The Paleo diet, a.k.a the Caveman diet or the Hunter-Gatherer diet, is one of the more popular diets trending right now. There are several variations of the Paleo diet espoused by various parties. Let’s review a couple of these variations and look at what history actually tells us about the way ancient man ate 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago and why they were healthier than we are.
What is on the Paleo menu?
1) Lots of lean animal protein, preferably open-range. Most eat eggs.
2) Lots of vegetables.
3) Some fruit; primarily berries.
4) Most nuts and seeds.
What is not on the Paleo menu?
1) No grains, such as rice, corn or wheat. (That means no pasta, bread, or tortillas. Yikes!)
2) No dairy (no ice cream, which is lunacy).
3) No legumes, including peanuts or beans and lentils.
4) No processed sugar, but a little honey is OK.
5) No alcohol. (These people are obviously wacky.)
There are some very positive aspects to this diet, such as restricting processed flour and sugary foods. Most of us would benefit from this. But do we really know how ancient man ate during the Paleolithic era? Let’s see what researchers have to say…
Evolutionary Biologist, Dr. Marlene Zuk of the University of California, identifies several myths central to the Paleo diet and the associated lifestyle movement. Zuk refers to this lifestyle as Paleo-fantasy that Paleo humans were not in sync with their environment, but rather lurched along trying to survive from day to day. We are not biologically identical to Paleo man, but have evolved over the centuries to our current state. The average life span was approximately 40 years! Many factors are responsible for the short life span, but it’s a myth that they resembled a Greek Adonis. Periods of being well nourished were interspersed with bouts of famine and near starvation, and researchers have found evidence of a high incidence of atherosclerosis, or heart disease, even though old age was seldom reached.
There are many beneficial tenets to the Paleo diet, but eliminating whole grains and legumes are not among those. Dairy products are the most absorbable source of calcium and an excellent source of protein. As with many fad diets, this one is too restrictive, as well as potentially deficient in calcium and Vitamin D. Whenever any diet tells you to eliminate entire food groups without established scientific research to back it up, be leery!