You walked into the office this morning patting yourself on the back for starting the day with whole grain cereal and soy milk in place of the office donuts you usually scarf down. You're basically the picture of health, right?
But what if we told you according to the widely-praised paleo diet, you've got it all wrong?
The paleo diet, also referred to as "the caveman diet," has become one of the most popular and most talked about diets in recent years, with advocates claiming it helps with everything from weight loss to a laundry list of medical ailments.
What is it?
The paleo diet, short for Paleolithic, is based off a hunter-gatherer mentality: eat a diet consisting of real, whole foods like grass-fed meat, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and healthy fats. Think of it as “getting back to the basics” -- consuming the kinds of foods humans were forced to subsist on for most of history.
This means all grains, dairy, legumes, soy, processed foods, refined sugars, most carbs and all other foods that weren’t available in the cave-dwelling days are totally off the menu.
What’s the reasoning?
Proponents of the diet theorize that for hundreds of thousands of years, humans ate in a way that’s completely different than how we do today. Over time, our modern nutrition modes have brought on many negative consequences including stress, obesity, diabetes, poor digestion and myriad other issues.
The solution, according to paleo supporters, is plain and simple: to return to our roots.
Advocates maintain experiencing marked improvement in overall health, including an increase in energy, mental activity and physical strength. It’s also been touted as an incredible way to drop pounds the healthy way without the help of any fad diets that aren’t realistic or sustainable.
There are also some people who turn to the paleo lifestyle out of complete necessity for medical reasons, as it’s been found to help successfully manage a long list of conditions, including digestive issues like colitis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome as well as autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis. People with sensitivities and allergies to gluten or lactose also claim to benefit greatly.
Does it really work?
As with all diets, there are strong believers and total naysayers.
A three month study published in 2009 found lower blood sugars and blood pressure and higher HDL cholesterol, or good cholesterol, in participants with diabetes eating a paleo diet. A 2013 two year trial found obese, post-menopausal women lost a considerable amount of weight on the paleo diet, and yet another long-term study from Sweden found that triglycerides (the type of blood fat that raises your risk for heart disease) plummeted among its paleo subjects.
However, there are also studies and experts that lean the opposite way. By dropping main food groups like dairy and grains, many nutritionists maintain people might be doing more harm than good. In an interview with TIME Magazine, Stephanie Maxson, senior clinical dietician at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, says there just isn’t enough research-backed reasons to cut out certain foods. “These foods provide many nutrients that have been shown over and over again to be beneficial for optimal health,” Maxon told TIME.
The amount of meat consumption required to maintain a paleo lifestyle is also concerning to some medical experts. A 2012 study found consuming red meat was associated with an increased risk of heart disease, cancer and mortality.
Should you try it?
If you’ve been suffering from frustrating symptoms like fatigue, joint pain, bloating or upset stomach, or if you've been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, many sources point to getting to the root of the problem to find relief: changing your diet. Anti-inflammatory diets have been very successful in reversing the damage of auto-immune disorders.
Lupus, for example, is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that can affect multiple parts of the body including the various organ systems. Doctors can be quick to write prescriptions to manage symptoms, but these medications can cause more serious problems and complications. Many patients choose to help manage their disease by adopting an anti-inflammatory diet like the paleo diet.
Even if you don't suffer from any medical issues, you may be tempted to give the diet a go as a safe way to drop pounds. But should you choose to take the paleo plunge, be prepared for a few side effects; whenever you drastically change your diet your body will react. When you abruptly slash your intake of carbs when you’re used to consuming them daily, you might experience some nausea or headaches.
If you’re considering making the switch, there are tons of incredible recipes available that won’t make you feel like you’re depriving yourself. Click through the gallery below for a taste of your potential new paleo menu.