Low-carb diets have been all the rage lately, and paleo is no exception. Based on how our Paleolithic ancestors may have eaten, this plan includes foods that they would have typically hunted and gathered. Followers of this diet stick to meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and oils. They avoid sugar, dairy, beans and legumes, grains, and starchy vegetables. Although paleo sounds promising, people often make mistakes when eating this way. These paleo mistakes could ultimately hurt rather than help their health.
Research is mixed on its efficacy, but the paleo diet’s possible benefits include weight loss, lowered blood sugar and triglycerides, and better blood pressure control. But because it’s a restrictive diet, a nutrient imbalance could occur depending on how you’re eating. If you decide to hop on the paleo trend, make sure you’re doing it right. Here are six paleo mistakes you may be making and how to avoid them.
Relying on Packaged Foods
On a traditional paleo diet, you’re technically supposed to avoid processed foods altogether. However, because the diet has become so popular, plenty of packaged products now have the paleo label. “Just because a food item says ‘paleo’ on it doesn’t make it a health food,” says registered dietitian Carrie Walder, M.S., R.D. “Paleo cookies are still cookies. Have them every now and then, but be sure to make the majority of your diet whole-food ingredients.”
Skimping on Calcium
One of the biggest paleo mistakes is not getting the right balance of important nutrients, such as calcium. “Because you’re not consuming dairy products, tofu, or legumes on this diet, be sure to include other sources of calcium,” Walder says. “Some paleo-approved calcium sources include leafy green vegetables like broccoli, kale, and mustard greens, as well as canned fish with bones.”
Not Getting Enough Fiber
Because whole grains and legumes are off-limits on the paleo diet, many people don’t consume enough fiber. The nutrient is important, as it can help with weight maintenance, stabilizing blood sugars, and lowering cholesterol levels. Within the paleo diet, fiber sources include fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. “I suggest setting a baseline and aiming to get a minimum of five servings of non-starchy vegetables each day,” says registered dietitian Maya Feller, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. “That means with every meal, you would be having at least one serving of non-starchy vegetables.”
Eating Too Much Meat
“I’m not suggesting that you have to be a vegetarian to be healthy. But I am saying eating meat at every meal may not be the best choice for your body,” Feller says. “I suggest that the person following the paleo diet think about meat as the accompaniment rather than the main. Having eight ounces of meat at every meal is simply too much. It can put unnecessary stress on the kidneys and liver.” To avoid one of the biggest paleo mistakes, create a balanced plate that includes mostly non-starchy vegetables and healthy fat.
Eating the Wrong Sources of Saturated Fat
Not all fats are created equal. “There is a huge difference between having two servings of nuts daily in comparison to eating salami and cured meats every day,” Feller says. “The standard Western diet is abundant in lab-made saturated fats. For someone transitioning from the standard Western diet to the paleo diet, the risk could be that there is confusion around the health benefits of fats.” Processed meats are technically not paleo-approved. Stick to plant-based sources of fat along with grass-fed and sustainably sourced meat.
Going Too Low-Carb
Although a main component of the paleo diet is cutting down on carbs, you don’t want to go too extreme. “The tendency when following the paleo diet is to go high protein and low carb,” Feller says. “There is no one size fits all, and a low-carbohydrate diet is certainly not right for everyone.” This is where fruits and non-starchy vegetables come into play. “It’s important that a person following the paleo diet be as balanced as possible and make sure that they are having fruit daily as well as non-starchy vegetables,” Feller says.
To avoid these paleo mistakes, opt for balanced meals filled with the approved food groups, and steer clear of packaged and processed foods.