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Ask Dr. Gourmet

Is the Paleo Diet a healthy diet?

Just wondering what you think about the Paleo Diet. My son, a physical therapist and a CrossFit trainer thinks it is a good diet. As I understand it, it goes a little further than just being a diet that will help those who need a gluten free diet.

Dr. Gourmet Says...

Asian-style beef with broccoli, perhaps a Paleo-style recipe

Interestingly, one of my mentors in college, Dr. Melvin Konner, was instrumental in the concept of this diet. He and a colleague published a book in the 1980s called The Paleolithic Prescription as a follow up to a paper published in The New England Journal of Medicine. Their study of fossilized feces led to the idea that we should be eating differently and that basically we should be eating meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, roots, and nuts while avoiding any grains, legumes, and dairy products. The diet is often referred to as the Cave Man Diet or the Hunter-Gatherer Diet.

Generally speaking it is a healthy diet, although many plans place more emphasis on meats (the hunter part) and less on the vegetables, fruits, roots and nuts (the gatherer part).

I will admit that I am not a fan of this diet. There is simply not much research to show that it is any more beneficial than other diet plans. The very small number of studies are encouraging in that the diet appears healthy, and in one study it does appear to be marginally better than Mediterranean style diet. Given that the diet might only be slightly better, I don't see a reason for people to give up whole grains or legumes. These have clearly been shown to offer benefits by reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke as well as helping to control blood sugars and improve cholesterol levels.

There are a lot of areas where the diet lacks balance, and many of the recent versions are low-carbohydrate diets with less than 25% of the calories from carbs. This is the area where most of the recent criticism of the diet lies. In spite of the lack of evidence and some of the low-carb versions, this is a reasonably healthy diet, as part of it is the exclusion of refined and processed foods and salt.

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS
Dr. Gourmet