May 01, 2015

The Paleo Diet and Heart Health

It’s no doubt that Paleo is becoming more widely known and gaining popularity and peeking the interest of more and more people. According to, the search term “paleo diet” has increased from an interest rating of 1-3 in 2005-2009 up to 100 in January 2013! 

While we are stoked that this means that more people are becoming introduced to the Paleo lifestyle, along with the interest comes some concern from the heart health community. 

We’re here today to put some of the concerns about Paleo to rest when it comes to the Paleo diet and heart health.

Paleo 101

Let’s get back to the Paleo diet basics for a moment here. At its core, following a Paleo diet means you are eating vegetables, fruits, lean meats, seafood, nuts & seeds, and healthy fats.

What we avoid is dairy, grains, processed food and sugars, legumes, starches, and alcohol. That being said, some Paleo peeps do allow a little bit of red wine and green beans or snap peas into their diets. (Such as, well, me.)

Paleo LIFEstyle

But Paleo isn’t just about food. Exercise is a key component in the Paleo lifestyle. Sure, we aren’t hunting our own food using clubs, but we can still lift some weights, run, dance, skip, or really, do whatever makes us happy, to keep in shape.

“Surviving in the Stone Age meant a constant on-the-go lifestyle that probably required 4,000-plus calories a day, according to David L. Katz, MD, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. Even most people who hit the gym regularly won't need to eat that many calories, but the principle of using food as fuel to exercise still stands.”

We know what a Paleo diet looks like now, but what are the recommended foods for heart health? Here are two sites that any non-Paleo person may go to for some trusted guidance on good foods for their heart.

Let’s take the list, to start. 

Only 2 out of 18 are not Paleo. (We still can’t believe soy is recommended on any diet, but that’s another story for another day. You can read up a little on the harmful effects of soy here.) The WebMD list is pretty similar.

Their list includes black or kidney beans, which are excluded from Paleo, add in Tuna (fine for Paleo), tofu (a big fat no), brown rice (limited for some Paleo peeps; I tend to stay away from it and turn to Cauliflower for my rice fix), soy milk (almond milk is a better alternative), carrots (yes), broccoli (yes), sweet potato (yes), red bell peppers (yes), asparagus (yes), tomatoes (yes for most), acorn squash (yes), cantaloupe (yes), and papaya (yes).

So when we look at both of these lists, there are very few non-Paleo foods that are being recommended for heart health. In fact, each list, with a few modifications or substitutions, is pretty darn close to Paleo!

What gives? Why isn’t Paleo recommended by doctors?

Probably the biggest concern over Paleo (besides people freaking out over not eating bread or pasta anymore) is how following the Paleo diet affects heart health, yet what I’m seeing here is that most foods recommended to improve your heart health, are Paleo!

Yes, there are concerns over the amount of fats consumed by someone following a Paleo diet, but we aren’t getting our fats from sugary foods, cream sauces, cheese, and processed foods. The fats we are eating are healthy fats, period.

They are the fats that physicians ARE recommending for improved heart health. Avocado, nuts, seeds, salmon are filled with heart healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. And let's be honest here - we're all friends, it’s not healthy FAT that is making us FAT. It’s all the sugar that is out there in those packaged “convenience” foods that is making us fat. It actually appears that eating a Paleo diet can help to IMPROVE heart health.

In fact, a 2009 study done by European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found “metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a Paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet." Nine people consumed a Paleo diet for 10 days with controlled calories to ensure they wouldn't lose weight. The results were as follows:

  • Total Cholesterol decreased by 16%.
  • LDL Cholesterol decreased by 22%.
  • Triglycerides decreased by 35%.
  • Insulin AUC decreased by 39%.
  • Diastolic Blood Pressure decreased by 3.4 mmHg.

Why isn’t the medical community recommending Paleo to everyone?

Essentially, they are... almost... if they just remove soy and oatmeal from the list of 18, people are starting to recommend the Paleo diet for heart health. Unfortunately, most of the medical community may have the (incorrect) assumption that Paleo is meat with a side of meat.

They may not realize that it’s NOT recommended that you eat more meat than veggies. There are different approaches to Paleo and the most healthy one for your heart, and really your entire body will include more veggies than any other food group. "Find a Paleo approach that really stresses plenty of vegetables and fruit and emphasizes quality lean proteins like poultry and fish.


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Nik Hawks


Nik Hawks helps run the show at Paleo Treats. Fascinated by humans in all their strange glory, Nik is harnessed in and pulling hard in pursuit of excellence with the rest of the PT Crew. Enjoy!

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