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What Side Effects Does the Caveman Diet Have?

by
author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
What Side Effects Does the Caveman Diet Have?
paleo food on plate on wood table in kitchen setting Photo Credit lofilolo/iStock/Getty Images

The caveman diet, known also as the Paleo diet, has multiple interpretations that all focus on eating as people did between 2.5 million and 10,000 years ago. All processed foods, modern agricultural items and feedlot animal products are shunned in favor of natural foods, such as fresh vegetables, fruits, grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish and raw nuts. Legumes, dairy and refined sugar are off-limits too, as they weren't part of the human diet until the agricultural revolution. While some view the diet as overly restrictive, others embrace it as a path to wellness. Decreasing your processed food intake in favor of whole natural foods is a favorable dietary shift that can bring about positive side effects, but doing so via the cavemen diet has drawbacks, too.

Positive Side Effects

Decreasing your reliance on processed foods means less exposure to chemicals, toxins and anti-nutrients. A lot of processed foods are high in refined carbohydrates and sugars and lacking in naturally occurring vitamins and minerals. Eating too many processed foods contributes to weight gain and chronic disease. Switching to a caveman diet may help you lose weight and decrease disease-causing inflammation. A study published in the "European Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in August 2009 found that even when followed for just 10 days, a hunter-gatherer diet resulted in improvements in blood pressure, glucose tolerance and lipid profiles as well as positive changes in insulin secretion and sensitivity.

Energy Depletion

Because the caveman diet shuns all grains, beans, legumes and, in some versions of the diet, potatoes, you may find yourself taking in too few carbohydrates. You'll get carbohydrates from leafy green vegetables, starchy squash and fruits, but you still may not get enough to provide your body with the fuel it needs to thrive. A typical caveman diet provides just 23 percent of calories from carbohydrates, reports "U.S. News and World Report," compared to the minimum of 45 percent recommended by current dietary guidelines. Carbohydrates are your body's primary fuel source, and if your energy needs are high -- especially if you're an athlete or even a weekend warrior -- a paleo plan can leave you feeling depleted. Sluggishness is a possible side effect, and your body may also burn off some lean muscle mass for fuel.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Most versions of the caveman diet demonize foods generally recognized as healthy, including oatmeal, hummus and yogurt. Putting these foods into the same category as cake and chips makes little nutritional sense. Banning entire food groups from your diet can also deprive you of valuable nutrients. In the case of the caveman diet, this may mean you'll become deficient in calcium and vitamin D.

Disordered Eating

Strictly following a caveman diet can make it hard to eat at functions, family events and restaurants. You can't be sure these places provide caveman-diet-approved foods, such as only grass-fed meats and unrefined vegetable oils. Strict adherence to a caveman diet can make you obsessive about meals and cause you to feel guilty about eating foods, such as black beans or barley, that are viewed as healthy by most dietitians.

Busted Budget

Cavemen had no choice but to choose natural foods and wild animals at mealtime. With the advent of highly processed foods, many dieters have to go out of their way and spend a lot of money to get the most natural ingredients. A diet based on grass-fed meat and wild-caught fish quickly results in an inflated food budget. Whole grains and beans are inexpensive, and nutritious, ways to fill out your diet but are off-limits on the caveman plan.

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