Ever wonder how our ancestors ate a million years ago? How about two million years ago? This thought process led to the creation of the Paleolithic Diet (Paleo Diet for short) or for the inner Cro-Magnon in us, simply the “Caveman Diet”. Before the dawn of agriculture, we were a hunter/gatherer society. The predation of cultivation of crops results in a diet not consisting of refined grains or sugars. Also, animals were not raised for milk. This eliminates dairy from the diet. Instead, the focus is on meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other items that could have been gathered by prehistoric man. The diet was first discussed in the 1970s and further popularized by Loren Cordain. 1 His 2002 book, “The Paleo Diet” led to the emergence of its popularity. Loren Cordain estimates, based upon book sales and website views, that the amount of persons on The Paleo Diet are in the millions. 2 The evolution of the name and its authenticity to the true diet of our ancestors could easily be debated. Keep in mind, I am not here to give a history lesson. I want to focus on the diet, and how it may or may not be a beneficial health regimen. I will begin by simply going over how to get on The Paleo Diet, then I will explain the science around it all.
Alright! So you want to give The Paleo Diet a shot? Okay then! I will begin with the fun part and give a list of foods that are allowed for consumption. I hope you’re ready to travel 10,000 years in the past and live it up like Fred Flintstone. Yabadabadooooooooo!!!
FOODS ACCEPTABLE TO EAT
- Lean Meats
- Nuts and Seeds
- Healthy Fats 3
Fruits: Keep in mind, you are a caveman. We want to avoid processed fruits or ones cultivated. I will get more into what fruits to avoid in the next section. Fruits acceptable in The Paleo Diet include apples, avocados, plums, peaches, and others not including high fructose corn syrup. The problem with fruits is they still contain large amounts of another sugar known as fructose. This is why fruits should be consumed but not to the level of vegetables. 4
Vegetables: Yummy in my caveman tummy! Vegetables are highly encouraged in almost all diets, and The Paleo Diet is no exception to this rule. Carrots, spinach, okra, radish, celery, and broccoli would all be vegetables acceptable to forage for at the local supermarket. While vegetables such as: sweet potatoes, beets, squash are still part of The Paleo Diet, they should still not be consumed at high levels, for they are high in starch. High consumptions of starch can lead to high blood sugar levels and weight gain. This would not be representative of the lean body of the caveman taking down wooly mammoths.
Lean Meats/Seafood: MOOOOO, OINK OINK, CLUCK CLUCK, HONK HONK, QUACK QUACK. BAAAHH BAAAAH! What do all these sounds have in common? No, they are not some distant foreign language or intellectual alien gibberish. This is the sound of our fellow animals our ancestors hunted and ate. As a result, it is acceptable for us to hunt and eat basically all creatures of the animal kingdom. While it is acceptable to munch on bacon now and then, avoid doing so every day. The Paleo Diet does not give the dieters free rein to eat large amounts of fatty foods. Everything has a balance. Also, remember you are a caveman, this means avoid processed foods! Fish can include shrimp, crawfish, clams, and much more. Fish is a great source of Omega-3. This is great for physical and mental health. Omega-3 fatty acids helps to reduce triglyceride levels, another term for blood fat levels. Researchers have discovered cultures that consume large quantities of fish have lower levels of depression and help boost the effects of anti-depressants. I always noticed Barney Rubble seemed to be a happy camper! 5
Nuts and healthy fats are based upon individual research and balance. Each acceptable food consumed will have different sources of sugar and fat content. It is the job of the dieter to avoid the nuts and other foods consisting of large amounts of unhealthy fats. One will not see success in The Paleo Diet if food is chosen with high levels of cholesterol, trans, and saturated fats.
FOODS NOT ACCEPTABLE TO EAT
- Processed Food and Sugar
- Legumes 6
Grains: Now why avoid food such as bread, cereal, and oatmeal? I know the guy on the oatmeal box does not look like a caveman, but he still seems friendly enough, does he not? Much of the reason could be up for debate. The reasoning is because for 9,000 years grain has entered the human diet. Those who support The Paleo Diet will argue that our genes are not able to consume grains in a healthy manner. They argue many of the diseases we see are a result of eating grains. We are basically not genetically engineered to handle them healthily. Proponents worry of the genetic modifications that go towards processing grain products. This includes the process of irradiation and the use of chemical pesticides, which is used to fight off unwanted insects and extend shelf life. “Ugh don’t like genetic engineering, ugh like simple life, ugh don’t want Monsanto takeover.” –Ugh 12,000 B.C.E– 7
Dairy: Wait a second. Let me get this straight. If there are no grains, that means no bread, no dairy, no cheese, which means…dun dun dun. NO PIZZA! I know, might as well give up already. However, there are benefits, believe it or not. If you have the ability to say goodbye to Netflix and pizza nights. Negatives from dairy products can include various forms of cancers, hypertension, and weight. Paleo Diet enthusiasts will even say dairy is simply not needed in our diet for various genetic reasons. They may have a point, there are plenty of regions of the earth where dairy consumption is little to none. For more information about the pros and cons of milk consumption, there is an article written by a super hunky writer/contributor to this site. 8
Processed Food: It is 2 a.m. and I need my fix. I slip out of bed quietly so my wife can’t hear me. I get into my car and drive to my favorite spot to see if the latest shipment came in. It has. I open my wallet and fork out the green. BINGO! Got my stuff. Now down into the basement, so my wife can’t hear me. We made a deal and I am not being true to the pact. Time to munch on my chemically processed burger and fries, and slurp down my overly sugared, high fructose soda. MMMMMM bliss. The problem is evident. This metabolism altering addiction to processed food can cause heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. One cannot deny that cavemen lived in simpler times. Even without the help of present day evolution, they knew what they were eating. I once had a friend tell me to look at the ingredients of everything I eat. If I do not know what some of the active ingredients are, I should not eat the processed food. This is one of the arguments of The Paleo Diet. The amount of artificial ingredients are too much and too unhealthy. 9
Legumes: What are legumes? Great question! Legumes are simply a dried fruit containing a pod. This will include peanuts, beans, and peas for example. Now why are these bad for you? Firstly, they contain phytic acid. This is more than just an awesome name. What it does is actually not too awesome. Phytic acid strips out the nutrients contained in the food one is eating. Basically, all the good nutrients are being stripped down, and one is left with calories. Another argument would be for those who have irritable bowel syndrome, as it may worsen digestive issues. Not to mention, this magical fruit can cause a smelly atmosphere. 10
Above are the basics of what to include and not to include for The Paleo Diet. Now, there are also critics of The Paleo Diet.
- During the Paleolithic Age, plants were the main food source. Critics argue that The Paleo Diet influences the use of a meat-based diets too often. They argue during the prehistoric age, our ancestors’ diets were highly based upon a plant-based one.
- There cannot be any way to compare our diets with the ones of the Paleolithic Age. The average lifespan was 30 years old during the Paleolithic Age. This means many of diseases The Paleo Diet says is caused by traditional diets cannot be conclusive because most of these diseases show symptoms after the age of 30.
- Research is consistent in finding associations between the consumption of meat and incidence of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and certain cancers.
- Whole grains and legumes provide fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals that are crucial to meet nutritional requirements. 11
In conclusion, I personally see a great amount of benefits to adopting The Paleo Diet. I do see why some of the arguments against are also valid. The Paleo Diet encourages balance, just as the critics against the diet encourage. One should consider all factors when choosing a diet. I shall now attach a link of five success stories that include The Paleo Diet. In these five studies, you will note a reduction in weight, cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin, and blood pressure. 12