Paleo diet: pros and cons of the Palaeolithic diet
In recent years a revolutionary diet has emerged that aims to return us humans to our origins. It is the palaeo diet, also known as the cave age diet, when the first men were hunter-gatherers and were totally connected with nature. Other specialists prefer to call it "evolutionary nutrition" to go beyond the concept of "palaeo" launched by its promoter, Dr. Loren Cordain.
This diet has its defenders and detractors, although most specialists consider it a good starting point to stay lean, strong and energetic provided you avoid dogmatisms. The palaeo diet is based on consuming fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, fish and seafood, lean meats and healthy fats. The foods to be avoided are dairy products, legumes, cereals, processed foods, sugars, starches and alcohol.
Once you know the list of products that should not be eaten it is easy to guess where the great controversy of this nutritional method lies. Our mothers and grandmothers have taught us for centuries that legumes are very good for physical and mental development, which can be extended to cereals and dairy products. However, advocates of this diet point out that both foods have more cons than pros, so they should be avoided.
Legumes, cereals and dairy products forbidden
Let's start with the legumes. The supporters of this diet say that they are not a good source of protein, that they are difficult to digest (and therefore do not allow the correct absorption of nutrients) and that they contain high levels of phytates and lectins that are bad for our health.
As for cereals, the main criticism of the defenders of the palaeo diet is that they contain gluten, a trace that no human digestive system can digest and that in some people generates allergy. This is also a food with few minerals and vitamins; cereals have a high glycaemic index (excess sugar) and favour non-consumption of other sources of healthier carbohydrates.
And dairy products, the other great enemy of the defenders of this "evolutionary nutrition", are persecuted for the indigestion of the lactose, the increase in insulin that they generate and, most surprisingly for the uninitiated, that being poor in magnesium and vitamin C, they do not favour the absorption of calcium. This is why those who promote this type of diet - which is a rage among crossfit practitioners - believe that the only way to strengthen bones is through physical exercise.
People who follow this diet ensure that they avoid the hyperglycaemia and hypoglycaemia peaks (reducing the risk of diabetes), avoid auto-immune diseases, are less likely to suffer cardiovascular problems, lose weight, are satiated eating smaller quantities, sleep better, reduce inflammations (with and without injuries) and improve their skin’s condition, all by eating less chemicals, sugars, harmful fats and salts.
What do the detractors of the palaeo diet think?
Now that you know the position of the defenders of the palaeo diet it is time to know what its detractors think. There is a great stream of specialists that not only questions the effectiveness of this nutrition system, but also considers it to be detrimental to health. The high consumption of meat and the rejection of carbohydrates are the main factors used by critics in rejecting this type of diet.
A recent study by the University of Chicago supports the thesis of the critics by scientifically demonstrating that the development of the human brain, and therefore the germ of evolution, occurred thanks to the consumption of large amounts of starch and carbohydrates present in cereals.
The team of researchers led by Dr. Karen Hardy points out that the substitution of the vegetarian diet for another more intensive in cereal consumption was fundamental for humans, especially when they were cooked allowing the starch to be transformed into glucose, serving as fuel for the cavemen’s ever-increasing energy needs.
"Up to now there has been a lot of attention paid to the role that animal protein and cooking have played in the development of the human brain over the past two million years, and the importance of carbohydrates, especially in the form of starchy foods, has been totally overlooked,” Dr. Hardy explained in the presentation of the study.
It is not the only academic work to question the palaeo diet. Another work published by the University of Sydney reveals that diets low in protein and high in carbohydrates increase body’s levels of a hormone (FGF21) to which multiple health effects are attributed, longevity among them.
Now that you know the pros and cons of “evolutionary nutrition” you have enough elements of judgment to know whether it suits you, although it is best to go to a specialist before doing any type of diet. Only then will you know the effect it has on your health.