The “Paleo Diet”
Being a dietitian you constantly get asked your thoughts on the new or latest diet and if that diet is worth following. Looking these diets up on google gives you many hits on your search, both for and against the diets. Some of this information can be very persuasive, but at the same time very confusing. The paleo diet is no exception. So after being asked about the paleo diet I decided to write an article from a dietitian’s perspective.
What is the paleo diet?
Put simply this diet is based on the diet of our ancestors (the hunter-gatherer lifestyle) where diets were based on lean meats, vegetables, fruit and nuts. Sound good? This is what health professionals recommend isn’t it? Take another look at the list. Do you see anything missing? Grains and dairy foods! According to Dr. Loren Cordain, the author of the diet, our ancestors didn’t eat these foods and therefore we aren’t adapted to eating them and should avoid them.
Foods not allowed on this diet include grains like barley, corn and rice as well as legumes such as soybeans (sorry that means tofu too!), lentils and chickpeas and as mentioned before, dairy foods. There are no grains, no sugar and no processed foods.
It is hard to argue against a diet that is based on fresh fruit and vegetables with lean meat. These are also the recommendations made by the Australian Government in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. But one could argue that this is hardly a “diet”.
Sure, reducing the amount of sugar we eat is good for our general health and since processed foods tend to have lots of added sugars and/or fats, cutting these out of our diets is a good thing. My biggest concern however, comes with the cutting out of two foods groups from our diet; breads and cereals and dairy foods.
When referring to breads and cereals (or grains as the paleo diet says) I am referring to wholegrain products like oats, barley and brown rice. These foods contribute fibre to our diets as well as the essential B vitamins our body needs. If you take these out of your diet, along with lentils and beans, you may be missing out on important nutrients. Yes, these nutrients are found in other foods, but having variety in your diet will help to make sure you definitely won’t miss out. According to the Heart Foundation, on average most Australian’s are eating around 18-25g of fibre daily but should be eating 25-30g per day. If Australian’s are struggling to meet their fibre targets with wholegrain breads and cereals in their diet, how will they meet them by relying solely on fruits and vegetables?
Cutting out dairy foods is always concerning if people don’t properly replace dairy foods with other sources of calcium in the diet. These other sources are things like soy milk or yoghurt which are fortified with calcium (have calcium added to them since they aren’t naturally high in calcium). But this diet also excludes soybeans. It does say that you can use almond milk as a replacement, although almond milks do not contain an adequate amount of calcium to help meet requirements each day (75mg/100ml compared to milk which has on average 120mg/100ml if not more. I found a brand of milk that had 140mg/100ml!).
The bottom line?
In theory this diet has some good principles. Eating more fruits and vegetables whilst cutting back on sugar and processed foods is something that is recommended as part of balanced, healthy diet. However, a balanced, healthy diet also includes the breads and cereals group as well as low fat dairy products.
Diets that cut out large food groups are concerning. If you are unable to eat certain foods or feel like you may not be meeting your requirements each day contact ENT Wellbeing Diet and Nutrition for a consult with our dietitian Rhiannon Welsh. Call us to make an appointment on 1300 123 368