By Lori Okami
Fads have found their way into so much more than just fashion. Nowadays, they are commonplace in the fitness world. With every guru claiming to have the latest-greatest-newest and best method to lose weight and get in shape, it’s difficult to sift through what is true and what is just another attempt to profit off of the ignorant masses who are eager to get fit quickly. In this series we hope to offer a balanced and researched perspective that will open your eyes to the facts of common fitness fads. We will examine everything from diets to fitness programs, and weight loss supplements to equipment and accessories. If you have any suggestions of topics for a future segment of “Fitness Fads,” please let us know. Here is one that’s been the talk about town recently….
Diets – The Paleo Diet
The first fad that we’re covering is the Paleo Diet, commonly known as the “caveman diet.” It centers around a nutritional plan similar to that of our ancestors from nearly 10,000 years ago. The diet consists of fish, pasture-raised meats, eggs, vegetables, fruits, roots, nuts, spices and sometimes potatoes (though some Paleolithic advocates avoid such high glycemic foods), while excluding anything that has to be processed, such as grains, dairy, sugar, salt and oils.
A typical Paleo diet is low-carb, mainly because the only sources of carbohydrates are from fruits, vegetables, or roots. While there are higher carbohydrate variations of the diet, they typically consist of a higher ratio of protein sources instead. Note that research suggests low chronic disease rates are most common among people eating vegetarian, Mediterranean, and Asian diets. Diets which are rich in plant-based carbohydrates tend to be associated with health and longevity.
The main premise behind the diet is that human genetics has not changed much in the past generations and that our diet has been adapted from our Paleolithic ancestors. It claims that our ancestors were disease-free because of their diet and that we should follow it in order to have the “cleanest” food intake possible. However, only a few studies have been done showing that the diet actually had positive health outcomes. Also, researchers have disputed the accuracy of the diet and how there were a number of other factors, besides diet, that could have allowed our ancestors to remain free of disease. (As a note – their life span was in the 30-40 range.)
Experts ranked the diet the lowest out of 24 common diets in a 2012 survey, based on the fact that replicating such a diet in modern times is difficult and that research showing beneficial outcomes of the diet were small and/or of short duration. It is also important to mention that a number of researchers have argued over the actual macronutrient composition of a Paleolithic diet and how it relates to a lack of disease in those individuals who participate.
The commentary - The Paleo diet is one that can be used to lose weight in the immediate short term. With lots of lean proteins and healthy, natural carbohydrate and fat sources, along with the exclusion of processed foods, you can’t really go too wrong. As far as the overall health benefits in terms of being disease-free, studies thus far aren’t substantial enough and we don’t know enough about our ancestors to know their true health condition and the reasons for it. By cutting out dairy, you may avoid potentially dangerous additives and growth hormones, but you also lose beneficial bacteria in yogurt and high calcium that are in milk and cheese, for example. The diet requires a significant amount of discipline and is quite difficult to follow. However, if you can get the right amount of carbs, protein, and fat and follow a good exercise program, it can be helpful in losing weight quickly. Frankly, any diet which excludes processed foods the way the Paleo diet does, has got to be a step in the right direction at least from an ‘eliminating the bad’ dietary standpoint. Just be aware that some of the exclusions are also on the list of healthy recommendations from modern experts. I.e. grains and dairy.
*** Of course, please consult your physician before making any significant dietary changes.
Live well. Eat well.
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