Diets come and go but, one of the most popular in recent years is the Paleo or caveman diet. The Paleo diet is far from new. In fact, according to the proponents of this diet, it’s been around for over 10,000 years! In more recent times, many people have “gone Paleo” in an attempt to lose weight, become healthier, and increase their energy levels but is the Paleo diet all it’s cracked up to be? Let’s take a look!
Paleo – the original diet
The main theory that underpins all things Paleo is that, in evolutional terms, humans have not changed very much in the last 10,000 years. Of course, we have developed new technologies, mastered flight, been to the moon, sailed the seven seas, and populated just about every corner of the globe but, at a physiological level, we still have the same basic physical structure that our ancestors had; the same two feet, two eyes, two ears, two arms, two legs, stomach, intestines, gall bladder and pancreas.
You might be better dressed, be able to read, and be more adept at surfing the internet than you rock-wielding, wolf-skin wearing ancestors but, in reality, your body has not changed much since the Stone Age.
While we have changed very little physically, the types of food many of us now eat have changed exponentially to the point where modern food is not no longer suitable for our un-evolved digestive systems. Foods made from refined grains, sugar, food-like chemicals, and processed dairy simply did not exist in Paleolithic times and, Paleo-ists say. are responsible for making us fat and sick.
Our cavemen ancestors are alleged to have been much healthier than us; remains suggest that, although life way brutally hard and dangerous 10,000 years ago, modern diseases such as obesity, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and even cancer were all-but unheard of. Those original Paleo dieters were our betters physically and medically. The cause of our physical decline is blamed on our transition from being a nomadic hunter/gatherer to a settled farmer.
How to eat like a caveman
The Paleolithic diet, Paleolithic meaning old stone age by the way, is all about going back to nature and returning to a diet that is better aligned to our basic, and mostly unchanged, physiological needs.
Fans of the Paleo diet see this type of eating as being the antidote to the modern, and generally unhealthy, diet consisting of mass produced and heavily processed sugar and salt laden foods that are found in our supermarkets today. Weight loss and improved health are two reported side effects of going Paleo.
Common Paleo-approved foods
- Meat – preferably organic, grass fed and free range
- Offal – organ meats from organic, grass fed cattle
- Poultry – organic, free range, not corn-fed if possible as corn is technically a grain
- Fish – ocean or line caught and not farmed
- Seafood – not farmed or processed
- Eggs – free range, organic
- Vegetables – seasonal, wide variety, locally produced and organic. May include potatoes/sweet potatoes depending on level of adherence
- Fruit, including berries – consumed in moderation, seasonal, locally produced and organic. Any juices must be consumed in moderation and only if freshly squeezed – no concentrates
- Nuts and seeds and their butter derivatives – organic, raw, not dry roasted
- Healthy fats – olive oil, coconut oil, nut oils, avocados, lard, butter (if consuming dairy) and other raw, unprocessed vegetable and animal fats
- Herbs and spices – any natural flavorings, freshly chopped/ground if possible to preserve nutrient content
Foods not allowed on the Paleo diet include most grains (rice, wheat, oats etc.), diary, and any processed or manmade foods. Basically, if you can catch it yourself or pick it off a tree or plant, or dig it out of the soil, you can eat it. If, however, the ingredients of the food you are considering are anything other than naturally occurring, it cannot be considered Paleo.
So far, so good; any diet that is low in processed foods, free from added sugar and food additives but high in nutrient-rich, natural, food is going to be healthier than what most people eat from one day to the next. However, for many people, the Paleo diet is just too restrictive to stomach for too long. There is no denying it works – as any strict diet is going to – but would YOU be happy never eating beans or grains ever again? You are probably imaging a bean burrito right now…!
Some people get around the severity of the Paleo diet by using paleo ingredients to replicate modern foods. If you search for things like Paleo desserts, Paleo cookies, Paleo cakes and even Paleo ice cream, you’ll get lots of recipe ideas. This faux-Paleo approach makes going Paleo more palatable but dilutes the benefits of the Paleo diet; a cookie is a cookie – whether it’s made with wheat flour or ground almond flour (a common Paleo wheat alternative).
The appeal of the Paleo diet lies in its apparent simplicity – if you couldn’t catch it or pick it off a tree or dig it out of the ground, you can’t eat it. At its core, the Paleo diet has the potential to be healthy and an effective way to control your weight. However, it’s so regimented that eating this way indefinitely is far from attractive and may even mean you miss out on some essential nutrients as a result. Some Paleo proponents have gone cavemen and never come back but, for the vast majority of dieters, it’s just too restrictive for long-term use.