Could Paleo be Bad for You?

As with any item, idea or plan, there are going to be naysayers, people have every reason to give you why you’re getting or doing something wrong, and you should be getting it or doing it their way. 

Paleo is no different. 

Go to your search engine and type in “why paleo is bad,” and Google will be happy to provide you with pages of articles explaining why Paleo is one of the worst diets you can be on. If you’re new to the lifestyle, it can be a little unnerving to see all this “proof” from experts that you’re making a big mistake. 

Don’t worry. You’re not. 

Where did the Paleo Diet Come From?

Paleo is short for Paleolithic, in reference to a specific point in history where, theoretically, we were all cavemen. Fast forward a few dozen millennia, and we are all eating junk out of boxes because it’s faster than actually cooking in our society of double incomes. 

Some credit the Paleo diet to Colorado Dr. Loren Cordain, a college professor specializing in exercise physiology or to Australian celebrity chef Pete Evans, but the fact is, this diet has always been around. There are tribes in remote areas that still eat this diet and have since the beginning of time. What Dr. Cordain and Mr. Evans did was bring it to the public’s attention. 

What do the Experts Say?

The restriction on grains deprives you of B vitamins, fiber, iron, magnesium and selenium. 

I’m going to assume, with that argument, that grains are the only place you can find the above vitamins, minerals and nutrients. The fact is, Paleo is full of these things without the need for grains.  Let’s take a look at where those eating Paleo get what they need.

B Vitamins

Red meat

Eggs

Seeds (specifically sunflower and almond)

Dark leafy greens

Fruits (specifically citrus fruits, avocado and banana)

Fiber

Dark Leafy Greens (specifically kale, collard greens and spinach)

Broccoli

Cabbage and Brussels sprouts

Beets understudy

Sweet potatoes and yams

Berries

Coconut

Nuts and seeds (specifically almonds and pumpkin seeds)

Iron

Red meat

Pork

Poultry

Seafood

Peas

Leafy greens

Dried fruits (cranberries, figs, raisins, apricots, etc.)

Magnesium

Spinach

Almonds and cashews

Dark chocolate

Avocado

Selenium

Seafood

Lean meats 

Poultry

Eggs

Nuts (specifically Brazil nuts)

Seeds

That is a lot of non-grain foods that cover those vitamins. And these options are not foods that will cause inflammation for those with osteoarthritis and autoimmune problems. 

The restriction on dairy causes deficiencies of calcium and vitamin D

This is another argument that can be countered by checking out what foods also have calcium and vitamin D. 

Calcium

Sardines

Leafy greens (specifically collard greens, turnip, bok choy)

Almonds (Almond milk has half again the calcium of regular milk)

Vitamin D

Fatty fish (tuna, mackerel, salmon)

Beef liver

Egg yolks

Mushrooms

Sunlight

Yes, sunlight. If you can get 30 minutes of good sun without sunscreen, you can get your daily allowance of vitamin D from the sun. There are, of course, a few problems with this method if skin cancer runs in the family. And the rule of thumb is that you aren’t getting any vitamin D if your shadow is longer than your body. Honestly, I’d stick with the food method and wear sunscreen in the sun. 

The high intake of red meat and saturated fats can increase LDL cholesterol and increase the risk of colorectal cancer

Even those who oppose Paleo have to admit that not all saturated fats are created equal. (Read more here)In fact, many have been forced to admit that naturally occurring saturated fats are actually good for you. The fats in red meats, coconuts, butter and fish are beneficial, but items like canola oil, vegetable shortening and stick margarine (the “healthy” alternative to real butter) are bad for you.

Studies showing that red meat leads to colorectal cancer have been flawed.(This study says evidence is weak, at best.) The controls for the tests were very loose, and some studies relied on the memories of people to recall what they’d eaten over a lifetime. One study “followed more than 72,000 women for 18 years found that those who ate a Western-style diet high in red and processed meats, desserts, refined grains, and French fries had an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and death from other causes.” The emphasis here is mine. These women were eating desserts, refined grains and French fries, but it was the red meat that was blamed for the cancer. Go figure. 

There is another problem with this reasoning that Paleo is bad for you. Who said you have to eat a high intake of red meat? Take a look at the food lists I reference for the vitamins and minerals. There is pork, fish, shellfish, poultry. The idea that Paleo mavens eat large amounts of red meat is misguided and foolish. We eat all kinds of meat. We don’t limit ourselves to red. 

The fact is, the Paleolithic people ate what was convenient to them. Those living along the coasts tended toward fish. Those living more inland would tend toward wild game such as squirrels, rabbits, deer and buffalo. Yes, some of them ate more red meat than others. So what? Hunter/gatherer tribes existing today still live like this. In the Amazon, they eat macaws, turtles, monkeys and, in some places, tarantulas. In Africa, tribes eat antelope, zebra and even large predatory cats. The Pacific islanders eat terns, fish, sometimes whales. Just because we eat a meat-based diet does not mean we limit ourselves to red meat. 

The Paleo diet is bad for diabetics.

Again, this is reaching. (Read this story.) The paleo diet is naturally low-glycemic and has been shown to help diabetics as well as those with osteoarthritis, lupus, rheumatoid disease and autoimmune deficiencies. My own doctor specialized in arthritis and gout, and she advised me to go on a Paleo diet, not only for my osteoarthritis, for which she was treating me, but also because I was borderline diabetic and I wouldn’t have to juggle two different diets. 

Some of the Experts Reasons to be Anti-Paleo are…Interesting.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Calling some foods good and some foods bad can cause low self-esteem in dieters.

Hello? Doesn’t every diet call some foods good and some foods bad? The reasoning given for this statement is that if a dieter falls off the wagon and eats a “bad” food, they feel bad about themselves and they develop low self-esteem. This is the reality of, literally, EVERY DIET ON THE MARKET!! 

And most people on Paleo don’t think of foods as good or bad. It’s just that they do eat this and don’t eat that. 

Most of us don’t hunt for our food.

These experts clearly never coupon and sale shopped with their mothers when they were kids. All day, five different stores, a kit full of coupons and an armload of sales fliers. No, many don’t hunt for their food. We can pick it up on the sales rack. What difference does that make? It’s the same type of food (For what it’s worth, I grew up in the ‘80s on game meat in the winter and trout in the summer. Some of us still hunt for our food.).

We have many food choices available.

Yes, we do. And we are making a choice. 

It can get expensive.

It can get expensive. Any diet or change of culinary lifestyle can get expensive. With nutritionists pushing organic foods that cost a fortune, anything we put in our mouths is going to cost more than we want to pay. That doesn’t make the diet bad. 

It’s difficult for vegetarians.

No, I am not kidding. A licensed nutritionist actually made this argument. Yes, a Paleo diet would be difficult for a vegetarian. That’s why vegetarians go on a vegetarian diet. 

The lifespan of a caveman was only about 30 years.

I would argue that it was probably closer to 25, but the fact is, the caveman’s diet was probably the only thing going for him. He did not have medicines and disease or infection prevention, and predatory animals were a lot bigger and more aggressive back then. 

Completely cutting out carbs will make you cranky and weak. 

I know several Paleo and Keto bodybuilders who would disagree. 

There is nothing wrong with the Paleo diet. It’s one of many healthy choices people can make. For those dealing with various forms of inflammation and pain, as well as high blood sugar, it’s a fantastic choice. It is, obviously, disputed by many experts in the nutrition field. Without fail, every one of them recommended getting dietary advice from the governments approved plan…the same government that declared pizza a vegetable. 

That’s all I’m going to say about that.