Currently in the world of the so-called " healthy culture " there are many different diets or ways of eating. Of course, all of them have their defenders and their detractors, and the reality is that none is correct. From the paleo diet to the Mediterranean diet, through intermittent fasting or the Dukan diet. I repeat, the perfect diet does not exist, because no diet adapts the same to everyone, neither to the available time of each one, nor to the available resources of each population. There will be some more or less recommended, but none is ideal, and apparently neither genetics can decide that according to some studies, although other works can defend the relationship between genetics and diet.
Among all these "fad diets", we can name the ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting, the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, and we cannot forget about the paleolithic diet or more abbreviated known as the "paleo diet", in which we we will center today.
Before starting, and from a personal and medical opinion, I believe that no diet should avoid certain foods. Make no mistake, avoiding processed foods is not "eliminating food", but eliminating "edible substances", because that should not even be classified as food. However, the paleo diet does advise avoiding some types of foods such as dairy, legumes or foods rich in starch such as potatoes, as we will discuss later.
What is the Paleo or Palaeolithic diet?
According to the creators of the paleo diet, popularized by the gastroenterologist Walter L. Voegtlin, the paleo diet would be a type of diet based on the idea of resembling as much as possible the way of eating of our Stone Age ancestors, before development of agriculture.
The paleo diet would be based on eating "large amounts of protein and fat" , from foods such as meat and fish, and to a lesser extent carbohydrates. This actually wouldn't be that extreme, as the average consumption in populations studied on a paleo diet typically ranges from 30-40% carbohydrates (they are low carb, but not extreme). However, it should be remembered that the paleo diet recommends foods and not macronutrients, and there are studies which indicate that some types of populations consume up to 70% carbohydrates (such as the inhabitants of Kitava), while others only consume 10% carbohydrates in their diet (such as the Inuit), and their type of diet continues being similar to the paleo diet despite these extremes in percentages.
Thus, the paleo diet recommends foods higher in protein and fat, such as meat and fish, but does not neglect others such as holes and even insects. Also, although it advises against some foods such as potatoes, dairy products and legumes, it does recommend the consumption of vegetables, tubers, nuts and fruits. In fact, the latter accounted for 70% of total calories in some populations studied whose diet was based on a paleo diet.
Essentially, the paleo diet does not recommend food, but rather advises against food. The premise of this diet is to consume foods as similar as possible to those that our ancestors consumed. Therefore, on a paleo diet, the consumption of processed foods is discouraged on the one hand, and dairy, legumes and foods rich in starch because they contain so-called “antinutrients”, such as lectins. He also advises against consuming too much salt, modified fats, or starchy vegetables.
Benefits of the paleo diet
Although the paleo diet has been shown to have multiple benefits, we will review the most relevant ones.
For example, in the metabolic field, the paleo diet has been shown to improve glucose control, improve the lipid (fat) profile in the blood and even be more effective than the Mediterranean diet to lose abdominal fat and waist diameter. In short, the paleo diet has been shown to reduce multiple cardiovascular risk parameters.
In fact, compared to the type of diet recommended by medical societies, such as the American Heart Association, the paleo diet has been shown to lower cardiovascular risk even more than these types of diet.
Regarding body fat, several studies extol the potential of the paleo diet, which has been shown to reduce liver fat and regulate "fat accumulating genes. "
For its part, the paleo diet has also been shown to have benefits to improve the symptoms of the so-called metabolic syndrome, characterized by poor control of blood sugar, high blood pressure, alteration of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood and excess abdominal fat.
Finally, there are many studies that have linked the paleo diet with weight loss effectively thanks to its satiating power because it is based on natural foods, avoiding ultra-processed ones.
Disadvantages and criticisms of the paleo diet
Some of the criticism suffered by the paleo diet has more to do with the retail field than with health, since this type of diet has demonstrated long-term safety, in addition to its effectiveness.
For example, one of the majority criticisms is that it is a high protein diet because it is based on a higher consumption of meat and fish. However, as we have mentioned previously, the paleo diet also advises the consumption of foods such as tubers, fruits, vegetables, nuts and unprocessed oils, which were consumed in high percentages in some ancestral populations. The paleo diet advises natural foods, and not macronutrients as such.
On the other hand, it is also often criticized that this type of diet is more expensive. The reality is that yes, a paleo diet is "more expensive", but not significantly superior to a western diet. In fact, in the long term, cheap is often expensive, since the Western diet has been linked to a multitude of diseases with all the expense that this entails. Therefore, we can say that a healthy diet (be it paleo diet, Mediterranean diet or DASH diet, among others) tend to be more expensive on average compared to Western food, but only in theory and in the short term.
Finally, some detractors of the paleo diet suggest that Stone Age men did not develop metabolic diseases because they did not usually live more than 20 or 30 years. This is correct, but with the wrong approach, since we know that what was happening at this time is that there was high infant mortality and, if survived, the average age rose to 54 years. In fact, deaths in the Paleolithic used to be due to infections and trauma rather than food. In fact, after the creation of agriculture, life expectancy fell due to their cereal-based diet (which is less nutritious than the diet recommended by the paleo diet). Even in the mid-19th century there was lower life expectancy in some English cities than in the Paleolithic, as there was similar infant mortality, but poor hygiene and infections did the rest.
In fact, a study published in The Lancet in 2017 concluded that a paleo diet prevents cardiovascular disease, one of the main causes of mortality in our environment, since the elderly over 75 years of age who follow this type of diet had up to a five times lower risk of cardiovascular disease than individuals in a Western society.
In conclusion, from a medical point of view, a paleo diet is recommended for all the benefits it has shown. Although, on the other hand, the fact that I avoid foods such as dairy or legumes does not seem right to me.
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