Whole foods are encouraged on the paleo diet, which is of course healthy advice. But could cutting out all foods developed since the paleolithic era lead to a risk of nutritional deficiencies?
“Eliminating dairy could increase the risk of calcium deficiency, and avoiding many starchy foods, as this diet does, can reduce the amount of fibre you eat. This could be a problem for your gut microbiome, which thrives off digesting fibre”, says Medlin.
Of course, in cutting out modern foods, you’re eliminating the majority of processed foods, from minimally to ultra-processed, from your diet. When avoiding processed vegetarian protein sources, such as tofu, oats, seitan or tempeh, it’s important to ensure you’re not replacing them with too much red meat. The NHS advises you to eat no more than 70g of red (and processed) meat per day.
One of the issues is that fatty cuts of meat may be high in saturated fats. “We need some fat in our diet to help absorb vitamins, but too much fat, especially saturated fats, can raise your cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease”, advises Medlin. According to the NHS, men should eat no more than 30g of saturated fat per day and women 20g. There is also a link between red (and processed) meat and bowel cancer. You can eat meat, fish and eggs on the paleo diet.
Avoiding or limiting salt, as recommended by a paleo diet, can reduce the risks of raised blood pressure, thereby cutting the risk of heart disease and stroke.
So there are benefits of the paleo diet, but “there is no clear scientific evidence for claims that (it) helps prevent or treat medical conditions. In fact, much research is in favour of eating wholegrains and legumes for health issues, such as reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease”, says Medlin.