Caveman Cravings

Jaclyn Reutens, dietitian at Aptima Nutrition & Sports Consultants weighs in on whether the paleo diet really helps you drop the kilos.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Enthusiasts of the popular paleo diet claim that eating like cavepeople — that is, eating only foods that can be hunted or gathered such as fish and grass-fed meats, supplemented with vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts — can help you lose weight and body fat, reduce inflammation, as well as improve your blood sugar levels and blood pressure. Refined oil, sugar, salt and processed foods are on the banned list, as are ingredients introduced by farming and industrialisation. This means the diet has some surprising exclusions such as legumes, dairy and grains.


On the upside, the diet seems to simplify the way you eat, and incorporates plentiful fibre and nutrients from fruits, veggies and nuts. Grass-fed meats, wild game and fish also provide many essential nutrients without dubious antibiotics and hormones. 

Jaclyn says that the paleo diet can help people lose weight because it “eliminates highly processed foods which are high in calories and advocates lower calorie foods that are fresh and minimally processed”. “You lose weight because your overall calorie intake will be much lower than your usual diet,” she explains. Reaffirming her point, one small US study found that participants who switched to a paleo diet for eight weeks managed to cut out about 44 per cent less carbs and consumed about 22 per cent less calories.


Unfortunately Jaclyn says she wouldn’t recommend the diet as a sound diet to lose weight, adding that any weight loss would also be “difficult to maintain”.

One of her main concerns is that the paleo diet restricts highly nutritious foods such as dairy and grains that contain many essential nutrients. Also, carbs are needed even for weight loss. Otherwise, your body may enter “starvation mode” – this is where your metablism is lowered and your body starts breaking down muscle stores.

You also run the risk of bingeing on carb-heavy snacks like chips and burgers once you’re off the diet because of the pent-up craving.


If you have risk factors for chronic diseases like hypertension and heart disease, leave this diet alone. Unless you choose vegan or vegetarian protein sources, you may end up consuming too much saturated fat from meats. The high levels of saturated fat will also block insulin receptors for diabetics.

Additionally, those with hypertension would miss out the blood pressure-lowering effects of grains. Suffer from osteoporosis? The low calcium levels of the paleo diet will do no wonders. And for those with digestive problems, the diet can also be low in fibre if not carefully considered.

There are other health implications of the paleo diet. While carnivores may delight in this diet’s go-ahead to indulge in their favourite meats, be warned that excessive protein consumption — the recommended daily intake for women is 58g, about the amount in a 250g piece of grassfed lean steak or 280g of chicken — especially in middle age, has been linked to higher rates of cancer, according to a study by the University of Southern California in the US.

Still keen on giving the diet a go? Consult a doctor or dietitian who can assess your digestive issues, metabolic condition and overall health before giving their recommendation.