It was probably well over a decade ago that I was introduced to the Paleolithic diet (aka Caveman Diet)—in brief, a diet based on the premise that if our ancestors didn’t eat it then we shouldn’t. Surely food for thought…
My colleague Mary Beth Augustine, MS, RD, CDN, whom I hold in the highest regard, referred me a patient whose nutrition prescription was the Paleo diet. I can honestly say that back then I had no idea what this diet was so as is typical in my work, I researched it so I had the knowledge to help this patient manage chronic illness through food choice and preparation. When working with people with illness, stringent dietary regimens are essential to support healing. And my colleagues and I take these nutrition prescriptions seriously as food can truly be used as medicine.
As for this particular dietary regimen, Loren Cordain, PhD is the authority on the Paleo diet devoting decades to studying how the food intake of our ancestors positively impacts health today. The author of multiple peer-reviewed scientific articles (in other words, fairly credible research) on this hunter-gatherer diet—appearing in everything from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition—Cordain concludes that eating in this Stone Age kinda way can “help to optimize your health, minimize your risk of chronic disease, and lose weight.”
So what is the premise of this regimen anyway? According to Cordain (and in a nutshell):
1. Higher protein intake—Pastured meats (versus factory farmed meats), seafood, and other animal products are the staples.
2. Lower carbohydrate intake—Non-starchy fresh fruits and vegetables are the main carbohydrate source.
3. Higher fiber intake—Fiber from non-starchy vegetables like greens is preferred.
4. Moderate to higher fat intake—Cut the trans fats and the Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats (i.e. safflower, grapeseed, sunflower and corn oils) in favor of the healthful monounsaturated and Omega-3 fats (i.e. flax and fish oils).
5. Higher potassium and lower sodium intake–Unprocessed, fresh foods, compared to many processed foods, are commonly higher in potassium and lower in sodium, supporting good vascular health.
In other words, this is a regime that centers on animal protein, healthy fat, nuts, seeds, non-starchy vegetables and fruits. Processed foods are out but so are many healthy vegetables like sweet potatoes as well as grains and legumes.
While the Paleo diet can possibly prevent or even manage disease, following too many edible rules can be daunting for many. While I believe there are merits to the Paleo way of life, extreme eating is not my thing. Like many “dietary movements” my concern is that people jump on the bandwagon because it’s the hip cool thing to do without truly understanding the regimen, how it will impact individual health and if it is realistically maintainable. In the end, the best blueprint for dietary choice is based on whole real foods with a strong focus on variety and moderation.