JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Nutritionists warn of dangers in Paleo dieting

Date

Sandy Smith

The chief executive of the Dietitians Association of Australia, Claire Hewat, says there is no scientific evidence to support eating the Paleo way.

The chief executive of the Dietitians Association of Australia, Claire Hewat, says there is no scientific evidence to support eating the Paleo way. Photo: Getty

The Paleo diet might be heading for extinction, like the cavemen who inspired it, after the country’s leading nutrition body warned Australians that the popular eating plan is potentially dangerous.

Also known as the Caveman or Stone Age diet, modern Paleo eating mimics the hunter-gatherer diet of our Paleolithic ancestors and promotes a diet that avoids grains, legumes and some dairy products in favour of lean meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, fruit, non-starchy vegetables, nuts and seeds.

The Paleo craze has become one of the most popular lifestyle trends around endorsed by celebrities, bloggers and many in the fitness world who have linked it with weight loss and health benefits. Last year it was the most Googled diet on the internet. From books – there are about 5000 Paleo-related books available on Amazon – to restaurants, a whole industry now exists around the Paleo lifestyle.

However, the chief executive of the Dietitians Association of Australia, Claire Hewat, says there is no scientific evidence to support eating the Paleo way.

"A recent search of the published studies looking at Paleolithic diets revealed no more than 10 studies, all with very few participants over very short time frames – most less than three months. And many people dropped out of the studies, claiming the diet was difficult to follow,” Hewat says.

Hewat also says she is concerned that the Paleo diet excludes whole food groups.

“Some proponents of Paleo suggest we avoid all grains, legumes, certain dairy products, conventionally raised meats, non-organic produce and genetically modified and processed foods,” Hewat says.

"Any diet excluding whole food groups should raise suspicions. The idea of cutting out grain-based foods and legumes is not backed by science and eating more meat than is needed by the body certainly has risks, according to the World Health Organisation."

Instead of getting on the latest fad diet bandwagon, Hewat said Australians should become familiar with the latest Dietary Guidelines for Australians released last year, and to seek expert nutrition advice from an accredited practising dietitian.

Nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton points out the inconsistencies that exist between the diets of our ancestors and the modern Paleo version.

“Many anthropological experts dispute the claims of Paleo diet promoters, noting that our ancestors’ diets varied greatly and many included seeds of grasses,” she says. “Claims that our ancestors did not experience heart disease, cancer and diabetes ignore the fact that few people lived past their reproductive age and physical activity ensured people were lean.”

Stanton says we should applaud the low content of processed foods, sugar and salt advocated in Paleo diets but asks, “why exclude plant-based foods such as wholegrains and legumes when a wealth of evidence confirms their health value?

“Two major hazards associated with the Paleo diet are the high content of red meat and the lack of wholegrains” she says. “Cancer experts rate a high intake of meat as a convincing cause of bowel cancer while wholegrains reduce the risk. These two factors also increase long-term risk of heart disease.”

Not only is adhering to a Paleo diet expensive but people who cut food groups such as carbohydrates from their diets also face other dangers, says Margaret Hays, a spokeswoman for the Dietitians Association of Australia.

People cut out carbohydrates and then find that they really struggle through the day, she says. “What I find is that a lot of people are reaching for quick fix snacks and they are getting more sugar and more fat than we would recommend so it backfires on a lot of people.”

Hays says in her works as a dietician she has seen people who are following a very low carbohydrate diet “so when they do have carbohydrates they binge on them and they then develop binge-eating disorders or some other kind of eating disorder.

“People want a quick fix,” Hays says. “They like quick fixes with their diets, they like to follow a fad and they think miracles will happen but it doesn’t work that way. You have to work at being healthy over a long period of time.”

46 comments so far

  • Way to attack paleo without actually understanding the point of paleo. eg: You should eat wholegrains because ....why? No reason is given - paleo says grains raise insulin causing weight issues; where is the counter argument other than 'we think you should eat grains'.

    dont eat paleo because then you binge? That is the fault of paleo

    Plus most paleo advocates argue that the national health guidelines are flawed (eg look at how lacking in data the studies performed by Ancel Keys, on which is based the entire low fat/high carb theory). Arguing that paleo doesnt meet the national health guidelines is like arguing that an advocate of gay marriage is wrong because the bible says they are wrong.

    Im not on a paleo diet. Some paleo advocates go too far and claim too much. But I'm interested in this field; these rebuttals are pathetic.

    Commenter
    asdf
    Date and time
    August 06, 2014, 9:44AM
    • A big issue is also that the health benefits of grains and dairy were discovered in studies funded by (surprise!) companies selling those products.

