A few weeks ago we kicked off our new Diet Blog Series with the Mediterranean and Ketogenic “keto” diets. This week we will be moving on to the ever-popular Paleo diet. The Paleo diet (also nicknamed the caveman diet, primal diet, Stone Age diet, and hunter-gatherer diet) is hugely popular these days, and goes by one simple question: What would a caveman eat?
The new, old diet
What It Is
The Paleo diet is close to a low-carb diet, with exceptions. The basic idea is to eat more like your ancestors did during the Paleolithic era. This diet has been trending since around 2003 because it seems to be effective for a large number of people, and it’s fairly easy to “get” it and, therefore, easy to implement.
The paleo diet runs on the same foods our hunter-gather ancestors supposedly ate: fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, and nuts. "By following these nutritional guidelines, we put our diet more in line with the evolutionary pressures that shaped our current genetics, which in turn positively influences health and well being," says Loren Cordain, PhD, professor of health and exercise science at Colorado State University and author of The Paleo Diet. He says the diet lessens the body's glycemic load, has a healthy ratio of saturated-to-unsaturated fatty acids, increases vitamin and nutrient consumption, and contains an optimal balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates—Research from Emory University suggests that Paleolithic people obtained about 35% of their calories from fats, 35% from carbohydrates, and 30% from protein.
The Paleo diet emphasizes:
- Eat fresh fruits and non-starchy veggies.
- Eat grass-fed meat from ruminants like cattle, bison, goats, lamb or wild game.
- Seek out pastured chicken, eggs and pork.
- Prioritize wild-caught fish and seafood whenever possible.
- Avoid grains, gluten, legumes (peas, beans, peanuts and lentils), low-fat pasteurized and homogenized dairy, corn, soy and sugar.
- Avoid “modern foods” (basically anything that comes in a box, jar, or bag).
- Alcohol and honey are also generally considered paleo no-nos, but red wine tends to be the closest option there is to a paleo drink, and honey is far preferred to table sugar or artificial sweeteners.
- While potatoes are generally outlawed on the diet, they are okay to eat sparingly as long as you earn them through exercise, according to Robb Wolf, a former research biochemist, paleo expert, and author of The Paleo Solution.
Experts don’t agree on the benefits of the Paleo diet. In fact, it’s health benefits are unproven. "Our ancestors ate this way and didn't have many of the chronic diseases we do, but that doesn't mean the food they ate is the reason why; drawing that conclusion would be like saying we live three times longer than our Paleolithic ancestors because we eat fast food,” says Christopher Ochner, MD, research associate at the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke's and Roosevelt Hospitals.
However, one of the biggest pluses of the paleo diet isn't about nutrition at all—it's about the support paleo eaters give each other. Online community forums, Facebook pages, and even meet-up groups are filled with people living the ancient lifestyle in modern times. You won't find that with many other diets.
While the Paleo diet as a whole hasn't been well studied, and the benefits remain unproven, a handful of small studies have tried to determine if a Paleo diet is a healthier diet. One small study published in the journal Diabetologia found that the diet improved blood sugar over 12 weeks compared to a Mediterranean one that allowed grains, low-fat dairy, and oils, but it's hard to say whether researchers would come to the same results in a larger study. However, the benefits of cutting packaged foods from your diet could be huge. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, three quarters of the average American's sodium intake (which is almost double what it should be) comes from commercially prepared foods. And, one Public Health Nutrition study found that people who cook at least five times a week are 47% more likely to be alive 10 years later compared to those who rely more on processed foods.
As always, pairing EnduraQ with a healthy diet like Paleo will significantly increase the results you see. For the next blog in our diet series we will discuss intermittent fasting, which is actually less of a diet and more of an “eating pattern.” Check back in two weeks to learn more.