Paleo Diet Benefits
While every person is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all diet, there are many reported and studied paleo diet benefits that are worth discussing. In this article, I will look at some of them.
Focusing on vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, fruit, nuts and seeds – all of which are nutrient-dense foods – it’s no surprise that the Paleo diet has so many positive effects on one’s health and wellbeing.
Below is a list of known benefits that I have collated from my reader’s and program’s participants, existing studies, books and articles. I talk about paleo as a nutrient-dense diet, its effect on weight loss and digestion, share my personal experience and even look at some side effects you should know about.
This is just a simple overview and if you’re after more geeky science reading, check out the list of science and research on Robb Wolf’s website.
You eat unprocessed, real food
This is the #1 thing I love about the paleo diet. It focuses on real, whole foods shunning most processed ingredients and anything from the junk aisle of the supermarket. Therefore, you automatically eliminate a whole range of preservatives, hidden sugars, sodium, additives, colouring, and artificial flavours. This means fewer toxins and chemicals in your body.
Plus, the focus of the diet is on quality and sources of the food – grass-fed beef, wild fish, free-range eggs and organic produce when possible – which means you get in more nutrients, the food tastes better and you support good farming practices. See what you can eat on the paleo diet here.
Paleo diet is rich in nutrients
One of the misconceptions about the Paleo diet is that because you eliminate things like grains, legumes and most dairy, you are going to miss out on nutrients. On the contrary, by consuming more nutrient-dense animal protein, seafood and eggs and replacing refined pasta, bread and rice with more vegetables, healthy fats, nuts, seeds, berries and fruit, you are actually going to consume more minerals and vitamins. Plus, by avoiding gut-irritating grains and legumes, most people experience improved gut health and increased nutrient absorption.
Like with any diet, it is easy to lose balance so it’s important to eat a variety of protein, vegetables and fats rather than focusing on the same foods over and over again. On average, when done right, the paleo diet provides all the nutrients you need.
PALEO & weight loss
Paleo diet is naturally lower in carbohydrates and sugar than most traditional Western diets. This helps to regulate metabolism, lowers blood sugar, improves gut health and reduces systemic inflammation. Aided by better sleep and stress management – both key paleo lifestyle goals – these changes help to burn off stored body fat naturally and sustainably.
Most people experience weight loss and muscle growth while eating a paleo diet and keeping an active lifestyle. You can expect to lose 1-2 lb / 0.5 -1kg per week, depending on your starting weight, height and gender. For me personally, paleo has been great for keeping my healthy weight for the past 6-7 years without feeling like I deprive myself (read more about my personal approach below).
Improved digestion & Reduced bloating
Paleo diet avoids many foods that contain compounds known to negatively affect the digestive tract. For many people, the culprits of their digestive issues include excess sugar, dairy, legumes and gluten. These foods are excluded from the paleo diet, resulting in improved symptoms. Plenty of plant fibre from vegetables and fruit ensures the gut flora is kept in tip-top shape and most people report improvements to their toilet habits (if you know what I mean).
For me personally, I know this is the case because my digestion is at its best when I eat as close to the paleo guidelines as possible and whenever I eat pasta, legumes or too much dairy, I notice almost instant bloating followed by a less than desirable toilet experience. Sorry about the details but we’re on the topic!
SATIATION & HUNGER CONTROL
Familiar with the feeling of hangry? It’s the combination of hungry+angry, which is a common symptom for many people suffering from acute or chronic hyperglycemia. This also happens when the blood sugar drops and the person gets a rapid onset of hunger accompanied by irritability, fatigue, disorientation, and a foggy mind.
Paleo meals consist of more protein and fat, which are both very satiating and provide long-lasting energy. Being lower in carbohydrates, the paleo diet teaches the body to use those macronutrients more efficiently instead of relying on glucose from carbohydrates for fuel. I remember the days of eating toast with jam or a muffin and a coffee for breakfast and then feeling ravenous just a couple of hours later, resulting in needless snacking before lunch. When I eat protein and fat-rich paleo breaky of eggs and avocado, I am happily satiated until 1 pm.
In addition, the carbohydrates you do consume, come from fibre-rich vegetables and fruit, meaning that the glucose is utilised more slowly. As a result, the blood sugar levels stay stable and you rarely experience energy drops; hunger develops gradually without the crazy mood swings.
Paleo is rich in healthy fats
For many years, we’ve been told that fat (especially saturated fat) is bad for us. Yet, our body needs fat to thrive. Fat is essential for maintaining healthy arteries, brain function, healthy skin, as well as decreasing systemic inflammation. We are finally starting to understand that dietary fats are in fact very healthy, especially when they come from the right sources.
Paleo diet encourages consumption of good fats: saturated fat from grass-fed meat, wild fish and seafood, ghee, and coconuts; lots of monounsaturated fat from olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds; and, a small number of polyunsaturated fats. A healthier ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s fatty acids is commonly observed in those following the paleo diet (less processed food and hydrogenated, vegetable oils + more fish and leafy greens) and evil trans fats are very rare.
