Paleo Diet: Smart eating or latest fad?

(Photo: Getty Images)(Photo: Getty Images)By Michael d'Estries, Mother Nature Network
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In the quest for optimum health and weight, should humans consider looking back at what their ancestors consumed? That's the theory proposed by the "Paleo Diet" (aka, Caveman Diet), which recommends taking cues from the age of hunters and gatherers and leaving some of our modern food groups behind.

The idea is simple: You eat a diet that's gluten-free, but rich in lean, organic meats, fish, poultry, eggs, vegetables, fruit and nuts. As much as possible should be sourced locally. You exclude grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugar and processed oils.

All of this measures up to a eating regimen that, according to Loren Cordain, professor of health and exercise at Colorado State University, is a "powerful way to normalize health and well-being."

Cordain is joined by thousands of others who have found similar success on the Paleo - with the site Whole9 providing perhaps the best description of the benefits saying:

"Eating like this is good for maintaining a healthy metabolism, and reducing inflammation within the body. It's been doing great things for my energy levels, body composition and performance in the gym. It also helps to minimize my risk for a whole host of lifestyle diseases and conditions, like diabetes, heart attack and stroke."

WebMD, which always does a decent job of uncovering the truth behind these diets, quizzed a bunch of health specialists who agreed that better health can be achieved on the Paleo, but still believe moderation is the key to overall well-being.

"People who eat diets high in whole grains, beans, and low-fat dairy tend to be healthier because these foods are nutrient-rich and there are mountains of research about the health benefits of diets that include, not exclude, these foods," Keith Ayoob, EDd, RD, and assistant professor at New York's Albert Einstien School of Medicine told the site.

That "mountains of research" bit touched upon by Ayoob is one of the problems facing the Paleo from gaining more scientific backing. There just haven't been enough large studies to satisfy experts; which is one of the main reasons why U.S. News & World Reports ranked the diet nearly dead last in every category for its first ever "Best Diets" report.

"For the Paleo Diet, additional evidence is needed to show conclusively whether or not it is as effective as some people hypothesize," Ben Harder, general manager of Health and Science at the magazine told ABC News. "The most relevant studies have been small, as our published review of the Paleo Diet indicates. We hope researchers will publish more - and larger - studies on the Paleo Diet so that health experts, including our expert panel, have more evidence to consider in the future."

Still interested in giving the Paleo a shot? Wikipedia has some great background information on the diet - while the official site can get you started on meal plans and other advice.

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