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The Paleo diet: is it good for you?

We eat too much processed food and other foods which our bodies haven’t evolved to digest properly. Instead, we should eat the way our stone-age ancestors did – after all, our genetic make-up has hardly changed since then.

That’s the assertion behind the increasingly popular paleo (Paleolithic) diet. Gwyneth Paltrow loves it, says the New York Times magazine – and so does Lena Dunham as well as various unspecified Victoria’s Secret models.

London now even has a paleo restaurant – Pure Taste, says the International Business Times. But is the diet good for you?

What can’t you eat under the paleo diet?

Proponents assert that we’re not good at digesting anything that has entered the diet since the advent of agriculture – so the diet involves not just cutting out processed foods but also avoiding refined sugar, processed oils, grains such as wheat or barley, dairy products, salt, alcohol and legumes.

What can you eat?

The diet is big on protein – and you can get it from meat, seafood and eggs. Fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts are also encouraged – which gives the diet some crossover with veganism. It’s a high-fibre diet, with the fibre coming from vegetables, not grains.

Where did the idea come from?

The diet has been popularised by one book particularly – The Paleo Diet, by Dr Loren Cordain. Unlike some popular diet advisers, Cordain has genuine scientific credentials: she is a professor of health and exercise sciences at Colorado State University.

Is there a problem?

Yes: there is no scientific consensus that the basic assumption on which the diet is based – that we haven’t evolved to cope with new foods – is true. There is also the problem that nobody is completely certain what our distant ancestors ate: some experts have insisted that they did eat grains.

What criticisms have there been of the diet?

Last month, US News World Report asked a panel of 22 experts to rank 35 different diets – the paleo came joint last. Their main criticisms were that the diet is too expensive, too difficult to follow – and therefore not “realistic” in the long term, says Stack.

What did the experts say?

Panelist Elisabetta Politi, the nutrition director at the Duke Diet and Fitness Centre in North Carolina, said the diet’s “all-or-nothing mentality” was hard to sustain. She added: “To say that we shouldn’t eat brown rice or shouldn’t have sweet potatoes, for instance, especially when it comes to athletes who need carbohydrates for energy, might not be the best way to get to your peak athletic performance.” · 

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