Is the Paleo Diet Bad for Heart Health?

The good and the bad of the paleo diet

Diet and health trends come and go, once there was Atkins and Slimfast and now there is the keto diet and the gluten-free craze. Among those crazes, and perhaps the most popular of all is the paleo diet. A “caveman” style of eating that made its sweep through health magazine, blogs, cookbooks, and grocery store shelves alike.

With celebrities, fitness trainers, and plenty of everyday people boasting about the benefits of this paleo diet (weight loss, steady insulin levels, etc.), the question has come up: what are the drawbacks of eating like a caveman in the long term?

Now that paleo has had its time in the limelight of trendy nutrition, scientific research has recently surfaced that has had the opportunity to study the more long term effects of this diet. One of the effects of the paleo diet that has been most closely monitored is its effect of heart health, specifically the health of the people who have been dedicated to this diet for a longer period of time.

What Is The Paleo Diet?

The word paleo is short for “Paleolithic” – a time period of the early days of the stone age. People who follow this diet try to ask themselves how the human body is designed to eat at its most primitive form.

Paleo is also known as the “caveman diet.” What did the caveman eat before modern-day agriculture and food production? The line of thinking goes that the reason our bodies are sick and overweight is that our eating habits are not how our bodies were meant to eat.

When you follow the paleo eating plan, you are going to try and eat whole foods that are in season and meat from animals raised on grass. So basically, try to eat like a caveman. So what foods are restricted in paleo? Basically try to avoid any processed foods – boxed cereals, pasta, pastries, soda, dairy, even rice, oats, beans, and peanuts.

So, the biggest idea of the paleo diet is to essentially opt dor whole foods that are preferably fresh instead of any and all processed foods. All in the name of keeping to the caveman style of cuisine, another significant part of the diet is that there is an emphasis on the consumption of animal products, such as bacon, eggs, chicken, red meat etc.

How The Paleo Diet May Affect Your Health

The Paleo Diet Is Great For Your Gut Health

One of the biggest benefits that many keen followers of the diet, nutritionists, and trainers have cited is that paleo is great for your gut health. This is based on the idea that in comparison to the processed-grain-heavy diet that many Western countries eat, the paleo diet introduces more variety in meat and vegetables cutting out the processed foods.

From this limitation of mass-produced food and introducing a wide variety of fresh, whole foods you are exposing your gastrointestinal biome to a more diverse array of microbes and bacteria. Which is a great way to have a healthier and regular gut.

The Paleo Diet Is Bad For Your Heart Health

Paleo Diet is Bad For Heart Health

Although the paleo diet may help to “heal your gut” in a sense that you are introducing a larger variety of microbes into your system, there are other factors to take into account as well. A study recently published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that those who follow the paleo diet may have twice the amount of a key blood biomarker closely associated with heart disease.

Researchers compared 44 people on the paleo diet with 47 others following a more traditional Australian diet and measured the amount of trimethylamine-n-oxide (also known as TMAO) in their blood. TMAO is a compound that is created in the gut and has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

Many paleo diet proponents claim the diet is beneficial to gut health, but this research suggests that when it comes to the production of TMAO in the gut, the paleo diet could be having an adverse impact in terms of heart health.” – says lead researcher Dr. Angela Genoni.

Why The Paleo Diet Is Bad For Your Heart Health – Cutting Out Grains Isn’t The Best Idea

Dr. Genoni believes she has honed in on the culprit of such high amounts of TMAO. The researcher goes on to say that  “the reason TMAO was so elevated in people on the paleo diet appeared to be the lack of whole grains in their diet“.

While many newly mainstream diets have vilified grains as the reason why so many Western countries, namely North American countries, have grown in weight and in subsequent sickness. However, Dr. Genoni states that grains can be a great resource for your gut to protect itself from the harmful creation of such compounds like TMAO.

The Paleo diet excludes all grains and we know that whole grains are a fantastic source of resistant starch and many other fermentable fibers that are vital to the health of your gut microbiome. – Dr. Genoni said. “Because TMAO is produced in the gut, a lack of whole grains might change the populations of bacteria enough to enable higher production of this compound.”

So those old Cheerio ads might have some truth behind them after all, in light of Dr. Genoni’s research it can be safe to say that grains really are “heart-healthy”.

Why The Paleo Diet Is Bad For Your Heart Health – So Much Red Meat Is Hard On Your Gut

Beyond the issue of the paleo diet stripping your meals of grains, another factor that can contribute to an increased risk of heart disease is the amount of red meat consumed on this diet.

Additionally, the Paleo diet includes greater servings per day of red meat, which provides the precursor compounds to produce TMAO, and Paleo followers consumed twice the recommended level of saturated fats, which is cause for concern.“- says Dr. Genoni.

Someone who is eating red meat on a very regular basis is increasing their risk of heart disease by an incredibly notable amount. According to a study done by the National Institute of Health, eating red meat daily can nearly triple a person’s likelihood of suffering from heart disease. 

All in all, it’s safe to say that red meat should definitely be considered a once in a while type of food that is not treated as an everyday staple. Instead, try omega-rich salmon or hormone-free eggs as a source of protein throughout the week.

What’s The Bottom Line About The Paleo Diet?

Well the main notion of the paleo diet, which is to limit the amount of processed and packaged foods in your diet, is overall a pretty good piece of health advice. However, downing red meat on a regular basis while removing your gut ability to digest it in a safe way is not such a good idea.

If you are on the paleo diet just remember to incorporate different types of animal or fish protein into your diet and not rely on red meat too heavily. Incorporating some grains can also do your body some good. Consider throwing in a quinoa salad with black beans and chickpeas to bolster the rest of your meal plan.

What is your experience with the paleo diet? Good? Bad? Let us know down in the comments!

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Lesley George

Lesley is a content writer and community manager at Shape.
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