Understanding The Paleo Diet

The Paleolithic diet, known as the Paleo diet or caveman diet, is modern approach to nutrition is based on the dietary practices of Stone Age humans.

Consider for a moment that people in the 21st Century are choosing to revert back to a diet cavemen ate for approximately 2.5 million years up until about 10,000 years ago. This is pre-Industrial Revolution; before agriculture and before TV dinners.

Pre-humans that lived in the Paleolithic era relied on a hunter-gatherer diet of wild animals and plants. Today, some consider the Paleo diet part of evolutionary medicine. These individuals also adopt the theory that modern humans are genetically adapted to the diet of their Paleolithic ancestors.

To be candid, today’s modern take on the diet is not actually true to what human ancestors ate. The influence of agriculture on the modern human diet prevents today’s Paleolithic diet followers from consuming true “wild” animals and plants.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s delve into why some people living in today’s world are choosing to follow the Paleo diet.

In 1975, a gastroenterologist named Walter L. Voegtlin published his book, The Stone Age Diet: Based on in-depth Studies of Human Ecology and the Diet of Man, which suggests that humans who follow a similar diet to their Paleolithic ancestors would see improvements in their overall health. The idea caught on in small numbers, but it wasn’t until 10 years later that the Paleo diet began to pervade the mainstream.

Emory University professors S. Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner published a research paper in 1985 called “Paleolithic Nutrition” in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Loren Cordain, director of the department of health and exercise science at Colorado State University (CSU), is today’s leading proponent of the Paleo diet. He discovered the Paleolithic diet after reading Eaton and Konner’s paper. Cordian was intrigued by the high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet while on his own path to discover eating patterns that would improve athletic performance. Cordain earned his doctorate in health from the University of Utah in 1981 and began his teaching career at CSU in 1982.

So what exactly do these Paleo disciples eat on a day-to-day basis?

In December 2010, Cordain published two books: The Paleo Diet and The Paleo Diet Cookbook. “The diet is incredibly easy to follow – eat fresh fruits, fresh veggies, lean meats, and seafood,” Loren Cordain writes in the introduction to his book The Paleo Diet Cookbook.

Consider this: the diet of prehistoric man was high in protein and low in carbohydrates. Today’s take on this Paleo, hunter-gatherer diet consists mainly of grass-fed free-range animals, seafood, fruit, vegetables, roots, nuts and fungi. This means no dairy products, no refined sugars or processed oils, no salt and no grains. Remember, bread wasn’t developed until about 8,000 years ago.

To stock up on items for Paleo meals, look no further than the outside aisles of the local grocer. Most of the sodas, crackers, cookies and processed foods tend to be stocked on the shelves in the middle of the supermarket, book ended by fresh produce on one side and the butcher on the other.

By now you’re curious. What can you put on your plate that sounds more appetizing than meat and potatoes? Here’s a basic menu for a day on the Paleo diet:

Breakfast: Mexican Chorizo (pork and chili peppers) and scrambled eggs

Snack: Strawberries and raspberries

Lunch: Chicken Waldorf salad with vegetable soup

Snack: Bacon-wrapped dates

Dinner: Lamb with sweet red peppers and sauteed vegetables

Dessert: Almond macaroons

Cordain suggests followers of the Paleo diet will soon become aware of the “cornucopia of flavors” previously cloaked by a palate affected by refined, processed and dairy products.

According to Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, director of nutrition for WebMD, a Paleo diet should be supplemented with vitamin D and calcium – like other non-dairy diets. While someone is likely to lose weight by cutting out grains, dairy, processed foods, sugar and oils, keeping motivated on this diet is the key to sticking it out since the diet is fairly strict.

So what are people saying about the Paleo diet? In 2011, U.S. News & World Report published a ranking of 20 diets evaluated by a panel of 22 “experts” that revealed the Paleolithic diet as the worst in terms of health benefits, weight loss and simplicity of the diet’s rules. This year’s ranking included 24 diets and the Paleolithic diet again ranked at the bottom.

The results of several peer-reviewed studies on the effects of the Paleo diet on reducing chronic disease symptoms were reported on in “The Paleolithic Diet Reduces Western-Civilization Chronic Disease Symptoms,” a paper published by St. Catherine University earlier this year.

While three of the studies revealed the Paleo diet helps reduce blood pressure, four studies showed a decreased level of energy intake. However, those four studies also saw weight loss, decrease in body mass index and subcutaneous fat. Two of the studies reported an increase in insulin sensitivity.

Back to the food consumed: a Paleo diet follower will likely eat meals full of low-glycemic carbohydrates, antioxidants, healthful fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and (our favorite) fiber.

It’s no surprise that some celebrities and public figures have taken to following the Paleo diet or variations of it. Uma Thurman, Eva La Rue and Megan Fox are or have been cited as followers of the caveman diet. Mel Gibson has been said to follow a raw Paleo diet – consuming plants and animals uncooked.

As with all diets, consult your doctor before making any drastic changes and get a checkup after going Paleo for a few weeks.

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