Much Ado about Paleo—Take 2

by Lindsey Smith, doctoral student in nutrition epidemiology at UNC Chapel Hill

***Edit: Thanks to some helpful comments from our readers, I’ve updated this post to include some (but certainly not all) of the relevant literature regarding the Paleolithic diet. The objective of this post is not to draw conclusions about the inherent “goodness” or “badness” of this diet, but shed some light on what the diet is, review existing evidence and examine some of the premises of the underlying Paleo philosophy.***

The “Paleo” diet, short for Paleolithic, is poised to become the next fad diet of our generation, following in the footsteps of the low-fat craze of the 1990’s and the Atkins obsession of the ‘00’s. Blogs dedicated to “Paleo” living have sprung up across the internet faster than you can Google “coconut flour brownies,” and self-proclaimed experts are quick to deem this diet the “natural” way to lose weight.

So what’s up with this diet?

What is it?

Food allowances on this diet vary by source, but overall boil down to a single rule:

If cavemen didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t either.

OK:  meat, poultry, fish, healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, and nuts
Avoid: grains, legumes, processed foods, sugar, starch, dairy, salt, alcohol, coffee

No restrictions on energy or macronutrient (carb/fat/protein) intake, although this diet may be higher in  protein than the typical Western diet.

The claims? 

This diet is the healthiest because it is what our bodies were evolutionarily designed to consume, and works best with our genetic makeup to promote health and longevity. Advocates argue that our genes could not have evolved quickly enough to accommodate agriculturally-derived foods.  Paleo supporters also argue that eating a diet that is low in processed foods and refined starches prevents diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The evidence:

An informal review of the evidence presented in scientific articles, popular media, book reviews, and blogs appears to support a positive association between Paleo and health — but with some key caveats. Key points include:

–       Observational studies suggest associations with lower cardiovascular disease and associated risk factors (Lindeberg 1994; Lindeberg 2010)

–       Intervention trials have shown impressive results, including improved glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (Jonsson 2009)

–       May be more satiating than other types of diets (Jonsson 2010)

–       Proponents claim that all micronutrients can be obtained in sufficient levels in the Paleo diet; however, one analysis suggested that this diet could result in micronutrient deficiency for some consumers (Lindeberg 2010, Metzgar 2011).

Although the preliminary evidence is compelling, most of the intervention studies to date have been small and somewhat short-term.  More research on a larger, ethnically diverse sample would provide more information about the effectiveness of this diet in populations and whether this diet is sustainable. A second key point is that diets containing whole grains, legumes, dairy, and moderate alcohol (i.e. vegetarianism, the Mediterranean diet) have also been linked to improved cardio-metabolic health outcomes, although it is unclear which components of these diets are producing the effects.

cavemand turky

 The premises:

So, the evidence seems positive, but inconclusive. What about the premises behind “Paleo”? A few thoughts:

–       First, our ancestors did not live long enough to develop chronic disease, and so it is impossible to know whether these diets were more effective in promoting health and longevity. This isn’t to say that ancestral diets were better or worse: we simply cannot know how this diet affected health in the source population (i.e. our ancestors).

–       Reliance upon an “ancestral diet” requires arbitrarily selecting one set of ancestors along our evolutionary history. As Rob Dunn points out, most people link this “ancestral diet” to our most recent set of ancestors, the stone age cave-dwellers. In actuality, however, the human gut most likely evolved even earlier than these particular ancestors, during a time when most if not all of the diet was composed of vegetable matter and very little meat. ( Even the Neandertals, it turns out, may have eaten less meat than we think

–       Finally, some scholars have refuted the idea that humans could not have adapted to modern agricultural staples like grains and legumes, citing the rapid evolution of lactose tolerance (ie the ability to consume dairy) within the last 10,000 years. It is highly plausible that we have adapted to digest other recently introduced agricultural foods. Moreover, the timing of a food’s introduction should not be the main criteria upon which healthfulness is judged: after all, even tomatoes and Brussels sprouts haven’t been around that long—and no one is debating the nutritional quality of these foods.

Some lingering questions…

Undoubtedly, diets high in processed food and sugar are obesogenic, and if not consumed in moderation, can lead to a host of diet-related disease. However, the Paleo diet also bans foods that can very much be a part of a nutritious diet. The Paleo diet does not necessarily equal a better diet: choosing high fat meats, replacing refined sugars with syrups or fruit sugars, or simply consuming excess calories can promote weight gain and set dieters up for  nutritional deficits, including vitamin D and calcium. In addition, “banning” foods of any kind can be troublesome, potentially fostering unhealthy eating behaviors and mindsets and for some. I wonder if perhaps a mindset of moderation wouldn’t be more healthy (and sustainable) in the long run?

