Alright, Cavemen and Cavewoman. Let’s discuss what it’s like hunting, gathering, and, wait… I forgot it’s 2018, and most of us go to Whole Foods. So let’s talk about the evidence-based medical disadvantages of the paleo diet instead.
What is the paleo diet? Paleo is meant to mimic the food society ate prior to the Agricultural Revolution (a mere 333 generations ago). On this diet, you can eat meat, fish, eggs, some fruit and vegetables, nuts, and oils. You can’t eat processed foods and dairy (I like this!), but you also can’t eat beans, potatoes, grains, wheat, rice, barley (I do not like this!). While it is possible to follow a paleo vegan diet, it comes with restrictions. Let’s go over my three main reasons why you should ditch paleo and go plant-based for the health benefits.
What Paleo gets right: Fruits and vegetables
The one positive aspect of the paleo diet is that it eliminates processed foods, dairy and added sugars from the diet, and encourages increasing your fruit and vegetable intake (albeit, only certain types). Although I am thrilled with the idea of patients cutting out dairy and processed foods, you can do this EVEN better with a whole food, plant-based diet, which not only eliminates all animal products, but has also been proven to reduce one’s risk of various forms of chronic disease, but also prevents early death. Additionally, the paleo diet also cuts out one of the healthiest foods in the world: legumes.
According to the PURE study, a recent prospective cohort analysis of over 135,000 individuals across varying demographics, regular consumption of fruit, vegetable, and legume was associated with lower risk for major cardiovascular disease, myocardial infarction, cardiovascular mortality, non-cardiovascular mortality, and total mortality. This is further backed by recent research released by the World Cancer Research fund in which it was found that cutting out red and processed meats, along with other animal products, can reduce one’s risk of cancer by at least 40 percent while eating a diet rich in whole, plant-based foods can help prevent disease.
A High Animal Protein Diet Increases Risk of Heart Disease
While the paleo diet encourages eating a lot of fresh produce, the strong emphasis on meat comes with several health risks. Regardless of the type of “free-range” meat that you consume (which is never truly “free” of anything, by the way), evidence shows us that the more animal products you consume, the higher your risk for many chronic diseases. A large prospective cohort study of over 130,000 individuals published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) demonstrated that high animal protein intake was associated with increased risk cardiovascular mortality while high plant protein intake reduced the risk of cardiovascular mortality and general mortality. Evidence shows that even small steps towards reducing meat consumption have health benefits: replacing just as a low as three percent of calories of animal protein with plant-based protein was associated with living longer.
Of course, one of the most cited studies by Caldwell Esselstyn followed 198 patients counseled to follow a whole food, plant-based diet. Of the patients that were adherent to a whole foods, plant-based diet, only 0.04 percent had a major cardiac event, whereas a whopping 62 percent of the nonadherent meat-consuming patients had major cardiac events: including bypass surgery, stroke, heart attacks, and sudden death.
Why Grains Are Good
With all of the above being restricted on the paleo diet, many people following this diet are missing out on the many healthful benefits of whole grain foods. A large study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who replaced one daily serving of red meat with whole grains reduced their risk of mortality by 20 percent. Those who ate at least 28 grams of whole grains a day had a 5 percent lower total mortality over the study period, and a 9 percent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular-disease-related death, than people who ate little or no whole grains during the course of the study.
The conclusion: Although the paleo diet encourages cutting out dairy and processed foods, it’s time to take the leap and cut out animal products to completely to optimize your health and wellness. Forget the carbohydrate restriction, “grass fed” bison, and animal products of any kind — eat plants, and live your heathiest and most compassionate life