What Is The Paleolithic Diet?
The Paleolithic era stretched from 2.5 million years ago all the way until farming was discovered in 10,000 BC. During this time, Homo sapiens survived by foraging as well as hunting and fishing using tools made of bone, flint, or stone. The Paleolithic Diet seeks to emulate this lifestyle.
The idea first came about in the 1970s but it is only in the last decade or so that the diet has really become popular. The rationale behind the paleo diet is that the human metabolism has not adapted as quickly as advancements in agriculture have. Despite farming grains and keeping livestock for over 12,000 years, this only makes up 1% of our species’ time here on Earth. Proponents of the paleo diet argue that the nutritional requirements of Homo sapiens evolved hundreds of thousands of years earlier to be suitable for the food available at that time.
The reason humanity is seeing such high rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes today is that the majority of people subsist off of comparatively new foods that their bodies cannot metabolize.
What Can You Eat And What Can’t You Eat?
When trying to determine what food you can eat while on the paleo diet, a general rule of thumb is to stick to simple meats and vegetables. More specifically:
Foods Included in the Paleo Diet
- Lean meat (poultry, pork, buffalo, ostrich, etc.)
- Non-starchy vegetables (leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, etc.)
- Unprocessed nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, etc.)
- Natural oils (olive oil, walnut oil, coconut oil, etc.)
Foods Not Included in the Paleo Diet
- All cereal based foods including
- All dairy products
- High-fat meats (hamburgers, ribs, roasts, deli meats, etc.)
- Starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, etc.)
- Legumes and beans (black beans, peanuts, soy foods, etc.)
- All sugary foods (soda, snacks, candy, honey, jam, etc.)
- All salty foods (chips, pretzels, etc.)
- All processed foods (French fires, Kraft Mac & Cheese, canned soup, doughnuts, etc.)
- All forms of alcohol
What are the benefits of the paleo diet?
Although what you are allowed to eat is quite restrictive, this food is incredibly healthy. The paleo diet not only lacks ingredients that are bad for you –sugars, salts, trans fats, high-glycemic carbs, and gluten– the diet contains many highly desirable nutrients – vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, soluble fiber, monounsaturated fats, and low-glycemic carbs. Unlike many diets that leave you constantly hungry, the increased intake of fats and proteins of paleo recommended food leave you feeling full for longer stretches of time.
One of the main appeals of the paleo diet is its starkly defined Dos and Don’ts. Many diets only offer vague recommendations like ‘cut down on fat’ or ‘avoid sugar’. In contrast, the paleo diet gives very precise guidelines for what you can eat and cannot eat. Moreover, the limited amount of food choices will help most people lose weight – so long as the dieter does not gorge themselves on peanuts.
The diet is designed to give you a lot of energy – a major reason why the paleo diet is often advocated by people with active lifestyles. Prior to the advent of agriculture, humans consumed foods rich in fiber and carbohydrates in order to facilitate a lifestyle that was on the move from sun up to sun down. The Paleolithic way of life was highly nomadic and every moment of sunlight was replete with chores – finding food, building shelters, gathering firewood, fetching water, etc. Indeed, ancient humans are thought to have consumed three times more carbs than we do today.
What are the downsides of the paleo diet?
One cannot argue with the fact that eating more fruits and vegetables and less processed foods is a healthy move. However, a great many people take issue with the paleo diet and they have some valid points.
Although the paleo diet encourages people to explore healthy food options, the highly restrictive diet leaves out a great many essential foodstuffs. Carbohydrates have a bad reputation for causing weight gain because Americans typically eat too much of them, but there is nothing inherently bad about carbs. Indeed, avoiding all whole grains and legumes can have seriously detrimental effects on your digestive system– particularly your kidneys. Carbohydrates are essential for performing bodily functions and having sufficient energy to face the day.
The paleo diet also excludes dairy products, arguing that humans are not meant to process lactose after a certain age. Although there is some truth to this statement, this does not mean that diary is bad for you. Milk and cheese are a great source of calcium and vitamin D in addition to good fats. Cutting diary out of your diet can help you to lose weight but at the risk of increased likelihood of developing osteoporosis (especially for young people and women).
Choice, Not Necessity
A major drawback of the paleo diet is that it is based on choice, not necessity. The Paleolithic hunter-gathers did not eat the way they did because they wanted to – they had to. There was no other choice. That is, until agriculture came along.
The development of agrarian society was a huge boon to mankind and one of the reasons human civilizations were able to advance as far and as fast as they have. And it also stands as the one fundamental flaw in the basic logic underpinning the paleo diet – that our bodies have not evolved to process modern-day foodstuffs. This is untrue. A human body can grow accustomed to a diet within a single lifetime, even a matter of months. We are incredibly adaptive creatures. 12,000 years is plenty of time for humans to learn to eat bread.
In addition, the foods that are approved by the paleo diet tend to be more expensive and more time consuming to prepare. For this reason, many experts condemn the paleo diet as a classist fad.
If you are an active person looking to improve your overall health or to lose weight, there are definitely elements of the paleo diet that can help you improve your goals. Any diet that gets people to eat more all-natural foods can’t be that bad. However, for best possible results, it may be wise to only go 80% Paleolithic. Since humanity has learned to farm, we have created both wonderfully healthy foods – grains, rice, yogurt, tomato sauce, etc. – and disastrously unhealthy foods – white bread, Twinkies, whipped cream, chicken wings, etc. Picking and choosing which foods to eat can be as simple as selecting unprocessed whole foods.