By , YMCA Registered Dietitian

The world of weight loss can be an overwhelming and confusing place. It seems like every day a new super supplement or quick fix diet is popping up promising to help you quickly shed unwanted weight.

While the ideal approach to weight loss is to aim for 1-2 pounds a week using a well-balanced diet and regular exercise, the temptation to subscribe to the next popular craze can be too much to ignore.

So, each month, we’re examining a different diet—diving into the science behind it, the pros, the cons—and letting you decide whether or not it’s worth trying.


This month we’re going to take a closer look at the Paleo diet. It's named after the Paleolithic Age, which is widely recognized for the tools made by early man, a.k.a. cavemen. The idea behind the Paleo diet is to mirror the typical foods consumed by our ancient ancestors who lived during this era. The reasoning is that our modern diet isn’t aligned with our genetic makeup, and if we return to a more prehistoric eating plan, then we can eliminate things like obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

The Paleo diet focuses on consuming things like fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, lean meats, fish and unsaturated fats like olive oil. Typically, you try to avoid things like grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugar, salt, potatoes and anything highly processed.

Is this the right diet for you? Read on to find out more.

The Science

The agricultural revolution began with the transition from our hunter-gatherer days and is defined by settling down and learning to farm. In a relatively short amount of time, humans have gone from wandering and working to obtain meals, to harvesting enough crops that we fill silos for years at a time.

The evolution and adoption of grain in our daily intake has, according to this diet, happened so quickly that our genes weren’t able to keep up and is thus a contributing factor in the obesity epidemic we face today. Evolution of DNA can take millions of years, yet presence of grain in our diet started only about 20,000 years ago.

However, the development of farming has increased our expected lifespan and allowed for incredible inventions that have largely benefited the population. The reality is, a lot of what we know about our ancient ancestors is based on educated guesses and inferences related to skeletal remains and artifacts. We can only imply what that might mean for our diet in today’s age.

The Pros

The greatest thing about the Paleo diet is that it stresses the importance of eating whole fruits and vegetables and eliminating highly-processed foods. Moreover, the inclusion of lean sources of protein, like nuts, seeds, and fish, as well as healthy unsaturated fats like olive oil, are tenants of well-balanced nutrition. Making your daily intake consist of less processed ingredients and more whole foods is absolutely recommended and can easily help achieve weight loss as well as aiding in the prevention of diabetes and heart disease.

The Cons

While this diet does include lots of dietary staples, it also completely eliminates dairy, legumes and grains. Elimination diets often leave us craving the things we’re not allowed to have and can even cause deficiencies in some vitamins and minerals. For example, eliminating grains can leave you without enough B vitamins like thiamine, niacin, and riboflavin. Cutting out dairy can mean you’re not getting enough calcium, which can be detrimental to your bone health. Lastly, legumes can be an excellent source of fiber and protein. It is generally assumed that all foods can fit in a well-balanced diet.

Hopefully, this Paleo overview helps you understand some of the ins and outs of this particularly popular diet. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what approach to nutrition works best for your body. Talking with your doctor and a registered dietitian nutritionist can help you create a healthy eating plan that's effective and safe. Check back next month when we look at the Vegan Diet.

Read more Fad Diet Dilemmas about the Keto, Mediterranean, Intermittent Fasting, and Whole30.