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10 Things Cardiologists Say About Heart Health on the Paleo Diet

Head and shoulders photograph of Anju Mobin
Couple preparing vegetables in the kitchen.
Some experts say the paleo diet is great for the heart while others say it's not. To know whether this diet is right for you, you need to consider its pros and cons and draw your own conclusion from there.

The paleo diet, also known as the caveman diet, is all about eating what our ancestors ate millions of years ago—during the Paleolithic era.

This means you cannot have any modern, processed, high-sodium, high-sugar foods loaded with food colors and synthetic preservatives. Instead, you eat fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, eggs, etc.

Is the Paleo Diet Good for Your Heart Health?

There are many pros and cons to a paleo diet.

If done right, a paleo diet offers many positive benefits, such as weight loss, improved cholesterol levels, and lower blood pressure. But, if you do it wrong, it can also impair your health by causing nutrient deficiencies, higher cholesterol, and even weight gain.

Here are 10 things cardiologists say about heart health on the paleo diet.

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1. Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Certain aspects of the paleo diet are quite heart-friendly.

If followed consistently, it helps reduce body fat percentage, body weight, body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure. The paleo diet also lowers C-reactive protein, which is an inflammation marker.

All these are proven to lower the risk of heart disease.

2. Offers Weight Loss Benefits

On the paleo diet, you can eat fruits, vegetables, and protein—from meat, fish, eggs, nuts, and seeds. These foods contain plenty of water, fiber, and protein, which will keep you feeling full and prevent food cravings.

Because of this, there tends to be a lowered calorie intake on the paleo diet. This reduction in calories promotes weight loss.

3. Reduces Sodium Intake

Researchers have confirmed that eating highly processed foods increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality (1).

Most processed foods contain high sodium, sugar (in various forms), and chemical additives. So, by restricting the number of processed foods we eat, the paleo diet helps reduce our sodium intake—which is good for the heart.

4. Improves Blood Pressure Control

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases.

Following a paleo diet for just three weeks was found to lower BMI and improve systolic blood pressure (2). This happens mostly due to the reduction in high-sodium processed foods, canned goods, chips, and processed deli meats.

High-fiber foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are also rich in potassium and magnesium—which are key minerals in blood pressure control.

5. Helps Manage Diabetes

Restricting the intake of high-carb foods (such as grains, bread, and pasta) and high-sugar processed foods (such as cakes, and cookies) helps manage diabetes.

Diabetics following a paleo diet for three months were found to have improved glycemic control and a marked reduction in several cardiovascular risk factors (3).

» Here are the best paleo meals for inflammation reduction.

6. Hurts Cholesterol Levels

Whole grains—a great source of fiber—are known to help lower cholesterol levels. So, avoiding grains in the paleo diet may hurt your cholesterol levels. The high intake of saturated fat on the paleo diet is also a cause of concern for heart health.

To compensate for these, eat plenty of fiber-rich vegetables and fruits along with lean protein sources such as skinless poultry. And reduce your intake of red meat.

7. Leads to Nutritional Deficiencies

While following the paleo diet, you have to avoid starchy foods and dairy products. You are not allowed whole grains, either.

This significantly lowers your intake of B vitamins, calcium, and fiber. Over time, these nutritional deficiencies will negatively affect heart health.

8. Negatively Impacts the Gut Microbiome

Completely removing whole grains from your diet can have a negative impact on gut health—with implications for heart health (4). Beneficial bacterial species were found to be lower in those who followed paleo. This was associated with their decreased intake of carbohydrates.

Because there are more servings of red meat in the paleo diet, it causes precursor compounds to produce trimethylamine N-oxide in the gut. The absence of whole grains also leads to increased production of this compound.

Increased levels of trimethylamine N-oxide in the blood are associated with heart disease (5).

9. Offers Zero Portion Control

Paleo does not mention anything about portion control. So, you can eat as much as you want of the permitted foods.

But weight loss is mostly about calorie control. If you eat more than you burn, you will gain weight. And if you're overweight, your heart risks go up.

To help with portion control, you can use meal delivery services to set your serving sizes, so you don't overeat at meal times.

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10. Doesn't Include Exercise Recommendations

The paleo diet is all about the food you can and cannot eat. There are no exercise recommendations incorporated into this plan.

Exercise is vital for heart health. It improves blood circulation, lowers blood pressure, and reduces stress hormones that add to the heart's burden. Exercise also enhances the muscles' capability to extract oxygen from the blood, reducing the strain on the heart (6).

To boost your heart health on the paleo diet, incorporate effective exercise plans—such as aerobic exercises—into your daily routine.

It's Heart-healthy If You Do It Right

Whether the paleo diet is heart-healthy or increases the risk of heart disease depends on how you choose to follow the diet. If you have any health issues or are taking medications, always consult your doctor before changing your diet.

Your heart health will decline if your saturated fat intake is high and you don't eat many fibrous foods. So include a good balance of starchy vegetables (to get healthy carbs), lean protein sources, and fibrous vegetables and fruits (to get a variety of minerals and vitamins).

Regular exercise, a healthy diet, reduced stress, and good sleeping habits should be part of your daily lifestyle to maintain a strong and healthy heart.

» Want paleo meals delivered to your door? Take a look at the best paleo meal delivery services.

References

  1. https://www.acc.org/about-acc/press-releases/2021/03/22/18/46/ultra-processed-foods-are-breaking-your-heart
  2. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6309473_Effects_of_a_short-term_intervention_with_a_paleolithic_diet_in_healthy_volunteers
  3. https://cardiab.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2840-8-35
  4. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00394-019-02036-y
  5. https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6651/8/11/326
  6. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-many-ways-exercise-helps-your-heart
Head and shoulders photograph of Anju Mobin
Anju Mobin is a certified nutritionist with work experience as a Diet and Fitness Consultant from numerous medical clinics. Founder and editor of fitnesshacks.org, Anju strives to simplify complex information about nutrition, health, and fitness for the general public. As a mother of four children, she also writes about pregnancy and post-pregnancy nutrition, drawing from her own experience.

*The information on this site is based on research, but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new diet plan, we recommend consulting with a physician or other professional healthcare provider. Results may vary based on various health factors, individual weight loss plans and adherence to the meal plan.