Social media is utilized more and more often as a primary method to market health information. Often it can be difficult to discern credible sources online, and misinformation is easily spread with the click of a button. As new food and nutrition trends become indisputably fashionable, it seems dietitians are needed now more than ever to evaluate a variety of health claims. One new pattern of eating, which has exploded in popularity over the past 10 years is the Paleo diet. (1).
The Paleo diet, also known as the Stone Age or Caveman diet, gets its name from the Paleolithic Period of the Stone Age. The basic premise of this diet is that we should eat like our ancestors, who had to hunt or gather their food (2). The Paleolithic Period itself is an imprecise timeline, ranging from 2.6 million to 10,000 years ago and is focused mainly on a pre-agricultural time period (3). This extended timeline provides no clear idea or evidence of what this diet consisted of. Foods eaten during this period would have ranged hugely, depending on the species, location and climate (4). The food today is not at all the same as two million years ago, not to mention the nutritional content and quality would be completely different, making it impossible to follow the exact same diet (5). The authors supporting this diet glorify it by comparing it to our modern fast food diets rather than the current recommendations for healthy eating (2). Over the years, extensive research has been done to develop nutrition recommendations which correspond to the needs of our evolved bodies. Not only does the Paleo diet contain many flaws in its description of an individual’s macronutrient needs, there has been very little research and therefore, no scientific evidence to support this eating pattern (6). In addition to the high amount of total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol this provides, there are concerns that individuals who follow this diet in the long term are at risk for specific vitamin and mineral deficiencies, including calcium, vitamin D, antioxidants and even fiber (6).
The Paleo diet can best be defined as a fad diet as it breaches more than one of the “10 Red Flags for Fad Diets” (7), such as the promise of a quick fix, including statements which are refuted by reputable scientific organizations and recommendations of products such as books and cookbooks (7). In addition to these, the Paleo diet tends to label foods as either good or bad. “Bad foods” include whole grains, dairy and beans, which have been shown to have hugely beneficial impacts on heart health in numerous studies on this topic (6).
Of course, as with most trendy diets, there are some useful suggestions such as focusing on fresh, whole foods such as fruits and vegetables. The majority of Paleo diet recommendations suggest lean protein as well as limiting (but not omitting) processed foods, refined grains and sugars. But then again, how is this much different from any sensible eating plan or even Canada’s Food Guide? The bottom line is that cavemen likely ate everything that crossed their path as food was scarce. Now, with almost unlimited access to food, it is our eating behaviors that need to change, not the food. If you’re contemplating making diet changes for heart health, consider eating patterns such as the OmniHeart, Mediterranean or vegetarian diet. These diets have been rigorously tested through research and have found that the emphasis of plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruit, beans, peas, lentils, and unprocessed whole grains in the diet makes a positive impact on the health of Homo sapiens (8,9,10,11).
Here is an example of what a typical day eating Paleo diet might look like (12):
• Broiled salmon (12 oz.)
• Cantaloupe (1 ¾ cups)
• Broiled lean pork loin (3 oz.)
• Salad—lettuce (1 ½ cups), carrots (½ cup), cucumbers (¾ cup), tomatoes (1 ⅓ cups), walnuts (5 halves), lemon juice (2 Tbsp.)
• Lean sirloin tip roast (8 oz.)
• Steamed broccoli (3 cups)
• Salad—mixed greens (3 cups), tomato (¾cup), avocado (½ cup), almonds (35), onions (¼ cup), lemon juice (2 Tbsp.)
• Strawberries (1 cup) for dessert
• Orange (½)
• Carrots (¾cup)
• Celery (1 cup)
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3. Smith MD. Way to go, paleo! Better Nutrition. 2009 10;71(10):52-3.
4. Lietava J, Thurzo M, Dukat A. Paleodiet and its relation to atherosclerosis. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1997 Sep 20;827:382-91.
5. The modern take on the paleo diet: Is it grounded in science? Environmental Nutrition. 2010 01;33(1):7-.
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7. Unknown, Fad Diets: What You May Be Missing. BWH Nutrition’s Health-e-Weight for Women. Updated 2011 October [cited 2014 January 23]; Available from:
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10. Castro-Quezada I, Román-Viñas B, Serra-Majem L. The mediterranean diet and nutritional adequacy: a review. Nutrients. 2014;1:231-48.
11. Appel, L.J., Sacks, F.M., Carey, V.J., Obarzanek, E., Swain, J.F., Miller, E.R., Conlin, P.R., Erlinger, T.P., Rosner, B.A., Laranjo, N.M., Charleston, J. , McCarron, P., Bishop, L.M. (2005). Effects of protein, monounsaturated17 fat and carbohydrate intake on blood pressure and serum lipids: Results of the OmniHeart randomized trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 295(19), 2455-2464
12. Paleo in Comparison: How Healthy is the Paleo Diet? Nutrition Action. Updated 2013 December [cited 2014 January 26];Available from: