Since I have been discussing both the Paleo diet as well as gluten free diets, I thought I better make a quick clarification!  A gluten free diet is not a Paleo diet, but a Paleo diet is gluten free.  I was doing research on gluten intolerances when I came upon the Paleo diet.  It encompasses gluten free but then goes even further…gluten free on steroids I guess.  I was finding a lot of connections between various diseases and gluten, however the Paleo camp also suggests that all other grains/legumes/rice products, and dairy may be contributing to some of the same diseases as well.

I think that it is also important to point out, that both gluten free diets and the Paleo diet are not necessarily for everyone.  Keep in mind, as you read and learn about the restrictions involved in these diets, that some of the restricted foods DO have great nutritional value.  Because they are eliminated in these diets does not make these particular foods “bad”.  It is a matter of whether your body can handle some of the more allergenic component of the food in question.

The aspect of this entire issue that has captured my attention and interest, is the fact that the intolerances to gluten and possibly certain other grains and legumes is probably so much more pervasive than is widely accepted/understood.  I also find great hope in the fact that this IS a potential answer for many people that don’t have any answers to their ailments.  Autoimmune disorders/diseases, in particular, involve such a degree of uncertainty with respect to causes and solutions alike, that the potential for such a “simple” fix is, to me, exhilarating. 

So, my next big question is this: 

How big of a role does the inclusion of such vast amounts of fruits and vegetables play in the health benefits associated with these elimination diets? 

We know the power of fruits and vegetables!  Unfortunately, as with, lack of exercise, smoking, and eating nutritionally worthless yet delicious foods, we are an immediate gratification peoples.  One of the toughest components of being in wellness, is figuring out how to help people stay motivated to make choices that will benefit their long term/future health, at the expense of some conveniences today.

When we are feeling hungry, plus maybe sad or grumpy, the choice between an apple or a chocolate chip cookie becomes more difficult.  It is easy to push that fruit off for later especially when we know how yummy that cookie will be, and how satisfying the little serotonin rush will be that it also provides!

In a perfect world, I would like to suggest (as I do on a daily basis actually) to increase the fruits and vegetables dramatically in the diet for a few weeks before consciously eliminating food groups.  I say “consciously” because when we dramatically increase fruits and vegetables, some other foods tend to drop out of diet naturally.  However, this has been the recommendation by RD’s for years, and somehow with so many other options out there to choose from, the fruits and vegetables just get left behind over and over again.

The nice thing about the Paleo diet is that you HAVE to eat the fruits and vegetables or else you are left without ANY carbohydrates and very few choices otherwise.  And even if you don’t think you like them, I guarantee you will start liking them once your food options drop to within the narrow scope of the Paleo regime! 

So, in short, I think Paleo has some good stuff going for it:

Addition of tons of fruits and vegetables and all the antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals that go along with them!

Addition of more omega 3 fats to displace the overabundance of omega 6’s we currently ingest.  The improved ratio directly correlates with decreased inflammation and the source/factor of many illnesses!

Elimination of gluten, grains, legumes, dairy, and soy, which results in elimination of pretty much all processed foods, refined sugars, excess empty calories, AND adverse reactions in what is appearing to be more of the population than generally recognized.  In the case of intolerances (which an elimination diet would discover relatively quickly), then this diet may lead to much improved physical and mental health, better quality of life, and a longer and more fit life.

Drawbacks:

Very restricted, and therefore difficult for many people to follow.  I would be particularly worried about people with a history of chronic dieting and psychological issues associated with food.

Will require a fair amount of effort for the average person to create well rounded, healthy meals.  There really needs to be a very conscious effort to include a variety of nutrient dense foods.  The food supply in our country is incredibly abundant (good), but with that abundance comes an extreme amount of processed and fortified foods as well.  This can be good in that we don’t have to worry about nutrient deficiencies, however it would also require much more mindful eating and planned meals for the Paleo eater to get all they should.

Very restricted, and therefore most likely eliminating some, if not a whole lot of,  your very favorite foods and meals.  And that right there is TOUGH!  One of my big goals is to help people to create healthy and well rounded lifestyles while also enjoying  so much of the fabulous things/foods our world has to offer. 

I don’t believe that the Paleo way of eating is intended to be an all or nothing regime for most people in the long term.  So once individuals figure out their own personal sensitivities, then the degree of flexibility would be determined, from that point,  by the individual, based on their own priorities.