A number of randomized clinical trials have compared the paleo diet to other eating plans, such as the Mediterranean Diet or the Diabetes Diet. Overall, these trials suggest that a paleo diet may provide some benefits when compared with diets of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, legumes and low-fat dairy products. These benefits may include:
- More weight loss
- Improved glucose tolerance
- Better blood pressure control
- Lower triglycerides
- Better appetite management
However, longer trials with large groups of people randomly assigned to different diets are needed to understand the long-term, overall health benefits and possible risks of a paleo diet.
Questions about paleo diets
Concerns or questions about the paleo diet include both food selection and the underlying hypothesis.
A paleo diet is rich in vegetables, fruits and nuts — all elements of a healthy diet.
The primary difference between the paleo diet and other healthy diets is the absence of whole grains and legumes, which are considered good sources of fiber, vitamins and other nutrients. Also absent from the diet are dairy products, which are good sources of protein and calcium.
These foods not only are considered healthy but also are generally more affordable and accessible than such foods as wild game, grass-fed animals and nuts. For some people, a paleo diet may be too expensive.
Questions about the paleo diet hypothesis
Researchers have argued that the underlying hypothesis of the paleo diet may oversimplify the story of how humans adapted to changes in diet. Arguments for a more-complex understanding of the evolution of human nutritional needs include the following:
- Variations in diet based on geography, climate and food availability — not only the transition to farming — also would have shaped the evolution of nutritional needs.
- Archaeological research has demonstrated that early human diets may have included wild grains as much as 30,000 years ago — well before the introduction of farming.
- Genetic research has shown that notable evolutionary changes continued after the Paleolithic era, including diet-related changes, such as an increase in the number of genes related to the breakdown of dietary starches.
The bottom line
A paleo diet may help you lose weight or maintain your weight. It may also have other beneficial health effects. However, there are no long-term clinical studies about the benefits and potential risks of the diet.
You might be able to achieve the same health benefits by getting enough exercise and eating a balanced, healthy diet with a lot of fruits and vegetables.
Aug. 08, 2017
See more In-depth
- Tarantino G, et al. Hype or reality: Should patients with metabolic syndrome-related NAFLD be on the Hunter-Gatherer (Paleo) Diet to decrease morbidity? Journal of Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 2015;24:359.
- Should we eat like our caveman ancestors? Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. http://www.eatright.org/resource/health/weight-loss/fad-diets/should-we-eat-like-our-caveman-ancestors. Accessed March 17, 2017.
- Manheimer EW, et al. Paleolithic nutrition for metabolic syndrome: Systematic review and meta-analysis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015;102:922.
- Beals KA. Is a paleolithic diet the key to achieving optimal health and athletic performance? American College of Sports Medicine Health and Fitness Journal. 2016;20:18.
- Wang C, et al. Macro-process of past plant subsistence from the Upper Paleolithic to Middle Neolithic in China: A quantitative analysis of multi-archaeobotanical data. Plos One. 2016;11:e0148136.
- Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/. Accessed May 28, 2017.