Is the Paleo diet healthy?

What are we humans meant to eat for optimal health? Some belief that it must be the diet that our ancestors ate because our genes are still adapted to that. This is also known as a hunter-gatherer approach, or ‘Stone Age diet’, or Paleo type of diet. But is this a healthy diet?

What is a Paleo diet?

Paleo supporters attempt to copy the hunter-gatherer diet by eating lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. The diet excludes processed foods and oils, sugar, salt, grains, legumes, milk, and dairy products.

Problems with the hunter-gatherer approach

The biggest problem with the hunter-gatherer approach is that it looks just at the last 2 million years where humans already existed.

However, our evolution begun much earlier: we are already evolving for 25 million years!

From this early time, our nutrient requirements and digestive physiology were already developing. In our recent hunter-gatherer days our digestive system was already established. The digestive system of hunter-gatherers was built to thrive on plants, just as our ancient ancestors (the great apes) were eating. And our body still is made to thrive on plants.

Nutritional value of the Paleo diet

The paleo diet offers some good improvements as compared to the standard Western diet. It excludes many unhealthy products, such as highly processed foods, refined carbohydrates, fried foods, fast food and dairy. And it includes many healthy plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

A typical paleo diet, nowadays, consists of 32% protein, 15% carbohydrates, 53% fat of which 19% saturated fat.

Those values are not in line with the current scientific consensus. In a healthy diet, 40-70% of calories should come from carbs, 20-35% from fat and maximum 10% from saturated fat. In short, a paleo diet provides too much fat and too less carbohydrates. Why is that bad?

Our bodies prefers carbohydrates for fuel. Our brains are eager for glucose! Carbohydrates are the body’s most important source of energy. This is why you get tired, irritable, and shaky when you are low on carbs.

Not enough carbs

What is the problem with low carb diets?

The Paleo diet is based on the idea that our bodies ‘prefer’ fats and protein for energy. This assumption is, in fact, not true.

Our bodies prefers carbohydrates for fuel. Our brains are eager for glucose! Carbohydrates are the body’s most important source of energy. This is why you get tired, irritable, and shaky when you are low on carbs.

Too much fat

A typical Paleo diet provides more than 50% of energy from fat. A healthy diet should not provide more than 35% of energy from fat.

Moreover, a typical Paleo diet also provides double of the maximum recommended amount of saturated fats.

Saturated fat increases the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels in our blood, leading to the clogging of our arteries, and in turn, leading to heart disease – the number 1 killer in the Western world.

Too much cholesterol

Moreover, the Paleo diet is very high in a specific type of fat, called dietary cholesterol (not to be confused with the LDL cholesterol in our blood). It provides about 1300 milligrams per day of dietary cholesterol. The ‘safe’ amount of dietary cholesterol is a maximum of 200 – 300 milligrams a day. The plant-based diet of our great apes ancestors was virtually free of dietary cholesterol.

That is why our body can make all the cholesterol that it needs.

In other words, we do not need to consume cholesterol from our diet. Nowadays, the Paleo diet (and the standard Western diet as well) are full of cholesterol from animal fats, such as bacon and eggs. Contrary to wide-held beliefs, dietary cholesterol plays a very small part in increasing LDL cholesterol levels in the blood.

However, research shows that high intakes of dietary cholesterol are harmful to the liver, and a high-cholesterol diet increases tumor growth and development of metastasis.

Cancer cells use dietary cholesterol to support their growth, thus promoting tumor development and progression.

No beans and grains

Lastly, the Paleo diet excludes legumes and grains.

This is a serious shortcoming because those food groups provide us with so many beneficial nutrients.

legumes not part of paleo diet

Legumes lower your LDL cholesterol, which helps keep your arteries healthy. Legumes and whole grains are rich in protein and fiber, and they are sources of B-vitamins and iron. Whole grains can reduce your risk for certain heart diseases, diabetes type 2 and colon cancer. So be sure you include those in your diet!


Is the Paleo diet healthy? The Paleo diet, which excludes highly processed foods, is a better alternative to the standard Western diet. However, there are also some problems with it. The Paleo diet nowadays consists of too less carbohydrates, and too much fat, especially saturated fat and cholesterol. Moreover, it excludes healthy foods such as beans and whole grains. What’s the better alternative? A healthy whole-foods plant-based diet.