Clinical trials have shown that the Paleo Diet is the optimum diet that can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, blood pressure, markers of inflammation, help with weight loss, reduce acne, promote optimum health and athletic performance," Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Colorado State University professor and author of The Paleo Diet told WebMD.

Still, critics question the logic of following this eating pattern. After all, humanity thrived after adopting an agrarian way of life.

"It seems more a gimmick than a well-thought-out scientifically diet plan," says Lawrence Cheskin M.D., FACP, director of Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center. "Remember, we lived to an average of 25 years of age on that diet, so I’m not sure where it is a great plan to follow now."

Cheskin added that he certainly agreed with some tenets of the diet, including the emphasis on whole, natural foods, but was concerned about the level of meat.

That echoes the concerns outlined by David Katz, M.D., HuffPost blogger and director of the Yale Prevention Research Center, who wrote that he worried dieters might confuse supermarket meat with the healthful game of yore:

Modern meat is not Stone Age meat. There were no wild corned beef, salamis or pastramis in the Stone Age, so processed meat is certainly off the Paleo diet menu. There were no grain-fed cattle; no pigs fed slop; and no domesticated feed animals raised without demands on their muscles, either.

What's more, according to a U.S. News and World Report analysis, a panel of doctors and nutritionists determined that the diet was not a good choice for curtailing diabetes, improving heart health or losing weight.

But regardless of how you feel about Paleo, there are some tips and lessons that just about anyone can get behind.

  • 1
    Avoid Processed Foods
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    This is Paleo orthodoxy, but it is also general nutritional advice from Michael "Eat Food" Pollan to Harvard's School of Public Health: Consuming whole foods, as close to nature as possible, is healthful.
  • 2
    Pair Diet With Exercise
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    Paleo has a close connection to CrossFit -- the intense HIIT program. And while the "sport of fitness" isn't for everyone, the idea that a diet and exercise plan should be part of a whole healthy lifestyle approach is a good one: Research shows that emphasizing the two together is the best way to achieve weight loss.
  • 3
    Achieve A Good Salt Balance
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    By eliminating processed foods, which are the major source of sodium in the American diet, Paleo eaters eat a low-sodium diet without even trying. What's more, the plan provides nearly twice the typical amount of potassium that a typical American diet contains. That combination of low sodium and high potassium is a recipe for good vascular health and low blood pressure.
  • 4
    Choose Good Fats
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    The Paleo diet eschews hydrogenated vegetable oils in favor of single source fats like avocados, olive oil, flaxseed oil and coconut oil.
  • 5
    Cook For Yourself
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    Strict eating guidelines make restaurant dining and quick snacks at the vending machine a little trickier. That means most of the food you eat comes from your own kitchen. And that means you know exactly what's in it and how it will affect your body.
  • 6
    Don't Count Calories
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    Paleolithic hunter-gatherers certainly didn't, goes the reasoning. While calories do count -- if you eat a huge number of them, you will gain weight -- they are not a metric of healthfulness. Nutritionists agree that calories are merely a jumping off point toward looking at the health value of food. Nutrient density is a far better measure for health.

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