The Paleo Diet: Why Cavemen Do It Better

If the lure of living in simpler, lower-tech times has ever intrigued you, the Paleolithic–or “Paleo” for short– diet may just be for you. This trendy eating pattern focuses on foods that made up the human diet in pre-agricultural times, consumed as close to their natural state as possible. “Going Paleo” is built on the belief that modern day processed foods and artificial additives are incompatible with human biology, making it difficult to properly digest them. Some athletes believe this diet is the secret to optimizing athletic performance, while other proponents claim it eliminates “foreign proteins” that cause modern day ailments such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, cancer, arthritis, and gastrointestinal disorders.

Foods considered to be Paleolithic are meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, tree nuts, vegetables, root vegetables, fruit, and berries. So-called “Neolithic foods,” or foods that require processing, are not allowed.  These foods include grains, dairy, salt, beans/legumes, potatoes, sugar, and refined, factory-made foods.  (Interestingly, however, a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that archaeological evidence suggests Paleolithic Europeans did indeed eat an early form of bread based on processed root vegetable ‘flour.’)

For someone on a Paleolithic diet, ideal proteins consist of organ meats, wild-caught fish and grass-fed meat. Organic fruits and vegetables are preferred over conventionally-grown ones so as to avoid modern pollutants.  Fats are primarily derived from fruits or tree nuts. Water is the only true Paleolithic beverage; however coconut water would also technically fit the bill. For Paleo dieters thirsting for an afternoon cocktail, drinks derived from fermented fruit would be the only acceptable option. Interestingly, coffee does not count as a Paleo-friendly beverage, since coffee is a bean and needs to undergo processing before it can be enjoyed.

From a nutritionist’s standpoint, someone living on a diet high in fast food and refined carbohydrates would certainly benefit from cleaning up their diet by emphasizing more unprocessed and natural foods like those that comprise the Paleo diet.  After all, there’s no shortage of research to implicate modern “Western diets” as a key factor in a host of chronic diseases. On the other hand, following the Paleo diet stringently means avoiding many incredibly healthy foods such as legumes, whole grains, and low-fat dairy which provide essential nutrients like fiber, antioxidants, vitamin D, and calcium. People who have committed to going Paleo are well-advised to consult with a registered dietitian to ensure they’re meeting all of their dietary needs within the context of the diet’s parameters.

Another critique of this diet is the time element.  Since the focal point of eating Paleo is food in its more natural form, it means giving up convenience foods that cut time and energy out of food preparation.  For example, a Paleo eater could not just grab a yogurt, make a sandwich, bake a potato, boil some pasta, or open a can of tomato sauce to ease meal prep– much less eat out at most restaurants. Following this diet would take a lot of foresight, planning, and preparing–particularly to ensure you’re meeting your nutrient needs– which can make it a more challenging way to eat.

If the principles behind going Paleo appeal to you but you’re not willing to commit to the drastic lifestyle change it entails, why not draw inspiration from it rather than going full throttle?  You could start by eliminating sources of refined flour and sugar in your diet, like white breads, cereals made from refined grains, cookies, cakes, and sweeteners.  Then, you might consider upping your daily quota of fresh fruits and vegetables, choosing organic varieties whenever possible.

Life may have been much less complex for cavemen, but they had a lot more time to devote to hunting and gathering food than most modern working families do.

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25 Comments

  • (1) Coffee is not a bean. It is a fruit seed. Fruit seeds are not supposed to be digested, but to pass through and still be viable. They are not edible raw. They would never have been a food.

    (2) Fruits and vegetables provide ample fiber and antioxidants. More than is found in whole grains and legumes. And they don’t have all the anti-nutrients that is found in whole grains and legumes.

    (3) You can get your calcium from dark green leafy vegetables. Then if following paleo eating you will be excreting less, so you don’t need to consume as much.

    (4) Just like a regular diet you will need to supplement Vitamin D, unless you work full time out in the sun. A regular diet can get some of their Vitamin D supplementation from dairy. A paleo eater will have to take it in pill form. To get your level into the optimum range you will need to take some 4,000 units a day, which you probably aren’t getting from milk.

    (5) Paleo eaters do manage to eat out just fine. They just have to be a little flexible and not be as strict as when eating at home.

  • If you eat a coffee fruit, the seed (called a bean by us) will pass through undigested and you will not get high. It is not likely that they roasted them, then ground them, then boiled them. There are many other plants available (plus fermented fruit) that they could get high on without all the processing needed for coffee.

  • interesting.. what’s about honey? I suppose in Paleo caveman could get it and as I know it’s healthy and useful food, isn’t it?

  • http://www.marksdailyapple.com/primal-blueprint-101/

    This Guy has devoted his entire way of life to being a modern day “grok” as he calls it. He a certified nutritionist and has thoroughly researched the paleo way of living and eating. It’s pretty legit, my fiance has been doing it (though not full on) and has already lost a ton of weight. The whole idea behind it is to change your way of life more than trying to lose a few pounds. Its easier to do than people think because you’re aloud to eat thing like bacon, olive oil, coconut milk etc. It’s worth a look.

  • Honey is considered paleo. Though not in large quantities. It would have been hard to collect without protective clothing.

