With all the hype surrounding the trendy Paleo diet in recent years, you may wonder if it could benefit your health as much as you’ve heard. Since it is a modern day version of the diets our ancestors from the Paleolithic era ate (more than 10,000 years ago) it is touted as a beneficial eating style focusing on foods that can be hunted or gathered including fruits, vegetables, grass-fed meats, seafood, nuts, seed, poultry and eggs. While healthy oils are allowed in small portions, staples in many “modern” diets such as dairy, grains and processed foods are frowned upon. If you are on the fence about whether or not to try the paleo diet, see below to decide if eating like a caveman is something you should really consider.
Why go Paleo?
Paleo diet founder Loren Cordain, PhD, asserts that food has evolved and progressed more quickly than the human body, resulting in the inability to digest many modern foods. This, in turn, causes cellular inflammation and increases our risk of chronic diseases. When someone follows the diet of a caveman, they can supposedly diminish numerous ailments linked to a typical Western diet.
The Paleo diet provides abundant antioxidant vitamins, low-glycemic carbohydrates, monounsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids, phytochemicals and soluble fiber. It also has the added benefits of being naturally gluten free and low in added sugars, high-glycemic carbohydrates, salt and trans fats. Because there is no calorie counting or guessing about proper portions, analyzing your food and nutrition is simplified. Unhealthy foods that people tend to indulge in and overeat like chips or cookies are totally unallowed, therefore avoiding a binge in the first place. That being said, the boost in energy levels and health benefits might not actually be the results of the Paleo diet and could have more to do with eliminating calorie-rich processed foods.
Although the Paleo diet does focus on many healthy foods, it has a few disadvantages or possible areas of confusion. First and foremost, the diet depends heavily on meat, which is not nearly as lean as it was in the Paleolithic age. Commercial farm animals are typically given heavy diets while being contained to small areas, which equals more fat in the meat. Additionally, embracing a diet from an era in which the average lifespan was in the 20s should draw some concern when thinking about the current average lifespan, which has increased greatly, in part thanks to fortified foods and dietary supplements. Sadly, the Paleo diet is deficient in essential micronutrients such as calcium and vitamin D.
The Bottom Line
Modifying the Paleo diet with some healthy tweaks will help you benefit from both ancient times and today. Eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, seed, nuts and healthy oils (in moderation). Look for lean grass-fed meats and wild seafood, plus lower-fat dairy or dairy alternatives fortified with vitamin D and calcium. One of the biggest benefits of the caveman’s lifestyle was the large amounts of exercise required for daily life, so “hunt” for extra activity to add to your day in addition to hitting the gym or training room.