When several books about Paleolithic eating became best-sellers, this diet was catapulted into the forefront of health and fitness media. You have surely heard of it. You probably have a friend or two who tried it, but do you really know what a Paleolithic Diet is? Is it truly good for you? Should you try it?
A Little History Lesson
When you hear the name of this diet, it may bring up mental images of cavemen. If so, you’re not far from the truth. Also known as the Stone Age, the Paleolithic Period occurred some 2.5 million years ago until about 10,000 years ago. It was during this time that ancient people began to use basic tools. Diets during this lengthy era varied a bit by geography and phase of the time period. Late in the Stone Age homo sapiens, modern humans appeared. The Paleolithic Diet is based on an approximation of the diet these early homo sapiens ate.
What Did They Eat?
During the latter part of the period, known as the Upper Paleolithic, people had developed efficient means of hunting. Evidence even suggests they were probably able to store some food. They also foraged for food. This is typically referred to as a “hunter-gatherer” society. Though agriculture began to show up during this time, it didn’t effect the selection of food so much as the availability of it. So, the hunter-gatherer diet consisted of some meat and fish, as well as wild fruit, nuts, and berries. Thus, the foundation of the current Paleolithic Diet trend.
Why is the Paleolithic Diet Healthy for Modern Humans?
The diet quite obviously excludes processed foods, with extra sugar, fats, refined carbohydrates, and preservatives. By its very basic nature, it cuts out many of the modern convenience foods that are so unhealthy for us. In this way, it’s quite healthy. The foods that can take some of the blame for modern diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, are mostly limited in this diet. That is assuming you make the best possible meat choices.
The foods excluded from?the Paleolithic Diet include dairy, grains, and legumes. Of course those foods have great nutritional value, such as calcium, fiber, and lean protein. Legumes, for example, are nutrient dense, meaning you get a lot of nutrition per calorie. That’s pretty much the opposite concern that cavemen had, but for those of us watching our waistlines, it’s very important to note.
The foods left out of the diet tend to be the sticking point for critics. One evolutionary biologist, Marlene Zuk, wrote an entire book aimed at debunking the Paleolithic lifestyle called Paleofantasy. In it, she explains how we have evolved significantly since our ancestors foraged for berries and how we continue to evolve. In the context of perpetual evolutionary change, does it really make sense to eat as our cavemen cousins did tens of thousands of years ago?
The truth is that “healthy” is a relative term. We’re all individuals with different health needs. While the Paleolithic Diet can very restrictive, it really depends on how you implement it into your life. Check with your doctor before starting any diet, especially one radically different from your current diet.