To Paleo or Not to Paleo: The Pro’s and Con’s of the Paleo Diet

Paleo Diet

Here is an interesting discussion topic on the Paleo Diet. Many love it — some hate it. Decide for yourself…

Over the past few years, I have been asked about the Paleo Diet Plan.  Having not tried it myself and only reading reviews by critics and previews from the authors, I did not have enough information to make a good judgment on the Paleo Plan.  After researching information for a recent article on Health Screenings for Military​.com, I met with several doctors and the author of The Paleo Solution, Robb Wolf and have found the Paleo Diet to be a viable solution for many people (typical Americans) but it may not be for everybody.  This article gives some of the PROs and CONs of the Paleo Diet.

If you have not heard about the Paleo Diet, have you been living in a cave?  Just kidding — Paleo refers to the paleolithic era when we were hunters and gathers of our food long before there were processed foods, and we ate mainly plants and animals.  Some call it the Caveman Diet, Stone Age Diet, Primal Diet but the premise “of why a caveman diet?” is that our bodies are genetically programmed to perform in the same way our caveman ancestors did.  The claims are that following our ancestral diet we can become healthier and decrease some of the chronic illnesses that are killing our obese society of the 21st Century.  These diseases include diabetes, digestive ailments, heart disease, some cancers.  As you will see below, I am not 100% bought into a Paleo Diet plan.  Though I am leaning out faster using the plan MY way than any other way of eating I have tried in years.  I think the goal is to find what works for you and if you are happy with the results — well — you cannot argue with results.  See my Pro /​ Cons below:

Paleo Plan and Potential Upsides & Downsides to Consider:

PRO: I can eat as much fruit and vegetables as I want.  As a big fan of 10 servings of day of these macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals, that was easy for me.  CON:  Not having access to good produce can make this diet challenging.

PRO: I can eat fish, poultry, game, lean meats — as much as I want? Now we are talking!  Also fish or krill oil capsules are fine if you do not have regular access to fish and seafood.  CON:  Access to fish, game, lean meats (unprocessed) can get expensive and be hard to find year round.  But if you were a caveman I bet you could find something to kill and eat!  Also, if you are a vegan or vegetarian this is not for you.  You have over-​​evolved and are too sophisticated for this diet plan.

CON: Nothing like Steak and Potatoes — oh man — I can’t eat potatoes?  But I am a running, swimmer, lifter, high rep calisthenics guy 5–6 days a week.  I need the carbs for energy!  PRO:  Hey — this is not the Atkins Diet it is just lower but natural carbs. Sure enough — I can add in sweet potatoes if I need more fuel for workouts.

CON: No breads, grains or pasta!  NO CORN!  WHAT?   Wow — how smart is it to eliminate a major staple of the US Food Pyramid?  It is tough to take out my pre-​​race /​ workout food of pasta /​ lasagna /​ spaghetti and a loaf of Italian bread.  PRO:  If you need to go GLUTEN free — this diet is for you!  Many will argue this point but most grains are making us fat. If you must do grains, you have to do unrefined /​ whole grains (nothing refined or enriched) and good luck finding any.  Find missing fiber in fruit /​ vegetables /​ nuts.  Looks like yams, sweet potatoes will become pre-​​race foods to build up glycogen stores.

Personally, I have to make the above grains /​ breads a choice in moderation.  If I choose to eat a hamburger, I can reduce my bread intake by 50% if I only eat one slice of the bun.  I am slowly coming around to breadless sandwiches but I am not there yet.

CON: No milk or dairy products.  Lacks vitamin D and calcium right?  PRO:  It is great if you are lactose intolerant.  BUT we need calcium and vitamin D.  We can still get calcium from a variety of sources (brocolli, apricots, blackberries, okra, spinach, etc)  Get in the sun for 30 minutes a day for vitamin D (without sunscreen).  After 30 minutes put on sunscreen if you burn easily.  Supplement if needed with a multivitamin at the Caveman GNC.

PRO: I can eat nuts, seeds, roots, mushrooms.  Great I put these on my salad all the time!  CON:  If allergic to nuts it could be an issue.  Even though they do not recommend peanuts in this diet, many canning machines also can peanuts so you can still be subject to peanut allergens if allergic.

