Posted: Sep 01, 2013 9:00 PM
Before you embark on the paleo diet and start eating like a cavewoman, find out what you should pay attention to when it comes to getting the right nutrients. We talked to registered dieticians to find out how to do paleo safely.

The paleolithic diet, known popularly as the paleo diet or caveman diet, is currently one of the most popular specialty diets. This low-carb diet encourages people to eat like a hunter-gatherer. The diet eliminates dairy, legumes, grains, nuts, processed oils, refined salts and refined sugars. Fans praise the weight loss and health results of the paleo diet, but is it safe? We asked the experts to chime in.

What are the risks of the paleo diet?

We need at least 40 percent of our calories to come from carbohydrates so that we provide enough essential energy for our brains to work well.

Registered dietitian Shaistha Zaheeruddin has concerns about eliminating grains from the diet. "A lack of whole grain eliminates the necessary fiber needed for reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes," she says. As with any diet that eliminates dairy, there is also a risk of causing a deficiency in vitamins and minerals, such as calcium and vitamin D. A common concern about the paleo diet is that some people consider it a free pass to eat lots of meat, regardless of fat content. "What concerns me is the heavy emphasis on meat and the very low carbohydrate consumption," says registered dietitian Jill Nussinow. "We need at least 40 percent of our calories to come from carbohydrates so that we provide enough essential energy for our brains to work well."

What habits can make the paleo diet healthier?

vegetablesIf vegetables are a major focus of the paleo diet, this will greatly increase the health benefits of the diet. Those who focus on meat and not vegetables won't be getting the main health benefits associated with eating a clean diet. "It may be necessary to modify the diet by eating grass-fed meat, wild caught fish and organic produce," says Zaheeruddin. "Remember to supplement any diet with daily physical activity for results in weight loss and disease prevention." Daily vitamin and mineral supplements can help with deficiencies. Talk to your doctor, dietician or nutritionist about the right supplements for you. As you try the paleo diet, look for new recipes online to avoid getting stuck in a rut with the same foods.

What are the benefits of the paleo diet?

According to Nussinow, cutting out convenience foods, refined foods and processed foods is a huge benefit of the paleo diet. Adding more fruits and vegetables to the diet and cutting out sugar and sodium is beneficial. If you carefully avoid eating too much fat and you keep the proteins and carbohydrates adequately balanced, this can be a healthy diet that helps you lose weight if that's your goal. Next time you have a checkup, let your doctor know that you're trying a new diet.

The BOttom Line^While generally regarded as safe as long as it's not abused, the paleo diet is difficult to maintain. Eating only organic produce, grass-fed meat and wild fish may make this diet unaffordable. "The diet is hard to sustain considering our lifestyle and acquired palate, thus it is better to consider a more liberal, balanced diet with high fiber, more fruits and vegetables, dairy and whole grains," says Zaheeruddin. If you're thinking about trying the paleo diet, consider modifying it to your lifestyle. It may be easier in the long term to eat grains and some dairy in moderation.

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