You're not a caveman, but would you benefit from eating like one? The Paleo diet has received a lot of attention in recent years, so let's take a closer look. ** ** Have you heard about the Paleo diet and wondered what it was? The Paleo diet, also called the caveman diet, mimics the diet of our ancestors who lived during the Paleolithic period, about 10,000 years ago. These people were hunters and gatherers, meaning they ate meat, vegetables, fruits and nuts, and, unlike most modern people, did not eat processed foods, grains, beans, legumes, dairy, refined sugar, refined salt or alcohol. Proponents of this diet claim that the human body is designed to eat like hunters and gatherers and that the introduction of grains, dairy, sugars, alcohol and processed foods has led to obesity, allergies and other health problems. They also claim that eating the Paleo diet can lead to weight loss and overall general wellness. Let's take a closer look at this diet and see if it's all its chalked up to be.
There have been a few studies on the Paleo diet that show it may have some positive aspects. The early research has shown that the Paleo diet may reduce blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels, and promote weight loss, but more research needs to be conducted to make a valid determination on the true potential of this diet. One thing that is for sure is that limiting your consumption of processed foods and sugars - as taught in the Paleo diet - is healthy. In addition, the Paleo diet is low in sodium. Eating a low sodium diet can help keep blood pressure levels down.
Health experts have a couple main concerns about the Paleo diet. Firstly, it excludes the grains, beans and legumes - all of which have been proven to be healthy additions to a diet. These foods are rich in nutrients and fiber. While it's possible to get your daily nutrients from the Paleo diet, it is harder to do so than it is on a less restrictive diet. Second, the modern Paleo diet is rich in meat, thus making it high in protein. The Dietary Guidelines of Americans recommends eating between 10 and 35 percent protein. People on the Paleo diet may exceed those levels, which could potentially harm their kidney health. Another issue with the Paleo diet is its difficulty to maintain. It's difficult, if not impossible, to eat out at restaurants while maintaining a diet that restricts all processed foods, refined foods and grains. Practically all restaurant menu items and pre-prepared foods contain refined salts, refined sugars or grains - all of which are not Paleo-approved. In order to travel and eat out on this diet, you would have to bring your meals with you. The difficulty of sticking to this diet is one of the big reasons why people fail on it. Additionally, history suggests that the Paleo diet does not actually mimic the diet of the Paleolithic era. The modern Paleo diet puts much emphasis on meats, but in reality our caveman ancestors ate very little meat. They were more gatherers than hunters; the majority of their diet consisted of grasses and other vegetation that they could easily harvest. So, if you truly want to eat like your ancestors, you should be eating a lot less meat than modern Paleo diet enthusiasts suggest. Paleo diet enthusiasts also assert that our bodies are not programmed to eat grains, dairy, and sugars and that these food can cause a myriad of health disorders, including cancer. However, not only do these claims lack scientific evidence, there is also no proof that cavemen could not have eaten these foods. In all reality, they just didn't have access to them. They may have enjoyed and thrived on a little rice had they been given the opportunity to eat it.
The Bottom Line
If you want to lose weight, you might want to try the Paleo diet for a short time to kick start your weight loss. However, it probably isn't a good long term solution. Not only is this diet difficult to follow, there is not enough research to prove that it is actually good for you. You are not a caveman, so you don't have to eat like one. You are better off sticking with a long-term diet that is recommended by most doctors - one that is rich in lean proteins (chicken, fish, tofu), fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and diary. If you want to learn more about the Paleo diet, visit the official Paleo diet website here. If you want to learn about eating a balanced diet (recommended by most doctors) look at the USDA Food Pyramid and MyPlate resources here. References - The University of Utah: A Grassy Trend in Human Ancestors' Diets - Naturwissenschaften Vol. 99, Issue 8, pp 617-626; Neanderthal medics? Evidence for food, cooking, and medicinal plants entrapped in dental calculus; Keven Hardy et al.; August 2012 - Health.gov: Health Facts