While experts praise low-carb, high-fat diets like paleo and keto for their prioritization of natural foods and potential to instigate weight loss, the diets also present some possible health challenges, according to Mayo Clinic.
Because those on the paleo diet cut out whole grains and legumes, the dieters may be deficient in fiber, vitamins and some micronutrients, Mayo Clinic said. The diet also places restrictions on dairy products, which could lead to a calcium or protein deficiency.
Dieters should be mindful of what types of fats, proteins and vitamins they are consuming. High-fat diets also put individuals at greater risk for kidney disease, heart disease and some cancers, according to University of California at Davis Health.
The paleo diet emphasizes cutting out processed foods and consuming a similar diet to that of humans’ ancestors. The diet can vary in number of restrictions and the intensity of those restrictions. However, those on the diet generally stick to these guidelines:
• Grass-fed lean meat or wild game
• Fruits and vegetables
• Nuts (other than peanuts) and seeds
• Certain oils from fruits and nuts
• Wheat and other grains
• Legumes, including beans, lentils and peanuts
• Processed foods and refined sugar
Source: Mayo Clinic (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/paleo-diet/art-20111182)
For the past four years, Littleton resident Kimberly Spomer has attended a support group. The group of roughly 25 people consists of like-minded individuals seeking community and advice as they follow the paleolithic or “paleo” diet and other low-carb diets.
“You go out to eat, and it can be difficult feeling like you’re the only one,” she said. “The group is this really strong community. We know each other, we watch each other’s progress, we share tips and books that we’ve read.”
Known as the Low-Carb and Paleo Support Group, the monthly meeting is run by Denver’s Diet Doctor at 7720 S. Broadway and facilitated by health care professionals Dr. Jeff Gerber, Erynn Kay and Jennifer Hooker. Members give each other cooking and shopping tips and encouragement after days gone wrong, Spomer said.
The group showcases just one way low-carb dieters have come together as the trend establishes itself in the mainstream. Though some point to a falling number of Google searches for the term “paleo,” Spomer and Gerber hold that low-carb diets are hardly fading away — especially in Colorado, which ranks as the number one state for Google searches of the terms “paleo” and “keto.”
The keto diet — on which dieters sharply restrict carb intake to put the body into ketosis, a metabolic state in which stored body fat is used to produce energy — has particularly gained popularity. In January 2019, 11 times more users searched the term than in January 2017.
Spomer said the trend shows through attendance at Low Carb Denver, a March conference she volunteers with. The conference drew more than 800 individuals in 2019, as opposed to the roughly 300 who attended in 2016, she said.
For many, low-carb diets represents a treatment for chronic and life-altering conditions — as was the case for Spomer, who has an autoimmune disease that left her with “no energy,” she said. “I would consume half as much as my family and gain half a pound a week.”
After trying different autoimmune protocol diets, Spomer landed on a low-carb paleo diet two years ago. She said she hasn’t experienced any of her symptoms since.
“Things got a lot better. People are shocked how much it helps,” she said. “It changes everything.”
Popularized by former Colorado State University professor Loren Cordain’s 2010 book “The Paleo Diet,” the whole-food-based diet encourages mimicry of a human diet thousands of years ago — “the evolutionary way to look at nutrition,” Gerber said.
Gerber — who was certified in family medicine in 1991 and has been a healthcare provider in the area since 1993 — and those in his support group focus on a low-carb version of the diet. Strict followers do not eat sugar, grains, margarine, some dairy products and processed food. Instead, they eat natural foods, including meat, fish, eggs, vegetables and fruit.
“It’s a little less carbs and a little more protein and fat,” he said. “A low-fat diet is the old school.”
Gerber often recommends whole food diets like paleo and keto to his patients, reminding them that choosing what to eat is just one part of the equation.
Chef Jami Fynboh agreed. In 2012, Fynboh and her husband, Derek, opened Denver-based “mmm…COFFEE! Paleo Bistro”. Located at 910 Santa Fe Drive, the bistro is the nation’s first completely grain-free restaurant, she said.
“Paleo is more than just food; it’s a way of life,” she said. “It’s taking care of yourself, getting exercise and having time to relax.”
Fynboh has followed the paleo diet for eight years, with Derek joining in a year after her, the day they signed the lease for their paleo restaurant, she said.
Throughout years of businesses, she has watched customers develop a better understanding of the diet as all types of people give the lifestyle a try.
“We’ve had people who literally got off the plane at DIA and drove to us first,” she said. “They’re from all over. People just want to take their power back and their health back.”
While following the paleo diet can initially be difficult and requires some online research, she said, “it’s very easy once you know what you’re doing.”
Spomer and Gerber echoed the sentiment, highlighting that there are many different methods and levels of strictness on which to follow the diet. Most on the diet can purchase any ingredients they need at stores like Costco or Walmart, they said.
“You don’t always have to eat on the top of the food chain of snobbery,” Gerber said. “You can make a meal at a restaurant paleo-friendly.”
Gerber suggested ordering burgers and sandwiches without a bun, choosing options low in sugar and asking if food is cooked with industrial seed oils, which are a certain type of vegetable oil.
Spomer and those in the support group have put these tips to the test many times, often going out to Red Robin after group meetings, she said.
She added that with group members from Boulder to Colorado Springs, who range in age from students to retirees, there’s no shortage of advice to be had in the group.
“It’s huge for new people, because low-carb is a learning curve,” she said. “You have to be patient with yourself. Anyone can do it if they want to, and they can do it in all different ways.”
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