The Paleo Diet isn’t new, but it is becoming increasingly popular. There are many variations, but the main idea holds true. Forgo eating modern day processed foods, and eat a similar diet to Paleolithic hunter-gatherers that lived 10,000,000 years ago.
The idea is that hunter-gatherers were able to thrive off the land, and it is only with modern foods that many of today’s deadliest diseases came about. The movement seeks to live and eat like the Paleolithic person.
While little science has been conducted to show how The Paleo Diet can augment your health, there are thousands of testimonials from people claiming it has changed their lives. Many say it has helped them lose weight, and keep it off. Many say it has allowed them to stop taking meds and has cured them of ailments and diseases. Another popular praise is the increase in vitality that this lifestyle brings.
The Paleo Diet
According to Loren Cordain, Ph.D., founder of The Paleo Movement, you can eat:
- Grass-produced meats
- Fresh fruits and veggies
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthful oils (Olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, coconut)
Foods you need to avoid on The Paleo Diet include:
- Cereal grains
- Legumes (including peanuts)
- Refined sugar
- Processed foods
- Refined vegetable oils
There is also Mark Sisson’s increasingly popular book, The Primal Blueprint. It has many similarities to The Paleo Diet. It focuses on reducing carbs, especially wheat, increasing protein, and eating plenty of veggies.
The Primal Blueprint differs by allowing (and loving) saturated fats, while it shies away from canola oil. The Primal Blueprint also allows as much egg consumption as you want (restricted on The Paleo Diet), allows occasional legumes, and some dairy consumption (not okay on The Paleo Diet). The Paleo Diet does allow the consumption of diet sodas and artificial sweeteners, which are not okay according to Sisson.
Of course, there are many other variations of the hunter-gatherer diet but these are two of the largest.
Here is a great half-hour video by archeological scientist, Christina Warinner. She looks at the flaws in the current paleo diet, and what a true paleo diet looked like. She also examines what dietary lessons we can learn from the Paleolithic people. You can find a summary of the video below.
The current, modern day paleo diet has no basis in archeology history, says Warinner. It focuses too highly on meat. We have no anatomical, physiological, or genetic adaptations to eating meat, but we have many for plant consumption. For example, we need to eat plants for vitamin C, and we have a longer digestive track than carnivores (specifically to be able to better digest plants).
The meat that Paleolithic people would have eaten would have been lean and gamey. They would have eaten the entire animal including the bone marrow. While Inuit would eat a lot more meat, people in the tropics would have eaten mostly plants.
Today we are eating farmers’ food. The foods we eat are not what they naturally looked like. One example is a banana. Bananas are clones. Our modern bananas can’t naturally grow in the wild. A true banana is filled with seeds. They have been grown to be easier to eat.
Many foods have been manipulated to taste better, to produce a more bountiful crop, or to add more nutrients. This doesn’t mean all of these foods are bad, but they aren’t what people at 10,000,000 years ago.
“People in the Artic always have and will eat something different than people in the tropics,” says Warinner. “They have difference resources. So people who live in places with no plants tend to eat more animals, and people who live in places where there are plants tend to eat more plants. They are going to be seasonally variable because plants seed and fruit at different times, herds migrate, and fish spawn on a seasonal cycle.”
According to Warinner foods were smaller. You had to collect more to get the same amount. Foods would have also been tougher and a more woody consistency.
Warinner’s take home message is that there is no one right diet. Diversity is the key. We need a diet rich in species to get all the nutrients we need. Our diet is going backwards and we keep eating the same things: corn, soy, and wheat.
We need to eat fresh, local, in season foods. While preservatives can be useful to prolong how long food is good for, it may not be good for us. Preservatives work by inhibiting bacterial growth. We know that our gut is full of necessary bacteria but we are only now starting to look at the effects preservatives have on our gut bacteria.
Warinner also stresses we need to eat whole foods, with their roughage, and fibre. Even the parts you can’t digest are very good for you. Fibre regulates the speed at which the foods travel through your gut. It modulates metabolism, it slows down the release of sugars, and it feeds good bacteria. She is talking about the many benefits of prebiotics.
So is The Paleo Diet good for you? In short, yes it is good for you, or at least the idea behind the diet is good. There may not be specific studies showing that a “paleo” diet will help, but there are many studies showing the benefits of cutting processed foods out of your diet and eating natural alternatives. The meat, to carb, to fat ratios can be disputed but filling your diet with good whole foods is a must for a healthier gut and a healthier you.