The Paleo Diet® offers many benefits, but can it also save you money in retirement?
It turns out good health really may be like money in the bank.
At age 57, the tide of my health had receded—leaving me high and dry on Obesity Beach.
Despite regular workouts and a “healthy” conventional low-fat, high-fiber diet, I was needlessly fat, hypercholesterolemic, pre-diabetic, constantly ill with colds, flu and digestive issues, always tired, and hungry. I just didn’t know any better.
Increasingly paranoid about heart health, I’d run to the doctor (or even the hospital) at the slightest provocation.
Then, by pure luck (and the temporary theft of someone else’s Christmas present – the book The Whole 30,) I discovered the Paleo lifestyle and diet.
Fast forward to age 60 and I am no longer high and dry. I lost at least 40 pounds, I’ve been through three wardrobes, haven’t seen my GP since 2015, have stopped all meds, and am in better shape than any time since I was 35. Energetic and alert throughout the day, I have at least doubled my productivity.
My long-suffering wife Kathleen is certainly happier and not only with my new svelte look. She also lost weight, improved her health and energy, and gave away bushels of clothes.
Even better, we’ve discovered that over the next 30 years we will likely save thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The unexpected benefits of healthier living
An unexpected benefit of the diet was that medical practitioners were no longer regulars in our social circle. Even with decent health insurance, a couple dozen doctor visits per year, including testing and the inevitable prescriptions, costs quite a bit.
Because of our healthier lifestyle, we were no longer spending that extra $1,500.00.
This discovery led us to look beyond the up-front Paleo benefits (new physiques, play-all-day energy) and realize that not only were we saving money on routine health care, but we had dramatically increased the odds of avoiding long-term, chronic disease.
Imagine potentially not having to worry about cancer, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, or even Alzheimer’s (or their shocking costs) as you get older. These conditions (and many others) are so prevalent now, especially in the elderly, that we no longer question their inevitability. Even though our hunter-gatherer ancestors were largely free of these conditions.
Now imagine not having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in the last third of your life for expenses directly caused by unhealthy lifestyle and diet.
Your dollars vs. your favorite doughnuts
Back in the 90s, financial planners began to focus on estimated medical expenses as retiree healthcare costs, especially for chronic, long term care, roared into the spotlight.
Today, many planners recommend setting aside $500,000.00 or more for insurance premiums, copays, and non-covered or out of pocket expenses.  This figure assumes retirees will have one or more lifelong debilitating conditions and spend at least a couple years in a skilled nursing or assisted living facility.
And, since many pre-retirees can’t qualify for specialized long-term care insurance (the majority already have early “pre-existing” versions of various chronic ailments) – or simply can’t afford the coverage – they usually pay these long term care costs out of pocket.
Many go broke doing so.
A 2018 survey of average annual long-term care (LTC) costs  shows a range of $48,000.00 (assisted living) to $100,380.00 (nursing home, private room) to $183,456.00 (24-hour in-home care.)
These expenditures are so distressingly commonplace that financial advisors can’t (and shouldn’t) overlook them. They have to assume you’ll get sick and stay sick.
Most people do.
But do you have to be “most people?”
Humans: not designed for disease
Because long-term, chronic illness is so pervasive, we don’t realize that it is not inevitable.
For thousands of years, our Paleolithic ancestors enjoyed lives largely free of disease. Current isolated ancestral populations also show the same lack of lifestyle-based illnesses, which are known as “diseases of Western civilization.”   These include today’s top killers: diabetes, diabetes type 3 (Alzheimer’s,) cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
Historic or current Ancestral groups have no genetic advantage over us – they simply didn’t (and don’t) spend their lives eating food that would make them sick.
It has repeatedly been shown that when Ancestral populations adopt the Western diet, health declines are precipitous and measurable – and, thankfully, reversible when the population reverts back to hunter-gatherer norms. 
Abandoning conventional diet, heavy with refined carbs, trans fats, sky-high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, sugars, seed oils and engineered hyper-palatable processed foods is a tough but necessary first step to reclaiming health.
All these foods promote ongoing intestinal permeability, systemic inflammation and obesity, and are strongly linked to chronic disease. Like me, many westerners have been systemically inflamed for a half century or more. Removing these foods literally allows the body to begin healing itself.
Healing – and financial freedom – through Paleo
The Paleo Diet focuses on lean meats, starchy and non-starchy vegetables, healthy fats, fruit and nuts. These foods, especially where non-starchy vegetables comprise 60% or more of each meal, by weight, dramatically increase the level of natural, bio-available macro- and micro-nutrients your body needs to accelerate the healing process.
Instead of wearily fighting a lifelong rear-guard battle, grimly retreating toward early death or disability, your body can turn on a dime and win.
You can feel the difference in less than a month. My wife and I did—even after 55-plus years of media-complicit, ignorant, self-indulgent eating.
The up-front freedom from illness, and the potential savings over time as we sidestep the medical system, are real game-changers. We have begun to make financial decisions based on healthy longevity, not fear of disease.
Some of these changes include adjusting our investment risk tolerance, canceling or scaling back insurance plans, increasing deductibles, and even putting off Social Security…indefinitely.
We haven’t abandoned the basics of sound financial planning, and strongly recommend maintaining a substantial “rainy day” fund. Investments should be diverse and reflect your own specific risk tolerance. Liquidity should increase as you age. Remember, even the best diet and fabulous health don’t guarantee that you will be injury- or illness-free.
But what might our savings look like?
If we subtract the pure out-of pocket-costs for LTC, estimated savings could be approximately $220,000.00 from age 65 to end of life (or more, based on the worst case scenario above). Fidelity investments estimates NON-LTC costs at $280,000.00—and that includes “routine” care for things like diabetes and hypertension. 
Since we are on track to bypass most or all inflammation- and metabolic-related issues, expenses could be limited to premiums (and deductibles for non-chronic care). Putting a total savings of close to $300,000.00 within reach.
What would you be willing to change, to keep this kind of money in your pocket?
(Hint: start with your diet.)
- “$500,000.00 Surprise: Health Care Sticker Shock Awaits You In Retirement,” by Suzanne Woolley, 6/22/17, published on Bloomberg.com, retrieved here
- Genworth Financial 2018 Cost of Care Survey, published on Genworth.com, retrieved here
- “The Western Diet and Diseases of Civilization,” by Karen Eisenbraun, 11/13/11, published at SemanticScholar.org, retrieved here
- “Breast Cancer and Other Cancers: Diseases of Western Civilization?” by Dr. Loren Cordain, 3/17/14, published on ThePaleoDiet.com, retrieved here
- “The introduction of refined carbohydrates in the Alaskan Inland Inuit diet may have led to an increase in dental caries, hypertension,” by JJ DiNicolantonio and JH O’Keefe, 6/13/18, published in Open Heart, retrieved here
- “How to plan for rising healthcare costs,” 4/18/2018, published on Fidelity.com, retrieved here