Except for Captain Caveman and Fred Flintstone, were there other overweight cavemen? Would we be healthier if we adopted the diet that ancient humans ate thousands of years ago?
What is your favorite diet? The Atkins diet? South Beach diet?
Ever heard of the paleolithic (paleo) diet?
The paleo diet is exclusively eating natural and unprocessed foods similar to those foods that ancient humans ate during the Paleolithic Period. The assumption is that ancient humans ate a healthier diet based on what they could hunt and gather.
Ancient humans were much more active because they had to be, while modern humans can inversely choose not to be active and eat unhealthy foods, with consequences like obesity, heart disease, lactose intolerance and so on.
But can you really compare the diets of ancient and modern humans?
Cavemen, the hunters and gatherers of fruits and nuts. Photo by epaleocookbooks.net.
1) What is the paleo diet?
The paleo diet, also known as the caveman diet, was first popularized in the 1970s by Walter L. Voegtlin, a gastroenterologist. The belief is that evolution is not only evident in physical characteristics but also in terms of physiology.
Because modern humans have directly evolved from the ancient humans of the Paleo Era, as opposed to humans who lived before the Paleolithic Period, it is believed modern humans are genetically inclined to adapt to such a strict diet.
Paleo diet friendly bagels made without sugar, flour or grain. Cavemen liked it simple. Photo by dionhinchcliffe.
2) When was the Paleolithic Period? What did people eat back then?
The Paleolithic Period lasted well over 2 million years and ended over 10,000 years ago with the advent of modern agriculture. The ancient humans of this time were extremely active, following and hunting their food as well as gathering vegetables, fruits, nuts, mushrooms and more.
They would have eaten grass fed and naturally lean animals, smaller animals and eggs—foods that are natural and unprocessed.
Tuna and avocado salad—refreshing after a day of dinosaur hunting. Photo by Amber Karnes.
3) How does the paleo diet match up with the diet of modern humans?
Ancient humans did NOT eat sugar, refined sugar, salt, legumes or dairy products. Does any of that sound familiar?
Modern humans eat grain-fed animals as opposed to only wild animals, and we consume processed oils and sugar in almost everything. Ancient humans didn’t eat cheese, cream, butter, ice cream and other such dairy products. If you like candy bars and sweets, too bad, because on the paleo diet you can only eat raw honey and coconut water in limited amounts, like a caveman.
Access to and abuse of fast and unhealthy food has created sedentary and idle lifestyles for many modern people. High blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, the list of health problems afflicting modern humans goes on and on.
Butternut squash and apple soup. Photo by elana’s pantry.
4) Can this diet work effectively in the modern era?
Can most modern humans adapt to exclusively eating just lean proteins, vegetables and fruits? Most people eat processed food and livestock animals, not just wild animals. People who hunt wild game usually eat it in addition to modern food.
With the advent of genetically modified foods and livestock exclusively fed grain, not to mention the snack, fast food and soda water industries as constant diet-breaking temptations, is it even possible for us to eat like the caveman?
Strangely enough, while the paleo diet is popular with people for popularity’s sake, polls taken in June 2011 by US News and World Report and the Daily Mail showed that the diet would likely disappoint users and is considered bottom-barrel effective when ranked with other media fad diets.
Some research shows that the diet along with commitment is effective in the short term. Most existing studies of the diet, though, are small in scale and would be far more conclusive with large-scale scientific studies.
Arugula salad with raspberries and raspberry vinaigrette. Photo by elana’s pantry.
5) So, should you try the paleo diet?
Recreating such a diet from existing modern food stocks would be very difficult. Surveys say it is one of the lowest ranked diets and is hard to commit to long term.
If you are a vegan or generally consume less animal protein than most people as well as exercise regularly, then you may already be living the modern equivalent of the paleo diet.
Committing to a diet or food lifestyle based on mass and media popularity won’t help your determination to stick with it in the long run. Ask yourself, “How long does the latest fad stay popular anyway?”
Grain-free, gluten- free, lightly sweetened coconut bars. Photo by elana’s pantry.
Have you tried the paleo diet? Let me know in the comments below.
If you liked this, you might also like: The History of Sushi.
Main photo: The Wonderful Paleo Art of Heinrich Harder.