Turning Back the Hands of Time: The Paleo Diet

Diets come and diets go, but like an old pair of jeans out of style… if you wait long enough it’s sure to come back. With the Paleo movement sweeping across the nation, the ancient diet followed by early humans is making a comeback. The Paleo Diet, also called Stone Age or Caveman Diet, suggests following a meal plan with foods people were eating millions of years ago. Although there may be health benefits to following the Paleo diet such as possibly losing weight and avoiding hyperglycemia, like any meal plan with restrictions, knowing there is substantial data to support a claim is just as, if not more important. Ask yourself will people’s weight yo yo after “cheating” on their Hunter Gatherer Diet?

Principles of The Paleo Diet

To understand the theory of the Paleo diet, we must first turn back the hands of time. For millions of years, the human diet consisted of only meat, fish, poultry, and the leaves, roots, and fruits of plants. The Paleo diet (short for Paleolithic) is based on the claim that a healthy diet should consist of only the foods that can be hunted, fished and gathered during the Paleolithic era. The basics of the meal plan are that if the cavemen did not eat it, then you shouldn’t either. Proponents of the diet believe that evolution has led us to eat foods our bodies are not adapted to neither process nor digest. Fast-forward to modern day when conditions like obesity and Type 2 Diabetes are at an all time high. Advocates claim that since people in that era rarely had metabolic disturbances, one can now prevent chronic diseases, control blood sugar spikes and lead a healthier life following this diet.

What Can You Eat?

Swearing off refined sugar, dairy, legumes and grains?? To many, the Paleo diet may seem extremely restrictive.  You won’t find any refined sugars, added salt, processed foods and packaged snacks in this meal plan (I agree this can be healthy if whole grains, legumes and dairy were included). While the diet will differ slightly with personal modifications, the general Paleo plan consists of whole, unprocessed foods like lean meat, eggs, seafood, non-starchy vegetables — and some but not a ton of fruit, nuts and seeds. (Since it is encouraged to eat grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and eggs and fresh fruits and vegetables, keep in mind that following the Paleo diet can be rather expensive for the average person).

Some foods to avoid include the following: grains such as rice, refined carbohydrates like flour and cereals (no oat bran or Kashi), dairy, beans, peanuts, processed meats like hot dogs and chicken nuggets, soda, fruit juice, caffeine, alcohol.

Food for Thought

Although proponents of the diet claim that cavemen did not develop such chronic diseases, there is no evidence to support this claim. While the meal plan does restrict refined sugars and grains (both of which can contribute to obesity and Type 2 Diabetes if eaten in excess while following a sedentary lifestyle), it is important to remember that several diets are founded on the basis that one should include more fruits and veggies, whole and unprocessed foods. I believe it is Dr. Oz who puts patients on vegan diets to reverse diabetes and there are also many books recommending this as well. Keep in mind that the recommendation for a healthy diet also includes whole grains, dairy and legumes. Eliminating certain food groups, as suggested by the Paleo plan draws attention to potential nutrient deficiencies. For example, by avoiding dairy, individuals who follow a Paelo diet may develop osteoporosis if they lived long enough. That’s another question to ask. What was the average lifespan of a caveman? Did they ever get old enough to diagnose weak bones or did they die of malnutrition or by animal attack before osteoporosis set in? Oddly, while reading the meal plan for a Paleo diet, I see shrimp, chicken and beef. Did cave men and women really eat these three proteins in one day? I think it may be fair to say they ate beef one week and venison another. If they ate shrimp one week, they were probably spearing fish the next. Finally, did cave people know how to steam?? There are so many questions that make me think twice about this theory.

Lost In Translation

Don’t miss the message here. Less is more. Less processed, more healthy fats, less to eat and more movement. Any effort to eat foods directly sourced from our earth, to eat only lean free-range grass fed animals, and to cook your own meals is the way to go. Just don’t forget grains such as amaranth and barely, beans such as lentil and dairy such as delicious French Brie. These foods contain macro and micronutrients. I don’t think a French person would ever agree to this diet, yet people love to think the French are savvy with their food philosophy.  Also, I personally don’t think the Paleo diet is America’s answer to our health crisis, but if this concepts helps you to feel good and control your sugar, that is a step in the right direction.

The Cave versus Industry

In our society, we must recognize, diet is only half the battle. Industrialization has led us to lead a sedentary lifestyle.  Cave people were fit because they moved everyday for survival. We drive and tap our iPhones for success rather than survival. Cave people only ate what was available so that may have been no food or just berries for days. That kept them trim, but was it healthy? Today we have government subsidies for cheap food to prevent people from starving, and in return it has lead us to eat poor quality, processed food. In addition, our minds are brainwashed with marketing and ironically, it is cheaper to buy a super sized soda than that of a smaller soda (ounce for ounce). So if the Paleo helps you to be healthier, by all means be healthier. Just recognize that the restrictions in any diet are questionable and not necessarily supported by science or history. And remember, restrictions lead to binging, so be careful. Diets don’t work in isolation; rather lifestyle changes that are realistic and behaviorally based are the way go!

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