In this article I review the Paleo or Caveman Diet. The foundation of the Paleo Diet is that if we eat in the same way that our Stone Age ancestors ate, we will be healthier, fitter, skinnier, and so on. Loren Cordain, Ph.D., the author of The Paleo DIet argues that eating the way the caveman ate, a high protein and fiber diet, we will be thinner for sure. It is also posited that we will be less likely to develop diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other health problems like arthritis. |
While I am a fan of the dietary approach in general, I am astounded that Dr. Cordain, seems to overlook the fact that our Stone Age ancestors had a life-expectancy of around 30 years. They didn't have time to develop these health issues. I am certain that he wouldn't want his dietary idea to turn into a morbid hoax.
The Good Food List That being said, the Paleo Diet is somewhat restrictive in its overall list of edible foods. Eat all you want of fresh organic meats and fish, organically raised fruits and healthy fats. I want to stop here for a moment and say with a degree of certainty, that when carbs are nearly totally eliminated from one's diet, there is no reason to fret over which fats are healthy unless that extends to GMO corn oil and the like. There is no reason to avoid any fats when following this regimen. Also on the list of foods you can eat are eggs (yolk included), nuts, seeds, some grains.
The Bad Food List Absolutely no processed foods or oils. Since our Stone Age relatives were hunter-gatherers you must also say goodbye to all forms of dairy. Forget about peanuts. In the original beans were prohibited but I would add beans to the diet since it is likely that our Prehistoric cousins gathered both wild grains and beans. Absolutely no refined sugar, potatoes (although, like grains and beans, it is quite likely that tubers were also part of the original diet. Eliminate salt, but this one too smacks of a bit of wishful thinking. There is evidence that salt was a commodity that was traded extensively among isolated groups. Refined oils are also out, but that makes sense if you don't eat refined foods of any kind.
Is the Diet Difficult and Sustainable? The answer to this question is complex. Eating this way cold-turkey can be quite exhausting. The Paleo Diet does allow for what Dr. Cordain called 'open meals' three times a week when beginning down this path. As in most low carb diets, counting calories is unnecessary. The fiber-rich fruits and vegetables are filling and stay around a long time. The large quantities of meat are also low in calories. After a week or so, you'll be far less hungry and that makes intake much lower. On the Caveman Diet, you'll likely never eat more calories in a day than you burn.
There is a huge downside to this kind of eating. Because there are no processed foods allowed, you will spend far more time in the kitchen cooking and preparing food. Three meals a day must be made from scratch. That can prove to be quite a challenge to the cook in your home. In addition, because there is a lot of meat, chicken, and fish on this diet you will be spending more on food than you would if you decided to be a vegetarian. Here the tradeoff is simple, is the diet suited for you and your family and is it worth the effort for the health benefits. Only you can answer that question.
As far as sustainability is concerned, unless you are entirely committed to this lifestyle, it is likely not the solution for you. The restrictions often prove too much for some people to follow.
The Science A number of controlled studies on the Paleo Diet have been carried out over the years. The fact that most diet authors make claims that are more like wishful thinking than hard science is to be expected. That being said, a diet filled with lean meat and plant-based foods will make you feel fuller, control blood-sugar levels and you will lose weight. The elimination of (or greatly reducing) salt is good for high blood pressure and some heart disease prevention. But the hard science on the Paleo Diet is somewhat mixed.
Sara Dawson works with private clients to manage weight loss and fitness. She is the owner of The Science of Permanent Weight Loss, a Fishel Group Partner Company. Her opinions are entirely her own.
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