CON: No alcohol (beer, wine, liquor) — aw man…If you are a drinker you may not see the results you want if you drink too much. This goes for ANY diet so this is nothing new in dieting.  But hey I am sure some caveman figured out how to get drunk by drinking old grape juice so maybe you are OK. (joke)  PRO:  I am glad I got that out of my system in my 20s.  I rarely drink now anyway, so personally it is not a big sacrifice.

PRO: No Processed Food — It is better not to eat this stuff anyway. Stay away from processed meats, sweets, and pretty much anything in a box unless it is a box of almonds.  Now have some discipline and try to break the habit of eating chemicals,  CON:  No Processed Food — damn hard to do.

CON: Digestive issues.  Some people have digestive issues eating lots of nuts and fruits.  GAS!  PRO:  You can always add in more fermented vegetables like kimchi or sauerkraut but if that makes you even more nauseated like it does me, then add in some probiotics from yogurt or supplement.  I know cavemen did not have yogurt, but it does help with gas and other ailments in the digestive tract.

More and more studies are coming out for the Paleo Plan as a way to reduce waistlines, improve health screenings, (decrease diabetes, lower cholesterol, decreases blood pressure), to name a very important few.  But should YOU go Paleo?

Personally, it is never a bad idea to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats (nuts etc), and leaner unprocessed meats.  It is also a good idea to reduce or even eliminate sugar, breads, processed foods, sweets — hard to do but GOOD for you.

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  1. Mattoomba says:

    Regarding dairy, this is a \“bubble category\” for many practitioners of paleo eating. Many still consume dairy, particularly yogurt, butter, and organic milk. I\‘ve developed a taste for coconut milk, and almond milk is used by many.

    As for alcohol, moderation rather than elimination is the most common practice. Beer is perhaps the least paleo option, while wine and wood-​​aged spirits are less grainy. Avoid the sweet mixed drinks, especially if weight-​​loss is your goal.

    Of course if this is to be a lifestyle, and not a temporary diet, it\‘s best to work in foods you enjoy rather than avoiding them altogether.

    • Stew Smith says:

      Agreed — it is a lifestyle and like I said — you cannot go wrong eating more fruits, vegetables, leaner meats, chicken, fish, and laying off the grains, sugars, and stuff that has a long shelf life (man made foods)

      • Matthew Ault says:

        Stew,

        Was the majority of your gains/​body accomplishments completed in the military under a military diet? You know, the ones we are served from the mess or through MREs. When on ship I did the best I could but faced many challenges due to provided menu.

        My question is, are you \“more\” fit/​healthy now with the availability of the paleo diet? or did your body make it work with what it was served? i.e. USN limited diet?

        Also, did you ever utilize supplements to fill the void of mess nutrition?

        Great post. I am doing my best, but it sure is expensive.

        • Stew Smith says:

          We had a bit of a different situation in the Special Warfare world. We did travel alot and visited ships, submarines, foreign bases for weeks at a time but mainly ate for energy as we were working often 18 hours days or more. When we had time off we were on base somewhere with plenty of good food options. I will say the challenge for the military is the eating facilities on overseas bases, on ship, subs, etc. I mainly added some protein supplements and vitamins when we were missing good fruits /​ vegetables and lean meats. Eating well does cost more — so does supplementation too.

  2. Tom S says:

    Stew:

    New to your site, but have followed you for a
    while. I agree, this is not a diet, but more
    about \“Lifestyle Change\”. But, I also believe
    like all things in life, it\‘s about Moderation or
    Balance. Like with all things health, fitness, or
    nutrition, in another 10-​​20yrs, someone will
    come out and tell us that we should have had
    more dairy, grains, or that Red Meat really is
    bad, know what I mean?

    I also believe Paleo Diet, Crossfit, etc… it\‘s like
    the rest of the nutrtion, training, and overalll
    world of supplements.…it\’ all about MONEY.

    The solution to all of this is more REGULATORY
    guidance on folks being allowed to sell their
    books, products, or services without being
    accredited, without the credentials, without
    even having a PhD, M.D., RD, or other
    qualifications behind their name.

    You never hear of someone hiring a lawyer
    without knowing they have passed the Bar or
    that a doctor is not Board Certified, but yet, it
    seems the civilian and even military populus is
    so eager to find the pill, powder, potion, or
    magic formula for better health and fitness,
    they forget to \“VETT\” the guy/​gal and do a
    background check to see if what they are
    selling is legit or just another way for making
    money off the American public.

