We have all heard it before, whether from a friend after a dramatic weight loss, or within the pages of a glossy magazine with accompanying before-and-after photos that leave our mouths agape: THIS DIET CHANGED MY LIFE. While trend diets tend to promise just that – a drastic change in feeling and appearance – the brevity of the results received and the toll which they take on one’s body are usually just as extreme.
Growing in popularity over the last 5 years, a new- or rather old, considering its origins date back to the Stone Age- diet trend has emerged: the Paleolithic diet, or “paleo” for short. Promising not only weight loss, but also increased health benefits for people suffering from a slew of maladies, including osteoporosis, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease and even cancer, this pre-historic diet is coming back into fashion- and people are taking to it like cavemen to fire.
The Paleo Diet, which was developed through research done by Dr. Loren Cordain, has become a popular health trend, not only for those trying to fit into their bikinis or beat the winter bulge, but also for those who suffer from chronic illness or disease. Paleo relies on dieters going back to basics- unprocessed foods, lots of fruits and vegetables, and fresh meats and nuts, just like our earliest ancestors would have hunted and gathered for so long ago.
Personally, I know about Paleo because my sister, Allison Niebauer, follows a diet very similar to it, the “Specific Carbohydrates Diet,” as a means of controlling her Crohn’s Disease, an autoimmune disease that she was diagnosed with three years ago. Whereas the Paleo diet requires its adherents to abstain from cereal grains, refined sugar, dairy, salt, refined vegetable oils and processed foods, the SCD diet allows its constituents to consume specific types of dairy and legumes.
Although my sister remains my personal “face” for the Paleo/SCD diet trend, another young woman, Danielle Walker, has published a New York Times bestselling cookbook and has a popular website a blog due to her success with managing her Ulcerative Colitis, an autoimmune disease, through following the Paleo diet. Walker has gained success through sharing her story and publishing Paleo-friendly recipes on her website “Against All Grain” and in her cookbook of the same name.
Walker has been able to manage the symptoms of her disease and go without a flare-up since she has committed to strictly adhering to the Paleo diet. “I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, an autoimmune disease, when I was 22 years old,” said Walker on her website. “After a few years of suffering, multiple hospitalizations, and doctors telling me that what I ate wasn’t a factor in my disease, I decided to take matters into my own hands and drastically change my diet.”
Walker’s story is not unique, either. Hundreds of people with similar stories to her own post on her blog, on various health forums and on Paleo websites to speak of the transformation that they have undergone since committing to the Paleo or SCD diet. Doctors in support of the diet say that the typical Western diet is responsible for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and more. However, the diet is not without controversy.
According to an article published by Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on WebMD’s journal, “Some nutrition experts assert that humans have adapted to a broader diet including whole grains, dairy, and legumes. Others question the evidence for the diet’s evolutionary logic.”
While I can personally attest to the transformative impact that it has had on my sister, who has had significantly improved health since strictly adhering to the SCD diet, I can also acknowledge questioning the impact that abstracting multiple food groups from our diet that have been previously deemed as “good for you” (dairy? whole grains?). Skeptics wonder, what problems may arise from a lack of nutrients provided from a “well-balanced” diet?
By adhering to the Paleo or SCD diet, dieters are still consuming a wide-variety of foods and eating a balanced diet, but are avoiding foods that are hard for the body to digest, and that can cause heart problems later on. This isn’t the Atkins diet, which encourages dieters to cut out an entire food group in order to lose weight – this diet is, for many people, about better health; a form of medicinal therapy for serious ailments and disease that is more a lifestyle change than even a diet.
Cordain argues that even foods like grains and dairy, which seem to be good for us, come with a price. “Our genome has not really adapted to these foods, which can cause inflammation at the cellular level and promote disease,” she said in a statement to WebMD.
While I can’t imagine giving up grains and sugar, which seem to sneak their way into everything I consume, I have been floored by the power of our diet on our health and well being, as evidenced by my sister and many others who have found relief to ailments that were otherwise unsolvable with prescription medication.
As science evolves and we get more information on what is best for our bodies, we learn that the foods we once thought were most important for our health may now be our greatest demise. Trend or not, the findings of the Paleolithic diet are hard to ignore, and the testimonies of its followers speak for themselves on the power of this new-old diet.
Check out Allison Niebauer’s blog at: livingfullywithout.com
Check out Danielle Walker’s blog at: againstallgrains.com