By Talia Beechick
We’ve all seen the ads and heard the spiels: from Lean Cuisine’s frozen treats to Weight Watchers confounding point system, millions of Americans are dieting or have tried diets in the past, some with success, but many more with failure. The result of this and the $60 billion or so spent each year on weight loss products is a marketplace rich with novel ideas about what human beings should eat. One of the more intriguing diets is the Paleo diet, which maintains humans should return to eating like our prehistoric ancestors.
The Paleo diet, or “Caveman” diet, was first introduced by gastroenterologist Walter L. Voegtlin in 1975. Since then it has built an impressive following due to its ability to not only strip pounds off the dieter, but also improve their skin, increase their energy levels and reduce/eliminate the risk of several diseases.
As the name implies, the Paleo Diet urges the dieter to revert back to the eating habits of humans from the Paleolithic era—a period stretching from about 2.6 million to 10,000 years ago. During this period humans began cultivating crops and raising livestock as food sources. It was after this era ended when humans began eating grains from their crops and milk from their animals.
It was also after this era when obesity, diabetes type 2, heart disease, cancer, and other inflammatory diseases began to spread throughout societies that progressed in and modernized their eating habits. Seeing as these diseases are rarely found in modern hunter gatherer societies (whose eating habits mirror those of our Paleolithic ancestors), research is proving a healthy link between keeping things fresh and simple rather than processed. By reverting back to the “caveman’s” diet, we can escape the major changes that have developed within the food we eat due to our modern intake of refined cereals, refined sugars, refined vegetable oils and fattier domestic meats.
These changes include the glycemic load, fatty acid composition, acid-base balance and sodium-potassium ratio of our diet. Because of its emphasis on natural, fresh foods rather than those which are processed and refined, the Paleo diet is said to aid in relieving digestive issues, reducing the need for diabetes medication (including insulin) and even alleviating asthma and seasonal allergies.
What’s on the Paleo Diet Food List?
So what does one eat on the Paleo Diet? Advocates of “going paleo” consume vegetables (some versions allow starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, whereas others do not), fruit, meat and eggs from pasture raised animals, fish, nuts and seeds (peanuts do not count, as they are legumes), sea vegetables (seaweed, etc.) and certain oils. Restriction of oils, dried fruits, nuts and seeds are encouraged for those trying to lose weight. Approved beverages include water, tea, coconut milk, coconut water and freshly juiced fruits and vegetables. The Paleo Diet also allows, in moderation, the consumption of coffee, chocolate, alcohol (only allowed in some versions of the diet), caffeinated teas and natural sweeteners (raw honey, stevia, etc.). Experts urge followers of the diet to take calcium and vitamin D supplements to ensure maximum nutrient intake.
This diet claims success due to its richness in lean protein and plant foods rich in fiber, fluids and protein. This trio, claims advocates, sates hunger, regulates blood sugar levels and restricts weight gain. The Paleo diet also requires exercise and activity for the best results; remember, our ancestors had to work hard and travel for the food they ate, the water they drank and the shelter they sought! Indeed, this diet is very popular with athletes; one of its most famous advocates is strength coach and Olympian athlete trainer Charles Poliquin, who agrees with this diet’s claim that we are unable to process grains very well.
The diet is not without controversy. Colorado State professor and author of The Paleo Diet, Loren Cordain strongly advocates this type of lifestyle, claiming that it is even possible to see results when only following it 80% of the time. Others feel that removing low-fat dairy, whole grains and beans from one’s diet also removes the many nutrients and health benefits found in these foods, resulting in a less healthy diet. They also claim that cost and the lack of variety are other challenges which may prove difficult to overcome when “going paleo”. The Paleo diet also clocked in extremely low on the US News & World Report’s 2011 and 2012 Best Diet rankings, placing nearly last in every category with plans such as Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig as well as the DASH diet taking first place.
For the millions of us looking for an easy answer to our weight problems, the Paleo diet offers an intriguing new option. Unlike many other trendy diets, the Paleo diet requires no special additional costs, meals, or programs, meaning its relatively risk-free to try. This is fortunate because, like any weight loss plan, results will vary.
Where Can I Find Paleo Diet Recipes?
- For an abundance of Paleo Diet recipes, check out PaleoPlan.com
- You can also check out Laren Cordain’s other book, The Paleo Diet Cookbook