    I hope one of these days the government or
    States step in and say, enough is enough, if
    your ass doesn\‘t have a degree if Health or
    Exercise Science or Nutrtion, along with proper
    certification and board examined, then there
    is no way in hell you are selling a book on
    dieting, strength training, fitness or health
    wellness. There is too much liability and to
    let people sell this stuff without having the
    background or proper credentials is just
    flat wrong.

    I hope society wakes up one day and cracks
    down on this issue.

    Thank for the post.

    • Stew Smith says:

      Yes — I agree but the people I researched for this particular article — Dr Loren Cordain and research biologist Robb Wolf who both wrote books on the subject of Paleo Dieting. So there are a few credentialed people that I immediately found after a short amount of research for this piece and the other 3 part article before it on Health Screenings.

      • Andru says:

        HOLD UP Tom S, jus b/​c someone shares what works for them does not give the govt the rite to step and say they can or cannot write a book, create a blog, or make a video. It\‘s like, this is what IVE learned, take it or leave it. I agree, I am inundated with information at this point and do not know quite where to start, it is a bit maddening, but if u don\‘t like someone\‘s credentials, dont buy their crap. Today it\‘s like, here\‘s youtube, here\‘s reddit, here\‘s fb, here\‘s twitter…do what u can, come up w a product of some kind, share ur experiences, ur life story, ur way of life based on ur trials and errors and the information you\‘ve gleaned in this lifetime and good luck at makin a living at it! I used to be so concerned w gettin a record deal, but now I jus wanna get my songs recorded and on youtube bc that\‘s how I tell MY story…we need as little govt. interference w that as possible, Amendment 1??
        THAT SAID — where should I start, Stew??? I know, i know, ur website…goin there next…;)

        • Stew Smith says:

          There are many credentialed people writing /​ teaching about Paleo nutrition so it is not just some diet a hippy came up with one day. I agree there is alot of stuff to sift through but it is a free country — it is our job to find what works for us and who we believe or not.

          Depending on your goals I would see what Robb Wolf has to say about weight loss and nutrition. If you are looking at serving one day, I would add in some of the testing elements to enter the program you desire (ie run, swim, PT — pullups, pushups, situps etc…)

    • Uhh…how much of an education does one need to know food that has not been chemically modified or enriched or simply manufactured is the way one should eat? We can practically watch the obesity track rise with the increase in our collective diet of processed, highly \“enriched\”, petri-​​dish foods we eat on a daily basis.

      There is no moderation about it — either you eat that way or you don\‘t. You may choose a more \“Primal\” diet which does include milk and dairy, but grains, legumes and other foods like potatoes which have to be COOKED in order to be easily and \“safely\” digested by the human body should not be consumed, no matter the quantity.

      Grains were introduced as a way to feed large populations — not because they were something on which the human race subsisted or by which we developed, genetically.

      I would argue that until you\‘ve tried living a certain way, you really don\‘t understand the difference. The GOVERNMENT has their fingers in plenty already…and much of it is not positive…on the food that pushed in front of the American public. We don\‘t need any assistance when it comes to eating real food, thank you.

      And, by the way, while there are people who certainly do make money proselytizing things like CrossFit and the Paleo diet.…and most of those people are HEAVILY credentialed, by the way…all of the information is out there for FREE already. Try Google. The only people who pay for any of it are the people who want to support the community.

  3. @Stew — re: the American Food Pyramid. Many people would argue the USDA got it very, very wrong in the first place :)

    • Stew Smith says:

      Yes — they got it wrong. In fact nearly 10 yrs ago I wrote this one before this blog existed

      http://​www​.military​.com/​m​i​l​i​t​a​r​y​-​f​i​t​n​e​s​s​/​n​u​t​r​i​t​i​o​n​/​f​o​o​d​-​p​y​r​a​mid

      Not a dietitian but you do not need to know how to eat healthy.

  4. Tom S says:

    Stew:

    You and your followers here MISREAD or misinterpreted my post. Please read again, because I stated life is about BALANCE and I too believe Paleo is a lifestyle and NOT A DIET.

