Pros and Cons of the Paleo Diet for Weight Loss

The paleo diet is one of the trendiest diets when it comes to losing weight. It’s a high-protein, high-fiber, low-carb diet that many people swear helps them lose weight and feel good. However, it can also come with substantial downsides.

What is the Paleo Diet?

The idea behind the paleo diet is to eat only what ancient nomadic people groups were thought to have eaten before refined foods became more common. Rather than eating breads, dairy, and processed foods, a Paleo diet thus focuses on more unrefined whole foods rich in meat, fish, and easy-to-prepare plant foods.

Just like many other popular diets today, such as the ketogenic or vegetarian diet, there is reason to be both optimistic and cautious when it comes to the paleo diet. We will share with you the upsides of following this diet, as well as the negatives that you should be aware of.

What Can You Eat on the Paleo Diet?

When it comes to what you can eat, the paleo diet allows meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. It doesn’t allow processed foods, fast food, dairy, or alcohol.

The paleo plan for weight loss also doesn’t allow some foods that are typically considered to be a part of a balanced, healthy diet. This includes legumes, like lentils or beans; coffee; root vegetables; and grains, like wheat or rice.

Can You Lose Weight On the Paleo Diet?

Before following any diet, the simple question that most people have is this: can it help me lose weight? We will delve into this question, and identify the other pros and cons of the paleo plan for weight loss, to give you a more thorough understanding of possible health implications.

Paleo Diet for Weight Loss Pro #1: The Paleo Diet Can Lead to Weight Loss

Multiple small-scale studies have found that this style of diet can lead to weight loss, although more clinical studies are needed to confirm these early results. This makes sense as the paleo plan for weight loss recommends whole foods, which are more nutritious and filling than processed foods. When we eat whole foods like fish, vegetables, and fruits, we tend to eat fewer calories overall.

Additionally, the whole foods that you would consume on the paleo diet are full of a variety of nutrients, including healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, protein, and more.

Paleo Diet for Weight Loss Pro #2: The Paleo Diet Can Improve Overall Health for Some

The early studies conducted thus far examining the paleolithic diet have found favorable results when it comes to our health and wellbeing when compared to a standard western diet rich in processed foods which can cause chronic inflammation, a key driver for many chronic diseases. Researchers in various studies have observed improved insulin sensitivity, cholesterol levels, reduced oxidative stress (which can damage your brain and body), and a possible benefit for those suffering from inflammatory bowel disease.

Paleo Diet for Weight Loss Pro #3: The Paleo Diet Removes Some of the Worst Foods From the Diet

While not every food in the paleo diet is healthy, meat and fruits may be healthier than processed foods.

When following a paleo plan for weight loss, you would completely cut out added sugars, like those found in sodas, desserts, and even condiments such as barbeque sauce. You give up foods with high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar, and synthetic chemicals that may damage your health and hinder your ability to lose weight.

This removal of added sugars, along with the removal of processed foods like white bread, is by far the biggest benefit of the paleo diet when it comes to losing weight.

The Negatives of the Paleo Plan for Weight Loss

The paleo diet for weight loss does have some drawbacks:
• Removes some healthy foods
• Encourages overeating meat, which is linked to increased risk of cancer and heart disease
• Very strict, which makes it difficult to follow long-term

Paleo Diet for Weight Loss Con #1: The Paleo Diet Removes Healthy Foods From Your Diet

If you follow the paleo diet to a “T,” you will be giving up some plant foods that are generally regarded as good for your health. Legumes, root vegetables, and whole grains are the three healthy categories of food that are not included in the paleo diet, in spite of evidence that they can help you lose weight and/or stay healthy.

100% whole grains such as oatmeal and wild rice have been found to be beneficial for health, and may have weight loss benefits as well.

Legumes, like black beans, garbanzo beans, and lentils, are one of the central food components of numerous cultures around the world. They are packed full of fiber, protein, and other phytonutrients that are a great addition to most diets.

Root vegetables are often demonized, but some of these can be a good addition to a well-balanced diet. Sweet potatoes or yams, for example, are very rich in beta-carotene, which can help your vision and serves as an anti-oxidant and anti-cancer nutrient. They have served as a healthy staple food for many cultures around the world.

Paleo Diet for Weight Loss Con #2: Dangers of Eating Too Much Meat

The paleo diet is naturally very high in meat, and eating too much meat can have profound negative health effects.

“I don’t believe meat is bad for you, but it is more about the quantity and the quality of the meat that we consume,” says Carrie Gabriel, MS, RDN. She suggests that a portion of meat should be about 3 ounces, substantially less than what many paleo dieters consume.

Eating too much meat, especially red meat, can lead to constipation, because meat is low in fiber. If you do adopt the paleo diet, then you’ll need to be very conscious about eating high-fiber fruits and vegetables.

More dangerously, red meat and processed meats are also a “probable” cause of cancer, according to the World Health Organization; and are actually classified as a class I carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Red meat also contains a lot of saturated fats, which can raise your blood cholesterol levels and worsen heart disease. If you do adopt a paleo diet, then for the sake of your long-term health you should choose chicken and fish rather than red meat. However, chicken has also been linked to cardiovascular disease and may contain viral and bacterial pathogens. Although rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fish can also contain toxins and heavy metals that can cause a variety of health issues. This may be why fish oil supplements have been found to increase the risk for breast and prostate cancer.

Paleo Diet for Weight Loss Con #3: The Paleo Diet is a Very Strict Diet

The paleo diet only allows you to eat meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds; which is a far departure from how many people normally eat. When diets are too far off from what we normally eat and what those around us eat, it makes it harder for us to stick to them.

Should I Follow the Paleo Diet For Weight Loss?

The paleo diet has some good elements, but its heavy focus on meat means that paleo dieters may struggle with health issues down the road. A better alternative is a plant-based whole foods diet, which preserves the benefits of the paleo diet without encouraging overeating of meat.

What if I Don’t Lose Weight By Dieting?

If you’ve tried the paleo diet for weight loss or other weight-loss diets, and you’ve lost 50 pounds or even more only to watch helplessly as the scale creeps back up, then please understand that this is not your fault.

If you suffer from obesity, then your body is hardwired to gain and maintain weight. Diets like the paleo diet can help if you want to lose 20 or 30 pounds (though it’s important to note that the paleo plan for weight loss is not ideal for long-term weight loss because of its heavy emphasis on meat). But if you need to lose more than that, then dieting alone is unlikely to give you the results that you’re looking for.

If this is you, then we strongly recommend that you consider bariatric surgery in Colorado.

Bariatric surgery, when combined with lifestyle modification, is a powerful tool to help you level the playing field in your battle with obesity. A surgery like the gastric bypass or duodenal switch, when paired with lifestyle modification, can help patients to lose 100-150 pounds or even more*.
If you think bariatric surgery may be right for you, then go ahead and schedule an appointment with our friendly staff.

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This page was medically reviewed by Dr. Joshua Long, MD, MBA, FACS, FASMBS. Dr. Long is a double-board-certified bariatric surgeon and bariatric medical director for Parker Adventist Hospital.
Full Bio: Dr. Joshua Long, MD, MBA, FACS, FASMBS
Page Updated: November 8th, 2019

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*Please note that individual results can vary and are not guaranteed.