Another key danger of diets like Paleo is that by labeling a food “Paleo,” dieters may think they can consume unlimited amounts of that food. Many blogs tout “Paleo-fied” desserts, which use coconut flour, agave, or maple syrup as a replacement for wheat flour and sugar. As with anything, a dessert by any other name is still….well, a dessert. Wouldn’t it be better to decide what to eat based on the nutrition content of a given food, rather than whether it falls in some allowed or banned food group category?

The verdict:
Certainly, eating a diet low in processed foods, low sugars, and unhealthy fats is intuitively more ideal than the Western diet. The evidence so far seems supportive, and for some people, following a prescribed set of rules can make it easier to eat healthfully.
However, this diet smacks closely of other popular diets which have failed to meet muster over the years. Too many people have been led astray by jumping on the proverbial bandwagon before the evidence base is fully complete; and sometimes these fads cause more harm than good. The key example is the low-fat craze of the 90’s, when the call (by nutrition scientists) to reduce diet fat resulted in a tremendous shift to low-fat and fat-free products that subbed in sugar for the fat to retain the flavor and feel. People thought that you couldn’t get fat if you didn’t eat fat, and continued to eat refined carbohydrates in unprecedented amounts. I fear the same thing could happen with Paleo, or any diet that restricts food groups without considering calories. As for the evidence?  I think that only time will tell…

What do you think?



Cunningham E. Question of the Month: Are Diets from Paleolithic Times Relevant Today? Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2012.

Eaton SB. The ancestral human diet: what was it and should it be a paradigm for contemporary nutrition. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 2006. 65:1-6.

Frassetto LA, Schloetter M, Mietus-Synder M, Morris Jr RC, Sebastian A. Metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet.

Lindeberg 2009. Modern human physiology with respect to evolutionary adaptations that relate to diet in the past. In: Richards MP, Hublin JJ, editors. The evolution of hominin diets: integrating approaches to the study of Palaeolitich subsistence. Berlin/Heidelberg: Elsevier. P 43-57.

Lindeberg S, Jonsson T, Granfelt Y, Borgstrand E, Soffman J, Sjostrom K, et al. A Palaeolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individual with ischemic heart disease. Diabetologia 2007. 50:1795-807.

Lindeberg S 2010. Food and Western disease—health and nutrition from an evolutionary perspective. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Lindeberg S. Paleolitich Diets as a Model for Prevention and Treatment of Western Disease. American Journal of Human Biology 2012. 24:110-115.

Metzgar M, Rideout Tc, Fontes-Villalba M, Kuipers RS. The feasibility of a Paleolithic diet for low-income consumers. Nutrition Research 2011. 31:44-451.

Osterdahl M, Koeturk T, Koocheck A, Wandell PE. Effects of a short-term intervention with a paleolithic diet in healthy volunteers. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2007. 62:682-685.


Photo credits:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

80 thoughts on “Much Ado about Paleo—Take 2

  1. I was very happy to find this website. I want to to thank you for
    your time just for this fantastic read!! I definitely really liked every part of it
    and i also have you book-marked to check out new things in your blog.

  2. Hey there! I’ve been following your weblog for some time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Porter Tx! Just wanted to say keep up the great work!

  3. When I initially left a comment I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on
    each time a comment is added I get 4 emails with
    the exact same comment. Perhaps there is a way you can remove me from that service?
    Thank you!

  4. western culture have a fast life, they do not have enough time for a happy life,so they looking for a alternative of everything they searched everything on net.term like “weightloss”,”paleo diet” are 95%-100% all search based in usa only.

  5. I go to see every day a few web pages and blogs to read posts, however this webpage provides quality based posts.

  6. Pingback: Much Ado About Paleo | Lindsey P. Smith

  7. We absolutely love your blog and find a lot of your post’s to be just what I’m looking for.
    Do you offer guest writers to write content available for you?
    I wouldn’t mind publishing a post or elaborating on some of the subjects you
    write concerning here. Again, awesome site!