    But, the other part of my issue doesn\‘t involve any debating on whether or not Paleo Dieting is right or wrong, but that guys like Robb Wolf, folks running Crossfit Gyms, or folks pushing other types of seminars, certifications, etc… are doing so without being accredited.

    As you know Stew, the holy grail of credentials for strength coaches is obtaining the NSCA — CSCS, which you did. Ask yourself this, after leaving the military, what was your reason for getting a CSCS? Most likely, like many health and fitness professionals, you realized you needed some type of credential to be able to do strength coaching or to be taking somewhat serious in the fitness industry. Now, why didn\‘t Robb Wolf get a degree in Nutrition say at the PhD level? Why did he leave being a Biochemist to write a book and now folks in the Crossfit community disagree with some of his viewpoints?

    You see, we all have opinions. Shit, you guys just wrote how USDA is all wrong. But yet, those folks have higher credentials, PhD\‘s, and experience in the science, chemistry, nutrition, etc than you, me, and many of your followers combined.

    I know that government involvement at times is not needed. But when you have folks giving dietary, nutritional, or overall fitness advice, I believe a day will come where folks will get hurt or something bad will happen with some of these diets and then what?

    The government will react and next thing you know, the industry will become more strict on what and who can write.

    Even in the Nutritional and Strength Journals out there, unless your ass has a minimum MS degree, you can\‘t be published. But yet, everyone and their brother can write a damn book and become a health and fitness expert overnight? Go figure

    There is a reason why we have an accreditation process for fitness or health certifications or testing.

    Without any regulatory guidance, every swinging joe can just open up a gym,start coaching, giving fitness or nutrition advice, all without ever taking a test, being certified, etc.…

    In the end, this is MY OPINION, just like you and your followers have yours. I have been retired from the US Army now 6yrs and have been following the fitness industry since the mid 80\‘s, so I believe as a 44yo former athlete, soldier, and fitness professional both with the military and now with my own business, I too know a thing or two about training and nutrition, but I also know I still want to obtain another higher degree in Exercise Science or go back for maybe Doctorate in Physical Therapy or a Master\‘s in Nutrition.

    So, I can agree to disagree here Stew and I can also agree with points you and your followers have written about most of what Paleo entails, just like I hope some of the things I wrote with regard to fitness professionals being better regulated make sense and will help BETTER our industry, not hurt it.

    Later,

    Tom

    • Stew Smith says:

      Well put Tom. I do not have a problem with your opinion. In fact one of the main reasons I prefer real food over supplementation is I cannot be sure the claims made by supp companies are real. Why? Like you said — it needs better regulation by USDA. Even though many will disagree with USDA — their goal is food safety.

      I was stating that we ALL need to better understand fitess, health, nutrition not just those who are credentialed. If we care about our quality of life we need to know these topics like we know how to change a lightbulb.

      Thanks for your post and caring enough to respond.

  5. Tom S says:

    Roger that, I here ya and you are most welcome. I like to learn from others and you and your readers taught me something here in the blog post. I know we can\‘t regulate everthing and I agree we ALL need to care. At the end of the day, Personal Responsbility, no matter how much you and I \“Lead By Example\”, that is the key to stopping the Obesity Epidemic, not another diet. Just learning to make better choices with food, training, rest, and like much of the medical community preaches and you already stated it\‘s about Quality of Life. The Paleo Diet may or may not be right for everyone, but you are absolutely correct, we ALL can learn to care more. We all can do better in caring for our fellow man/​women, then maybe this world would be a better place. An old preacher once told me it\‘s all about LOVE and if we can be an example for others to follow or like the bible states \“Let our light shine for others to see\”, then you can\‘t go wrong. I will continue to admire your work from afar. Keep keeping on with helping those young folks out pursuing the military and wish you continued success in all you do.….HOORAH or HOOAH !!!! depending whose reading, LOL… Outttt !!!!

  6. David long says:

    I just don’t know spec war people in their prime from BUD/​s thru mid thirties say are diluding theme selves with palleo , unless the teams have gone and turned into total tea totalers their alcahol consumption pretty much negates palleo ideals . Not that I don’t agree with a lot of the pallet rhetoric .im just saying

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Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Stew Smith article archive at Military.com. To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at stew@stewsmith.com.

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