Eat like a caveman and shed the pounds. That’s the theory of the Paleo Diet. Healthy way to lose weight, or fad diet?
The Paleolithic Diet, also known as the Paleo Diet, Caveman Diet or the Stone Age diet, is one that includes eating mostly foods that were consumed by those living during the Paleolithic times – around 10,000 years ago. It’s basically a high-protein, high-fiber diet plan that promises you can lose weight without counting calories.
Several diet plans, dating back to the 1970’s, outlining Paleolithic-type nutrition have been published. However, Paleo was overshadowed by diet plans such as the Atkins diet and South Beach Diet until Loren Cordain’s book, The Paleo Diet, was published in 2002. Since then The Paleo Diet has shot up in popularity – searched more than any other diet on Google in 2013.
Cordain holds a bachelor degree in health science, a masters and doctoral degree in exercise physiology, has studied nutrition professionally for over twenty years, and owns the trademark for “The Paleo Diet”. From his research Cordain claims that by eating like our prehistoric ancestors, we’ll be leaner and less likely to get diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other health problems.
The Paleo Diet theory
The Paleolithic Diet is a diet plan designed to emulate, as much as possible, the diet of wild plants and animals eaten by humans during the Paleolithic era. The plan recommends avoiding any foods that were not available to humans at that time, including dairy products, grains, legumes, processed oils, and refined sugar.
The theory goes that during the Paleolithic era humans evolved nutritional needs specific to the foods available at the time for thousands of years prior to the Neolithic period, which is when agricultural practices changed our diet considerably. The human metabolism has been unable to adapt fast enough to handle many of the foods available since the advent of agriculture.
In the past 200 years the industrial revolution has changed our diets even more, with the introduction of processed and artificial foods. We also have increased amounts of food available to us, since people can now easily store foods long-term (with refrigeration).
Cordain claims that these changes have created a detrimental effect on our health and that they are responsible for many diseases of modern civilization including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Modern humans are maladapted to eating foods such as grain, legumes, and dairy, and in particular the high-calorie processed foods that are a staple part of most modern diets. So, by severely limiting these foods the Paleo Diet will help you enjoy a longer, healthier, more active life.
Critics of the Paleolithic diet have pointed out a number of flaws with its logic. There is abundant evidence that Paleolithic humans did in fact eat grains and legumes. Humans are also more nutritionally flexible than previously thought, humans can become genetically adapted to specific diets remains to be proven, and currently very little is known for certain about the Paleolithic human diet.
What you can eat
Folks might search for “Paleo Diet” on the Internet initially out of curiosity. However, once you’ve been introduced to the theory of the Paleo diet plan you’re likely to be most interested in what you can eat? Recipes, and meal plans, are very popular because this diet plan means cutting several foods out of your diet that you’re used to conveniently reaching for. So, in addition to this brief outline I’ve included links to a few cookbooks.
Types of foods restricted on The Paleo Diet include all processed foods, sugar, salt, grains, legumes, dairy products, coffee and alcohol.
Potatoes are also restricted because the varieties available now are genetically altered and are much higher in carbohydrates, compared to those available 10,000 years ago. Although, most fruits and veggies have been altered, so I’m not sure why this would deter you – mainly the availability of so many carb’s.
While eliminating grains and refined carbohydrates does make this a relatively low carbohydrate diet, it is less restrictive than other diet plans of this nature such as ‘Atkins‘ and ‘Protein Power’ because most fruit and vegetables are allowed in unlimited portions – generally no counting calories on this diet.
The Paleo Diet consists of foods that could be hunted or gathered 10,000 years ago. Staying away from foods introduced after agriculture was developed is a good rule of thumb.
Foods available on The Paleo Diet plan:
- Vegetables (except potatoes)
- Nuts and seeds (most)
Foods not allowed:
- Potatoes, and sweet potatoes
- Peanuts, and cashews
A typical day on the diet may look like this:
- Breakfast: Omelet, with a side of fresh fruit.
- Lunch: Green salad topped with grilled chicken breast, steak, or shrimp.
- Dinner: Steak, pork, or roast chicken, raw or steamed vegetables fruit for dessert.
- Snacks: May include trail mix, hard-boiled eggs, can of tuna, any type of fruit.
Exercise and Support
Exercise and support are not part of the Paleo diet plan. Cordain strongly recommends exercise to maintain weight loss and for overall health. But, neither exercise, nor how to setup a good support network, are given much weight in this plan.
Reverting back to the eating habits of folks 10,000 years ago is certainly a bold move, but may be a step in the right direction for some. Lowering your carbs, and refined sugar, intake will help you lose weight for sure. Eating only foods that are from nature, such as meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, nuts, seeds and fruits, helps not just for those who want to lose weight but also for those who want to improve their risk of diabetes.
However, severely limiting some food groups can deprive your body of important nutrients, such as calcium. And, there seems to be no proof that humans cannot metabolize foods like potatoes, beans, and grains in moderation. It certainly feeds into the whole gluten free diet trend.
After reading the details of The Paleo Diet, and theories, I’m still not convinced enough to give up my bread, yogurt, and sweet potatoes. However, it re-affirms the notion that people are consuming way too many carb’s. And, that food convenience has to be changed to include foods that are not so heavily processed. The Paleo Diet is a good read, and food for thought. I recommend those wanting to live a healthier life, have more energy, and lose a few lb’s to pick up Cordain’s book and adapt it to your current plan.