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Paleo Diet

Humans evolved millions of years ago in a much different environment than our own. The so-called Paleo diet takes its name from the Paleolithic period, which began when humans first started to use stone tools. The theory behind the diet is that our modern pattern of food consumption contributes to obesity and chronic disease. By altering our eating habits to more closely resemble those of Paleolithic humans, we achieve weight loss and better health.

The Paleo Diet Philosophy

Although the broad concepts behind the diet emerged in the 1970s, public awareness of the Paleo diet took off after Dr. Loren Cordain published his 2002 book, “The Paleo Diet.” Now, millions of people adhere to Paleo principles when choosing the foods they eat.

The premise behind the Paleo diet (or "caveman diet") emerged from anthropological studies suggesting that our hunter-gatherer ancestors had much lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and other chronic health problems. Our genetic makeup is nearly unchanged from Paleolithic times, but our surroundings have been completely transformed. Modern agriculture has led to high intake of cereal grains, starchy fruits and vegetables, and factory farmed meats. Paleo adherents argue that by minimizing these modern food groups and emphasizing the foods available to our pre-agricultural ancestors, we can achieve better health.

Core Concepts of the Caveman Diet

Proponents of the Paleo diet suggest that we must dramatically alter our pattern of food intake to become similar to hunter-gatherers (O’Keefe & Cordain, 2004). This includes:

  • Increasing protein intake. Hunter-gatherers lived in a world where wild game was a significant portion of their diets, when available. The Paleo diet considers animal products to be a staple. Diet adherents are encouraged to eat grass-fed beef, chicken, seafood, and other animal products.
  • Decreasing carbohydrate intake. Not all carbohydrates are equally bad under the Paleo diet. However, starchy foods that have a high glycemic index – meaning that they trigger spikes in blood sugars – must be avoided. Non-starchy fruits and vegetables, including berries, apples, watermelon, peaches, plums, zucchini, broccoli, spinach, and eggplant are acceptable Paleo foods.
  • Increase fiber consumption. Dietary fiber reduces levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and decreases cardiovascular risk (Brown et al., 1999). Under the Paleo diet, it is important to get dietary fiber from non-starchy vegetables instead of the whole grains suggested by other diet plans.
  • Moderately high fat intake. Fat has gotten a bad rap in our modern world. In fact, some forms of fat are beneficial for health and decrease risk of chronic disease. The Paleo diet emphasizes the importance of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Nuts and seeds make excellent Paleo snacks. These foods are good sources of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Paleo adherents also believe that moderate amounts of saturated fats, which are often found in animal products, do not significantly increase risk of disease.
  • Reduce sodium intake. The modern American diet includes high levels of sodium because of the prevalence of processed foods. Paleolithic bodies were much more accustomed to receiving higher doses of potassium but lower amounts of sodium. Almonds, leafy green vegetables, and bananas are good sources of potassium.
  • Promote alkaline food consumption. Once foods are digested, some are acidic while others are alkaline (basic pH). Eating too much alkaline food can affect kidney and bone health. Thus, it is important to reduce cheese, legumes, and dairy products, which are alkaline foods.
  • Eat plant phytochemicals. Fruits and vegetables are natural sources of vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial nutrients. These include phytochemicals with antioxidant effects, meaning that they boost cellular health and fight off disease. Eating across the color spectrum of fruits and vegetables is an important part of a Paleo diet.

Scientific Research Supporting the Paleo Diet

Some scientists agree that the use of the Paleo diet for weight loss and health. For example, a study by researchers at the University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine had participants eat their regular diet for three days before spending 10 days on the Paleo diet (Frassetto et al., 2009). They found that even this relatively short time on the diet resulted in lower blood pressure, reduced plasma insulin, and lower cholesterol levels. More research is needed to expand upon these findings and determine whether the Paleo diet works well for the general population.

Criticisms of the Paleo Diet

The Paleo diet is not without its criticisms. Some doctors worry that the diet could lead to calcium deficiency, contributing to osteoporosis (Pitt, 2016). Others simply believe that the premise behind the diet is flawed. Our Paleolithic ancestors had a much shorter life expectancy and may also have experienced chronic disease (Jabr, 2013). Furthermore, eating whole-grain foods that are banned under the Paleo diet may actually improve overall health. If you are interested in the Paleo diet, approach it with a cautious eye to keep yourself safe and healthy.

For more recipes and snacks, check out our Paleo Snacks page!

Paleo Recipes'

Pumpkin Chia Seed Pudding

Pumpkin Chia Seed Pudding Recipe

This palatable pudding provides a paleo breakfast when made with all-natural almond milk. Start the day off right with a low-calorie meal that’s full of fiber and other essential nutrients.
Ingredients: Milk, pumpkin puree, chia seeds, maple syrup, pumpkin spice, sunflower seeds, sliced almonds, fresh blueberries.
Total Time: 10 minutes | Yield: 4 188-gram servings

Protein-Packed Detox Smoothie {vegan}

Protein-Packed Detox Smoothie Recipe {vegan}

This superfood smoothie supplies 10 grams of fiber, 19 grams of protein, 20% of the Daily Value (DV) for potassium, 150% of the DV for vitamin A, and an abundance of both calcium and iron.
Ingredients: Almond milk, frozen banana, spirulina, hemp protein powder (optional), fresh mint, chia seeds, hemp hearts.
Total Time: 5 minutes | Yield: 2 399-gram servings

References

O'Keefe, J.H. & Cordain, L. (2004). Cardiovascular disease resulting from a diet and lifestyle at odds with our Paleolithic genome: how to become a 21st century hunter-gatherer. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 79(1), 101-108. http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(11)63262-X/abstract

Brown, L., Rosner, B., Willett, W.W., & Sacks, F.M. (1999). Cholesterol-lowering effects of dietary fiber: a meta-analysis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 69(1), 30-42. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/69/1/30.short

Frassetto, L.A., Schloetter, M., Mietus-Synder, M., Morris, R.C., & Sebastian, A. (2009). Metabolic and physiological improvements from consuming a paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 63, 947-955. http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v63/n8/abs/ejcn20094a.html

Pitt, C.E. (2016). Cutting through the Paleo hype: the evidence for the Paleolithic diet. Australian Family Physician, 45, 1. https://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=817618908759886;res=IELHEA

Jabr, F. (2013). How to really eat like a hunter-gatherer: why the Paleo diet is half-baked. Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-paleo-diet-half-baked-how-hunter-gatherer-really-eat/