  8. Just what exactly seriously encouraged you to write “Much Ado about Paleo-Take 2
    | Carolina Nutrition Digest”? Ireally liked the post! Thanks a lot ,Cathleen

    Here is my web site :: Kelly

  9. Good article Lindsey. The key is that Paleo provide a framework for people to get healthy. I went Paleo in about a year ago lost 35lbs. I have maintained my weight loss to date. I have reduced my risk or eliminated symptoms for heart disease, diabetes, fatty liver, and high blood pressure.

  10. Teffy–

    That is great! Congratulations and glad to hear it. I am not a registered dietitian nor an MD, but my impression is that the best diet is one you’ll actually stick to. Paleo is certainly much healthier than the traditional Western diet, full of processed foods and refined carbs, and I think it provides a nice framework, as you say: a set of rules that are relatively obtainable, that people can make sense of. I’m glad it worked for you!

  11. Good article Lindsey. The key is that Paleo provide a framework for people to get healthy. I went Paleo in about a year ago lost 35lbs. I have maintained my weight loss to date. I have reduced my risk or eliminated symptoms for heart disease, diabetes, fatty liver, and high blood pressure. Paleo Diet Recipes

  12. You’re so interesting! I do not think I’ve truly read through something like this before.
    So nice to discover somebody with some unique thoughts on this topic.
    Seriously.. thanks for starting this up. This
    website is something that’s needed on the internet, someone with
    a bit of originality!

    My website – reviews desktop computers []

  13. Good day! I know this is kinda off topic nevertheless I’d figured I’d
    ask. Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest writing a blog post or vice-versa?
    My website discusses a lot of the same subjects as yours and
    I feel we could greatly benefit from each other. If you happen to be interested feel free to
    send me an email. I look forward to hearing from you!
    Excellent blog by the way!

  14. Hmm is anyone else having problems with the pictures on this blog
    loading? I’m trying to determine if its a problem on
    my end or if it’s the blog. Any feed-back would be greatly appreciated.

  15. With havin so much content do you ever run into any issues of plagorism or copyright violation?
    My blog has a lot of unique content I’ve either authored myself
    or outsourced but it looks like a lot of it is popping it up all over the internet without my agreement.
    Do you know any methods to help stop content
    from being ripped off? I’d genuinely appreciate it.

  16. That is the suitable weblog for anybody who wants to seek out out about this topic. You realize so much its almost exhausting to argue with you (not that I really would need�HaHa). You undoubtedly put a brand new spin on a subject thats been written about for years. Great stuff, just great!

  17. Greetings from Ohio! I’m bored to tears at work so I decided to browse
    your site on my iphone during lunch break. I love the information you provide here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home.
    I’m amazed at how quick your blog loaded on my mobile ..
    I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyways, wonderful blog!


    علاج ادمان المخدرات,مصحات نفسية,علاج
    الادمان,علاج ادمان الهيروين,علاج ادمان الحشيش,علاج ادمان الترامادول,مراكز علاج الادمان فى مصر,مراكز علاج
    الادمان,علاج إدمان الكحول,مستشفيات علاج
    الادمان,مصحة علاج ادمان,علاج ادمان الكبتاجون,مركز علاج ادمان,علاج أعراض الادمان,علاج ادمان العقاقير,مركز
    إعادة التأهيل,علاج اعراض الانسحاب,علاج الامراض النفسية,الطب النفسي,اعراض انسحاب المخدرات,علاج الترامادول,

    دار الصفوة لعلاج الإدمان من أرقى مراكز علاج الادمان في مصر والشرق والاوسط
    ولديه الخبره في علاج الادمان
    حيث لدية فريق خبره من الاطباء والمعالجين في
    علاج جميع انواع الادمان وتعاطي المخدرات وعلاج اعراض
    انسحاب المخدرات بدون ألم …

  19. I think, the paleo diet is the modern way of diet these days. I wrote about this kind of paleo topics already on my <a href="; rel="nofollow" Paleo Diet Blog

    I know this paleo diet is working well if we implement it with the right way.

  20. I think, the paleo diet is the modern way of diet these days. I wrote about this kind of paleo topics already on my blog:

    I know this paleo diet is working well if we implement it with the right way.

    PS: Sorry for the double post. My connections suck right here. Please delete my first comment above. Thank you

  21. Useful info. Fortunate me I discovered your website unintentionally, and I’m surprised
    why this coincidence did not took place earlier! I bookmarked it.

