Paleo Diet Benefits and Drawbacks
by Nancy Hearn, CNC

Veggies and meat

The Paleo diet benefits can be significant for most people if the diet and lifestyle program is followed correctly and one does not eat too much animal product. 

As with any healthy eating program, it is essential to drink enough clean water each day to stay fully hydrated and to be able to glean the maximum nutrient value from foods.

The Paleo diet is often called the “caveman’s diet” because it involves eating foods that were readily available during the Paleolithic era, nearly 20,000 years ago. 

The diet includes primarily grass-fed meats, seafood and poultry, vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats.

Thus, it does not include foods such as dairy, grains, beans, legumes, processed foods, juices, sodas, and vegetable oils.

It is also possible to be a vegan Paleo follower by including a higher amount of plant-based proteins and excluding the animal-based proteins.  It is a little more challenging to be a healthy vegan Paleo, but definitely possible.

Foods to Eat

Contrary to popular belief, Paleo is not about eating excessive amounts of meat.

The Paleo diet benefits health most when the food foundation is primarily vegetables. The quality of protein (such as grass-fed meats and wild fish) is also highly important.

The Paleo diet is more about eating many non-starchy plant-based vegetabels with moderate amounts of nuts, seeds, animal protein, and healthy fats. 

The following foods are the main food groups in the Paleo diet:

  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Grass-fed meats
  • Seafood, poultry, pork
  • Healthy fats (olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, nut butters)

Foods to Avoid

For the most part, grains were not eaten during the Paleolithic era and are to be avoided. Eliminating the intake of grains for even a few days or weeks will provide numerous health benefits for anyone.

Legumes, such as soy and peanuts, are also not included in the diet. Legumes contain some anti-nutrients like phytic acid and lectins which bind to minerals and blocks their absorption.

As for beans, well, not many people can actually digest beans without causing gas, indigestion or bloating.  That should tell us something.

  • Grains
  • Dairy
  • Legumes and beans
  • Processed foods
  • Processed sugars
  • Juices and sodas
  • Vegetable oils

6 Paleo Diet Benefits for Optimal Health

The Paleo diet benefits are many and varied but are also dependent on each person's health history, individual lifestyle, eating habits, activity levels and stress levels. The following are just a few of the potential advantages.

Sustained weight management.   The U.S. epidemic of obesity has much to do with the over-consumption of grains and sugars, as well as all processed and prepared foods. Grains contain carbohydrates that are turned into glucose and used for energy in the body.  Any glucose that is not needed for energy is stored as fat.

Stable blood sugar.  By eliminating processed carbohydrates from your diet, you can help to normalize your body’s production of insulin and restore insulin sensitivity. This can help stabilize blood sugar levels, improve general health, and reduce the risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Gluten-free.  Since Paleo cuts out grains that contain gluten, such as barley, wheat, kamut, and rye, it can be a good diet for those who have gluten sensitivity. However, I believe EVERYONE is gluten insensitive and would benefit from excluding or at least reducing gluten in their diets. 

Better brain function.   Reducing the amount of grains and sugar in your diet and having more stable blood sugar can improve mental clarity, cognitive function, memory and focus. Recent studies are also showing that gluten significantly increases inflammation in the brain, and can increase risk of dementia. 

Improved muscle tone.   Just ask body builders. The Paleo diet is pretty much how they eat when they want to get lean, reduce body fat, and improve muscle tone.  Excess consumption of grains and sugars will cause anyone to gain weight (fat).

Healthier intestines.  Cutting out dairy, sugars, and grains will significantly improve the healthy balance of good bacteria in the gut. Since combining protein and starch (grains) in the same meal is an unhealthy food combination, often leading to the accumulation of undigested food and toxic waste in the colon, the Paleo diet may support healthy colon health for many people. 

Paleo Diet Drawbacks

Too much meat. One of the biggest disadvantages of this diet is that many people tend to eat way too much meat and not enough vegetables. This can cause excess acidity in the body, which can lead to inflammation and other issues. 

Sugar and starch cravings.   All forms of sugar and most processed grain foods are at least somewhat addictive.  Many people struggle with cravings for sugar and starch if they attempt to follow a strict Paleo diet. However, the longer you stick with it, the easier it gets and the cravings often diminish.

Undigested animal protein.  As we age, many of us do not produce enough hydrochloric acid to fully digest animal protein.  Thus, it may be necessary for some to take a supplement, such as Betaine HCL (hydrochloric acid) to get optimal digestion and utilization of nutrients.  It also helps to simply slow down when eating and chew each bite 30 times.

Summary and Recommendations

In general, I believe the Paleo diet is a healthy diet if it is done right—meaning the majority of one’s diet is plant-based (mainly vegetables) with moderate amounts of fish and animal protein, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats.  

Consuming a higher ratio of plant-based foods to the animal protein is important and will make all the difference in how healthy this diet is!  

Of course, if you are vegan and are relying on plant-based proteins, this is not an issue.  But you would mostly likely need to increase the amount of vegetable proteins and possibly take a vitamin B-12 supplement.

It is also critical while following this diet to include healthy fats on a daily basis. The healthy fats include foods like avocadoes, olives, olive oil, nuts and nut butters (especially almonds), as well as healthy fat fish, such as salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel.

These healthy fats will provide satiation from food that we have been conditioned to get from starches.

I believe most everyone would benefit being on a vegetable-rich Paleo diet for at least a week or more periodically.  

Blood sugar imbalances and insulin problems are related to many health issues, and the Paleo diet can help restore balance.

I also think that eating more fish on this diet and less red meat will be healthier in the long run. 

In addition, Paleo is more than just a diet.  It is a lifestyle that encourages optimal fitness, stress prevention and management, as well as adequate sleep. The lifestyle factors are just as important as the diet.

Reference; Gluten Sensitivity and the Impact on the Brain; 2013.

Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers; David Perlmutter, MD; 2013. 

Further reading . . .

Drinking Enough Water Daily Is the Foundation of Health

Simple Food Combining — 5 Guidelines for Optimal Health

Return from Paleo Diet Benefits to Water Nutrition

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