I laugh when I think about how scared I used to be of anything fatty. I only bought low-fat cheese, skim milk and non-fat yoghurt (full of sugar!) and I even remember cooking some ham in water in a frying pan instead of using bacon. I feel like I missed out on so much goodness. Now I embrace oily fish, olive oil, butter and avocados, and full-fat Greek yoghurt.
REPORTED PALEO DIET BENEFITS
Here are the most common benefits based on testimonials and feedback from my readers over the last few years.
- Increased and more stable energy levels
- Improved sleep
- Clearer skin and healthier looking hair
- Mental clarity
- Improved mood and attitude
- Improvements in those suffering depression or anxieties
- Less or no bloating, decreased gas
- Sustained weight loss
- Muscle growth; increased fitness
- Lowered risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer
- Higher immune function and a general feeling of well being
- Improved glucose tolerance; decreased insulin secretion and increased insulin sensitivity
- Improved lipid profiles
- Healthier gut flora
- Better absorption of nutrients from food
- Reduced allergies
- Paleo diet is anti-inflammatory, most people experience a reduction of pain associated with inflammation
- Improvements in those with respiratory problems such as asthma
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
One thing I have to note is that while it’s a good idea to try the paleo diet for 30 days as a way to reset and find out how you feel using this dietary approach, you can still experience many of the below benefits if you use Paleo principles as a guide.
Personally, I don’t eat paleo all the time. I do a strict paleo reset from time to time but I mostly follow an 80/20 rule and occasionally eat sourdough bread and ice cream. I realise that not everyone can due to allergies or sensitivities but this works for me.
Ever since I decided to eat this way, I’ve been doing regular health checkups and full blood works and for the past 6-7 years, I’ve always had great results from eating more or less paleo, staying active and spending time outdoors. When I eat well, I have so much energy!!! I wake up feeling good and chirpy, I sleep better and deeper, my skin is clearer, and I have so much more mental clarity. I am almost 40 but I am fitter than I was in my 20s’.
Are there any negative effects?
Many people who start following a paleo diet report that they experience initial detox and readjustment symptoms such as headaches, fatigue and digestive changes. These usually pass within 5-7 days. Some even experience flu-like symptoms (known as the carb-flu) when their body consumes fewer carbohydrates. Staying hydrated and increasing sodium will help to reduce such symptoms.
Some might experience digestive issues due to increased fibre consumption (e.g. eating more vegetables than they used) or from introducing fermented foods. Increased fat consumption might initially affect stool texture and regularity. Most digestion-related symptoms tend to level out after a couple of weeks.
Carbohydrate intake is another factor that can vary between individuals. Some women may experience hormonal imbalances if they don’t consume enough carbohydrates, in which case an increase in starchy vegetables and fruit (and even rice) is recommended. Others tend to do better with fewer carbs.
Overall, paleo is a dietary framework that anyone can build upon. It’s not meant to fix every issue and it’s not designed to suit everybody. You have to try it for a few weeks and see how YOU feel.
How long before I see results?
Based on the hundreds of testimonials from the people who have done my paleo plan, most report experiencing increased energy, fewer cravings, and better sleep with the first week. Weight loss is usually reported after 7 days and continues steadily until you hit your ideal, healthy weight. Improvements to digestion, gut health and inflammation can take anywhere between 1-2 weeks to a few months, depending on the base condition.
Some people tend to overindulge in paleo desserts or too many nuts and dried fruit or their caloric intake or portion sizes are way too big for their energy expenditure. These factors can set you back when it comes to weight loss. Others might have severe underlying issues such as autoimmune conditions and microbiome imbalances, which require further dietary and lifestyle fine-tuning.
IS THE PALEO DIET FOR ME?
Well, the only person who can answer that question is you.
What I can tell you is that the paleo diet has done amazing things for a lot of people and it is a great way to eat more nutrient-dense foods. I think that the paleo label can deter some people from trying this way of eating, but I seriously don’t see any downsides in giving it a go.
While I no longer eat paleo all the time, I am extremely grateful for what it has taught me about nutrition and about my own body. I want more people to learn what I have and that’s why I made my paleo program completely free!
And, if you don’t want to commit to paleo 100%, why not use some of its principles as starting points: cutting out junk food, eating more veggies, avoiding refined sugar and hydrogenated oils/margarine. Even these small changes will make a big difference in how you feel.
Additional reading & RESOURCES:
- What is the paleo diet?
- Paleo Diet Food List
- Paleo Resources
- Wired To Eat and The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf
- This study looked at the base (usual) diet vs Paleolithic diet
- Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
- Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes
- The Weston A. Price Foundation website has lots of fantastic info
- Wheat Belly
- Grass-fed meat health benefits