      There is nothing in grains and dairy that cannot be gained from other sources. Most people on the planet are intolerant to dairy and/or do not consume it and they lead perfectly healthy lives. The reason dairy and grains are food groups is because they have been pushed by their respective lobbies.

      I still eat both grains and dairy but I tolerate both. Lots of people don't.

      Commenter
      Maggie
      Date and time
      August 06, 2014, 5:12PM
    • Did you read the article?
      - “why exclude plant-based foods such as wholegrains and legumes when a wealth of evidence confirms their health value?"
      -there is no scientific evidence to support eating the Paleo way.

      You point to a claim from Paleo advocates to refute the weight of scientific evidence. It seems that it wouldn't matter how many eminent experts they summoned up, you just don't want to believe the science.

      If you are looking for a better analogy it is that Paleo's resemble climate sceptics.

      Commenter
      Pablo E
      Date and time
      August 06, 2014, 5:56PM
  • Another addition to the fad diet graveyard. Why do people keep falling for this flash-in-the-pan stuff?

    Commenter
    Pete
    Location
    2000
    Date and time
    August 06, 2014, 9:49AM
    • I'm sure all the Paleo enthusiasts will accept this scientific information and change their lifestyles accordingly. Just like the proponents of Homeopathy did when faced with overwhelming scientific evidence.

      Commenter
      Not
      Date and time
      August 06, 2014, 9:53AM
      • Wow, brave move to activate the comments for this article. The mods must've loved the Paleo zealots coming out in force.

        Commenter
        Spex
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        August 06, 2014, 4:16PM
    • We altered our diet as my husband wanted to eat less carbs. This was not a massive change but we did replace wheat based carbs with those from whole grain or vegetable origins. We also didn't adopt highly processed foods as replacements. So simply, less wheat based food such as pasta (but not excluded completely) more Wholegrain breads (the more grains the better), any grain that was high fibre but not wheat, such as polenta. Use of vegetables such as cauliflower and sometimes potato to replace the staples of rice, noodles and pasta. Strangely, we did not miss anything, we ate more vegetables and became a lot more creative with the way we cooked and prepared vegetables. Our major concern was that the increased meat proteins could increase the risk of bowel cancers and other cancers, so balancing with lots of vegetables and having red meat only once a week helps to reduce this risk. Without intending to, I had a weight loss of about 5 kg and am now stable at this weight which seems to suit me well. We do have some pastry items now and then and also biscuits made at home etc, but not as frequently. Any dietary change which is extreme should be avoided.

      Commenter
      Brunswick girl
      Date and time
      August 06, 2014, 9:54AM
      • Government advice on healthy eating? Forget it. Recommend using canola oil sprays and margarine, and only low fat dairy?

        I don't think anyone should take that seriously. A good amount of animal fat, raw coconut and olive oil are essential for your health and waistline.

        Canola oil and other chemically extracted seed oils are a health hazard.

        Commenter
        Balanced woman
        Location
        CBD
        Date and time
        August 06, 2014, 9:58AM
        • Given paleolithic skeletons indicate a life expectancy of 35.4 years for men and 30.0 years for women, which includes a high rate of infant mortality. Does that mean if you go on this diet you die young but skinny?

          Can't we just do that by going on the Rock n Roll diet of sex, smokes, drugs and booze, its sounds a hell of a lot more fun.

          Commenter
          Tim
          Date and time
          August 06, 2014, 10:10AM
          • It generally takes 8-12 weeks to become keto adapted and most people simply don't have the discipline to follow a ketogenic diet for that long. Wholegrains being cancer preventive is simply about fibre, which Paleo adherents can always get from psyllium husks. Ultimately, a ketogenic diet isn't sustainable for a lot of people, but that doesn't justify a fear and misinformation campaign.

            Commenter
            Direct
            Date and time
            August 06, 2014, 10:12AM

            More comments

            Make a comment

            You are logged in as [Logout]

            All information entered below may be published.

            Error: Please enter your screen name.

            Error: Your Screen Name must be less than 255 characters.

            Error: Your Location must be less than 255 characters.

            Error: Please enter your comment.

            Error: Your Message must be less than 300 words.

            Post to

            You need to have read and accepted the Conditions of Use.

            Thank you

            Your comment has been submitted for approval.

            Comments are moderated and are generally published if they are on-topic and not abusive.

            Featured advertisers

            Horoscopes

            Capricorn horoscope

            Trust others to think for themselves. Don't be snobbish about what seems obvious. Everyone learns at their own pace, including you.

            ...find out more here