It seems as if every few months there’s a new diet whose rules and requirements we must follow if we’re going to reach the goal of good health. The “paleo” diet provides a great example of this phenomenon. We’re exhorted by paleo proponents to eat lots of fats and animal protein. Carbohydrate consumption should be fairly light. Grass-fed beef is prized by paleo-dieters. You may consume unlimited amounts of butter, and must eliminate all cereals, legumes, and dairy products (except butter of course) from your diet. Now unless you’re a paleo convert, these prescriptions may seem to fly in the face of everything you’ve ever known about healthy eating. Paleo supporters will respond with the claim that human biology developed over the course of hundreds of thousands of years and that agriculture is brand new, having arrived about 10,000 years ago. That’s worth thinking about, but we may remember that other diets backed by correspondingly compelling logic and dollops of science have come and gone over the course of many decades.
For instance, the Atkins diet is still going strong for more than 50 years. The main requirement of the Atkins diet is low carbohydrate consumption, and in this way the Atkins program resembles the paleo diet. High-protein consumption is the other pillar of the Atkins approach. The rationale was that such an eating plan would force your body to burn fat, rather than glucose, for energy. But the diet hasn’t withstood rigorous scientific scrutiny.1,2
Vegan and vegetarian diets have also been popular for many decades.3 The vegetarian lifestyle has wide appeal and vegetarian recipes are famed for their simplicity and palate-pleasing qualities. However, vegetarian contrarians do exist. Some studies even suggest that vegetarian or vegan diets may be associated with anxiety, depression, and neurologic dysfunction.3
The bottom line is that good sense should prevail. Starting a diet because the program was touted in a magazine article or a talk-show interview may not be in every person's best interest. Simply put, any diet may be harmful to a particular person. It's important to remember that what works for one person may not work for another. Paleo, Atkins, and vegetarian diets may create great benefits for certain persons, but may cause real medical problems for other people. The best overall approach for most us is to eat regularly from a wide variety of food groups, make sure to eat five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day, and pay close attention to portion control and calorie intake. Those desiring more detailed information and recommendations will find their chiropractors and family physicians excellent sources of expert guidance.
1 Noto H, et al: Low-carbohydrate diets and all-cause mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. PLoS One 2013;8(1):e55030. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0055030. Epub 2013 Jan 25
2 Lagiou P, et al: Low carbohydrate-high protein diet and incidence of cardiovascular diseases in Swedish women: prospective cohort study. Br Med J 2012 Jun 26;344:e4026. doi: 10.1136/bmj.e4026
3Plotnikoff GA: Nutritional assessment in vegetarians and vegans: questions clinicians should ask. Minn Med 95(12):36-36, 2012