    Sweetness, like salt, is something you build up a tolerance to. After you removing these foods from your diet you will lose your cravings for more and more of them.

  • Consulting a registered dietician is the worst thing to do. All their information comes straight form biased sources. Do your own research and experiment to find what works for you. Ny wife thrives on grains. I do not. One caveat, I would NOT do a paleo diet with store bought meats. Also remember that a paleo diet would be relatively in raw meats. Cooking over a fire or coasl can leave meat uncooked.

  • I have read that cancer cells need sugar to grow-sugar in the form of carbs is still sugar .
    The benefits of the paleo diet is that your primary energy source comes not from carbs but from fats.
    I have lost 20 pounds in 2 months.Have more energy and just feel better. I avoid fruit because of the high sugar levels. And fruit in the paleo period was very seasonal.That sugar loading was a short season.

  • This sounds good, but back in the cave man times, the meet they were eating was wild, grass fed animals, not the factory farm, grain-fed animals being processed for eating in today’s world. So someone going on this diet would definitely want to only eat “grass fed” beef, and free range, organic birds etc.

  • Don’t forget bugs! Lot’s of protein there. And best to eat meat in the form of carrion- look for vultures, they’ll help you find it. Remember, cavemen died young- there’s a reason for that!

  • confused about the concept of processing…would finding salt encrusted rocks near a beach, or salty seaweeds require processing? how different is hunting, butchering and cooking an animal than collecting some seeds of grass or many numerous edible (seeds) rubbing them between a couple of rocks to grind them, or roasting them on stones near a fire. Would creating paint pigments for painting walls not be processing? If I leave my garden gate open, my dog has been guilty of pulling and eating radishes, daikon and carrots- she has also dug up potatoes. Just an opinion, but it seems possible that Paleo people deserve more credit than we give them….difficult transending ones own paradigms to accurately theorize on the past….

  • It would be appreciated if the author of the article, despite her advanced degree (but like many others in the field) would read up to date research and read widely before writing like a journalist on a women’s mag. Many statements and ‘facts’ in that article are not consistent with genuine Paleo diet articles by their authors.
    If one wishes to read about Paleo diet at the scientific level, see: http://www.ThePaleoDiet.com
    (but don’t believe me, check it out for yourself ! :))

    Respectfully,
    Susan

  • Why do we even bother talking about healthy ways of eating? Article after article will tell you the health benefits of eating a particular way, but because it requires a real commitment to your health, people would rather take the easy way out. If I told you that this diet could significantly reduce your chances of developing diabetes or heart disease, heck- if I told you that you can lose weight on this diet (which you totally can), but you actually had to stay committed to it, then I bet you’d probably come up with an excuse and go back to McDonald’s and other “convenience” foods. The problem with Americans is that they don’t put their health first. If they did, they’d understand that processed foods are poison and are literally killing us. If Americans put their health first, then they would want to use their bodies and walk instead of drive. But Americans care more about money and so-called convenience, so all of these articles about health improvement are a waste of time. A waste, until people start changing their priorities.

    You can’t ease into a diet – you either care or you don’t care. You either do it or you don’t. Get healthy, or continue suffering.

  • In the absence of any medicine, many cavemen died young of relatively simple problems such as broken bones, infections, etc. Those who didn’t, actually lived to the same age as we do.

  • Paleolithic peoples didn’t “have a lot more time to devote to hunting and gathering food”, that’s almost all they did. Together with preparing foods, it used almost all of their time, probably 12 hours a day on average. Also, Native Americans (stone age cultures) were growing maize (corn, a grain), squash and beans (legume) when Europeans arrived. They also gatherered wild rice (grain). In South America, native peoples discovered potatoes and quinoa, maize, and ameranth (all grains). It logical to assume that Asian people did the same.

    Some define Neolithic (New Stone Age) as the time when people brought those plants back to where they lived and ‘planted’ them there, instead of going out looking for them. The human digestive track can’t tell the difference in where the food came from. Neolithic is also when people began to domesticate animals. Neolithic doesn’t mean processed foods other than peeling, shelling or mashing and cooking, which was mainly for meat.

  • OK we’re talking about time when food and basic necessities were FREE!!!!! That means you can get whatever food you needed (kill it, skin it, cook it) and be done with it. Same with water (however it may not be clean). Now with all these regulations and of course (commerce), food & water is very expensive. They had no jobs back then, now we have jobs and many of us have to rely on food stamps to survive. The best thing for people to do now is to own a farm and grow your own food but who has time for that? I guess someone who’s desperate and needs food.

  • Well, on the alternative of “WOW this essay is going to fail me this class that cost me 150 dollars to take if I don’t do it, but man I haven’t eaten in three days due to those THREE other essays; I guess I better go get a burger real quick so i can spend the next 6 hours advancing in life.”

  • Surimi: Surimi and surimi-based products are an example of value added products. Surimi is prepared from the mechanically deboned, washed (bleached) and stabilised flesh of fish. “It is an intermediate product used in the preparation of a variety of ready to eat seafood such as kamaboko, fish sausage, crab legs and imitation shrimp products.

  • I enjoyed reading your articles. This is truly a great read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles. Keep up the good work!

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