If you’re trying to decide whether or not to follow the paleo diet, we weigh the benefits and barriers of eating like a caveman.
The Paleo diet is a modern day version of our ancestors’ diet from the Paleolithic era, over 10,000 years ago, prior to the agricultural revolution. This plan focuses on food that can be hunted or gathered: Vegetables, fruit, seafood, grass-fed meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, and poultry. Small amounts of healthy oils are permitted though more “modern” foods including grains, dairy, and processed foods are discouraged.
According to Paleo diet founder Loren Cordain, PhD, food has evolved and changed more rapidly than the human body, which hasn’t adapted enough to adequately digest many modern day foods. The result: Cellular inflammation and an increased risk for chronic diseases. However, many of the ailments associated with a typical Western diet can supposedly be mitigated when a person adopts the diet of a caveman.
Benefits of the Paleo Diet
The Paleo diet is rich in soluble fiber, antioxidant vitamins, phytochemicals, omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fat, and low-glycemic carbohydrates. Plus, it is naturally gluten free and low in added sugars, trans fats, salt, and high-glycemic carbohydrates. The diet makes navigating the world of food and nutrition easy since there are no shades of gray, counting calories, or guessing on appropriate portion sizes. Foods that people are more likely to overindulge in, such as a rich caramel chocolate brownie, are completely off limits. Therefore, the health benefits, improved energy levels, and overall feeling better may be less associated with this specific diet and could be the result of cutting out high-calorie processed foods.
Despite the emphasis on very healthy foods, the Paleo diet has a few drawbacks or potential areas for misinterpretation. For one, the diet is heavily reliant on meat, and meat today isn’t as lean as it was thousands of years ago. Domesticated animals are sometimes stuffed with food and given little room to move resulting in fatty cuts of meat. In addition, adopting a diet from ancient times, when the average lifespan was in the 20s, seems less than appealing when one considers the average lifespan of today, which is in large part due to the eradication of nutrient-deficiency thanks to fortified foods and dietary supplements. The Paleo diet falls short on some of these micronutrients, namely calcium and vitamin D.
Making the Most of Ancient Time and Today
The overall premise of the Paleo diet can be combined with a few healthy tweaks to get the best of both ancient times and today. Focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and small amounts of healthy oils. When choosing meat, opt for lean grass-fed meat and focus on wild seafood. Add lower-fat, nutrient-rich dairy or dairy alternatives fortified with calcium and vitamin D to complement your meals. And, exercise like a caveman by supplementing sessions at the gym or training studio with purposeful daily activity. Regularly sitting for hours is detrimental to good health. So, get up frequently and “hunt” for opportunities to fit movement in throughout your day.