The Caveman Question: Is “Paleo” the Way to Go? Pt. 2

In the first part of this article, we discussed the potential applicability of the paleo, or “caveman” diet for people with celiac disease. But as prevalent as celiac disease seems to be in our current society, the truth is that the majority of Paleo protégés have simply chosen to live like the hunter/gatherers of days gone by out of a desire to return to what they perceive as the natural biological preference and balance of the human body.

Although this indeed seems like a rigid way to proceed through life, it also may have some valid and documented health benefits. Scientists from the University of California studied nine adults as they consumed a diet consisting of lean meat, fruit, vegetables and nuts. After just 10 days, the researchers found that following a Paleo meal plan had reduced the subjects ‘blood pressure, improved their blood sugar control through increasing sensitivity to insulin, and reduced their blood levels of total cholesterol, LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol and triglycerides. The data suggests that eating this type of caveman-style diet could potentially be effective at combating the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Other anecdotal evidence points to the possibility that strict adherence to a Paleo plan may in fact confer many other significant health improvements, including increased alkalinity of the body, increased vascular elasticity, increased energy, and the normalization of hormone production. On a certain level, it is hard to argue completely against a meal plan that encourages the consumption of high-quality lean meats and eliminates calorie-dense and nutritionally “empty” refined carbohydrates.

A study published in the Journal of Animal Science detailed 10 major nutritional advantages of grass-fed beef over corn-fed beef. Cattle grazing entirely on grass produced beef that was shown to be lower in total fat but richer in omega-3s as well as CLA, a nutrient that facilitates the body’s ability to burn fat. Grass-fed beef is also higher in beta-carotene, vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, magnesium and potassium.

Another research study, whose data appears in the journal Animal Feed Science and Technology, showed that eggs from free-range hens contain 10 times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids as compared to eggs from factory hens. Quality protein aside, we also cannot discount the virtue of taking in more organic fruits, nuts and vegetables, knowing that this is a delicious way in which to boost fiber while kicking up the intake of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

If health and longevity truly are the motivating factors in adopting this lifestyle, we must take a long-term view of this popular meal plan, and with a critical eye. Dr. Áine O’Connor, nutrition scientist with the British Nutrition Foundation, warns us: “The Paleo diet… has limitations, namely by excluding certain food groups such as milk and dairy foods, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies in the long term…” Overall, the Paleo diet is not sustainable due to lack of variety and the potential for nutrient deficiencies.” This seems like prudent advice to pass along to our clients. In terms of special populations, too, the Paleo program proves challenging for vegans and vegetarians. Not only is it virtually impossible to follow such a diet without eating meat, seafood, or eggs; but high-quality vegetarian sources of protein, such as beans and other legumes, are strictly excluded.

In the final analysis, the benefits of a Paleo meal plan definitely exist. If one can create a diet that adheres closely to the tenets of our caveman cuisine, yet allows for amounts of the typically “forbidden” foods sufficient enough to avoid nutrient deficiencies, a happy medium might be reached that would increase the chances of a long and healthy life. In addition, it is vital to include the physical aspects of remaining healthy. In fact, rather than copying the eating habits of our forefathers, we might be better off to follow in their footsteps – literally -and lead a more active lifestyle, hunter/gatherer-style!

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These resources are for the purpose of personal trainer growth and development through Continuing Education which advances the knowledge of fitness professionals. This article is written for NFPT Certified Personal Trainers to receive Continuing Education Credit (CEC). Please contact NFPT at 800.729.6378 or [email protected] with questions or for more information.
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