You might have already heard about the Paleolithic, Caveman, or Stone Age diet through media stories, and it's likely, that the first things that you heard about it were generally negative. I heard some negative things myself, like it was 'unsafe' or a 'gimmick' or not really 'effective' before I looked into it carefully. What I realized, though, is that the Paleolithic diet, or what people simply call Paleo, is, in fact, a pretty darn healthy way to both eat.
The Paleolithic diet is based on the idea that humans have been on this earth for about 2-2.5 million years and as a result, people should base their diets on the foods that were available before the advent of agriculture (which has been around for only about 10,000 years) and industrialization (which has been only around about 150 years).
That is, the Paleolithic diet attempts to emulate the diets that our hunter-gather ancestors ate, which were whole, minimally processed, fresh and naturally raised in the wild. Contrast this to the foods that a modern agricultural/industrial society has provided for us, such as packaged and processed sugar and flour, which have, without a doubt, led to a surge in the incidence of diabetes and other chronic illnesses.
Sounds like a pretty good idea, right? Except it has caused controversy in dietary circles because the Paleo diet recommends the exclusion of grains and dairy, which were not available before the agricultural revolution and the advent of farming. Likewise, foods like beans are also excluded, because they need to be cultivated and cooked to be eaten, which hunter-gathers societies before the agricultural revolution would not have done.
Perhaps these dietary proscriptions sound odd, but the fact is there are a large number of people in our society who have allergies and sensitivities to both grains, especially wheat, and dairy. In the case of wheat, more and more people are discovering that, though they may not have celiac disease (which is a very serious autoimmune disease that can cause diarrhea, weight loss, and even cancer through prolonged exposure to wheat), they are intolerant to wheat.
People who are intolerant to wheat, specifically the protein in wheat called gluten, though they may not have celiac disease, often experience many of the same symptoms of stomach cramping, gas, nausea, poor appetite, and fatigue after they consume wheat. We are realizing, in the medical community, that more and more people are falling under this category, and often, they are intolerant to dairy as well (because a protein in milk called casein is very similar in structure to gluten and seem to also wreak havoc in the gut in the same way). For these people, a Paleo diet, or at least a modified version can provide great benefit to overall health.
But perhaps the reason the Paleo diet is so controversial is that meat is an essential component of the diet, and there is really no fear of saturated fat, or many fats in general in this diet.
Americans, we have been told, eat too much meat and fat, and the Paleo diet has no qualms with the consumption of meat and fat, and in fact, encourages it. This leads many people to believe that, as a result, the Paleo diet must be unhealthy. But there is more to the story.
First of all, there is no doubt the American diet is meat heavy, along with being sugar, flour, and junk food heavy. But the Paleo diet makes very clear recommendations on the consumption of meat: (1) that the meat is responsibly raised, in as natural environment as possible and (2) the whole animal is eaten.
That is why most advocates of the Paleo diet choose grass-fed beef, instance, and things like free range eggs over products that were conventionally (industrially) raised. Likewise, Paleo dieters extoll the virtues of eating things like organ meats, other offal, and bone marrow because it is both a great source of micronutrients that we need and our modern diet lacks, and that it is also, to the best of our knowledge, is what our ancestors ate. Finally, in general, Paleo dieters are also big vegetable enthusiasts, and most recommend a high consumption of a wide variety vegetables, especially those that are colorful and/or leafy green. In some cases, this can represent over 80% of the diet.
Still, this doesn't satisfy those who think there is too much meat in the diet, especially people who think that high consumption of animal fat causes heart disease. But more and more science is revealing that the consumption of dietary saturated fat from animal sources is essentially benign, and does not cause heart disease, but rather it is the excess consumption of carbohydrates, especially things like sugar, flour, and refined starch, which are responsible for the development of heart disease.
And this seems to be the major point of the Paleo diet in the first place. Our modern diet, though it provides us with abundant calories, is lacking in food that are nutrient dense and provide us with the proper building blocks for health. In order to find the diet which does this, we have to look at our legacy, which leads us to our hunter-gather ancestors.
When we do, we find that those hunter gatherer societies who have managed to survive to the present day, are virtually free of the diseases that plagued our modern society, like diabetes, while those hunter-gatherers who have adopted a modern diet, have fallen quickly to the plague of modern, chronic illness.
So, if you are intrigued about starting a Paleo diet, but perhaps, are a bit reticent because of some of the things you have heard about it, consider these points that I have made. The fact is if you do choose to adopt a diet that consists of whole foods that are nutrient, and you cut out the sugar, flour, and refined junk, you might find yourself eating a Paleo diet without even knowing it!
If you would like to read more on the Paleolithic diet and its principles, I recommend 2 books:
1. Robb Wolf The Paleo Solution
2. Mark Sisson The Primal Blueprint