    Look at my blog post Colon Cleanse complete And Premium
    garcinia –

  22. The other day, while I was at work, my cousin stole my iphone and tested to see
    if it can survive a forty foot drop, just so she can be
    a youtube sensation. My iPad is now destroyed and she has 83 views.
    I know this is completely off topic but I had to share it
    with someone!

    My web page … Order Muscle Max

  23. I loved as much as you’ll receive carried out right here.
    The sketch is tasteful, your authored material
    stylish. nonetheless, you command get got an impatience over that
    you wish be delivering the following. unwell unquestionably come further formerly again as
    exactly the same nearly a lot often inside case you shield
    this increase.

    Feel free to surf to my blog post: (

  24. Hi this is somewhat of off topic but I was wondering if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually
    code with HTML. I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding experience so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience.
    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    Feel free to surf to my website: muscle growth pills

  25. Hello fantastic website! Does running a blog similar to this require a lot of
    work? I have no understanding of programming but I was hoping to start my own blog soon. Anyhow, if
    you have any ideas or tips for new blog owners please share.
    I understand this is off subject but I just wanted to ask.
    Thank you!

    Here is my page :: anti wrinkles cream

  26. Heya great blog! Does running a blog like this take a lot of work?
    I’ve virtually no understanding of programming however I was hoping to start my own blog in the near future.
    Anyway, should you have any recommendations or tips for new blog owners please share.
    I understand this is off topic however I just needed to ask.

    Here is my site – Online Profit Stream reviews

  27. I’m really enjoying the theme/design of your web site. Do you ever run into
    any internet browser compatibility problems? A few
    of my blog visitors have complained about my site not operating correctly in Explorer
    but looks great in Safari. Do you have any recommendations to help fix this problem?

    My blog post; Formula T10 review

  28. Woah! I’m really loving the template/theme of this site.

    It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s difficult to get that “perfect balance” between usability and visual appearance.
    I must say you’ve done a very good job with this.
    Also, the blog loads very fast for me on Firefox. Exceptional Blog!

    my homepage – muscle X max supplement

  29. Please let me know if you’re looking for a article writer for your blog.
    You have some really good articles and I believe
    I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the
    load off, I’d love to write some material for your blog in exchange for a link back to
    mine. Please shoot me an email if interested. Cheers!

    My webpage – testosterone enhancer

  30. Howdy! This is kind of off topic but I need some advice from an established blog.
    Is it tough to set up your own blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty
    fast. I’m thinking about setting up my own but I’m not sure where to begin. Do you
    have any points or suggestions? Appreciate it

  31. Many thanks for your facts mas, very nice weblog. Looked forward to pay a visit to our blog driving throughout controlled E-BOOK INVOLVING IT IS

  32. Hey I am so grateful I found your site, I really found you by
    error, while I was looking on Askjeeve for something else,
    Anyways I am here now and would just like to say kudos for a marvelous post and a all round exciting blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have
    time to go through it all at the minute but I have book-marked it and also added your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read more, Please do keep up the great work.

  33. This is really interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger.

    I’ve joined your rss feed and look forward to
    seeking more of your fantastic post. Also, I’ve shared your site in my
    social networks!

  34. It iis the best ime tto mzke some plans foor the futurde andd it’s tie to bee happy.
    I hage rad this post andd if I could I ddesire too sggest you feww
    interestin thinys orr advice. Perhaps you could write next articles refeerring to this article.
    I wisxh tto read eben morfe things aboout it!

    my webpage; comment, Kathy,

  35. Hwe each! since most you mind if we are going to share your blog with my fb group? There’s a lot of people that i had been think follow really enjoy your content. ! . ! accomplish let me know- Cheers

  36. Just wish to say your article is as surprising. The
    clarity in your post is just cool and i can assume you’re an expert on this subject.

    Well with your permission let me to grab your feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post.

    Thanks a million and please carry on the gratifying work.

  37. Itts like you read my mind! You seem to understand so much about this, such as
    you wote the e-book in it or something. I think that you just could do with a few percdent to power the message house a bit, but other than that, this is
    excellent blog. An excellent read. I will certainly be back.

    my weblog {buy google followers; Maurice,

  38. Great site. A lot of helpful info here. I am sending it to a few pals ans also sharing in delicious.

    And certainly, thanks for your effort!

  39. Excellent way of telling, and fastidious piece of writing to obtain information on the topic
    of my presentation topic, which i am going to convey in university.

Comments are closed.