Last updated on April 24, 2015
Deemed by supporters as the world’s healthiest diet, consumers can’t help but wonder if there are any truthful facts when it comes to this latest food craze. More than just your typical temporary eating adjustment, the paleo diet definitely demands an intense change of lifestyle, one that will take you all the way back to cavemen days.
Claimed paleo movement founder, Loren Cordain, believes people need to ditch modern refined foods such as wheat, dairy and anything processed because humans are genetically predisposed to eating stone-age traditional foods that include meat, seafood, nuts, legumes and fruit and vegetables.
This news, however, is not exactly new news.
The first paleo diet publication dates back to gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin in the 1970s. After his publicized beliefs that humans should adopt a carnivorous diet came Boyd Eaton in the 1980s, whose slightly rendered recommendations based beliefs on ancestors of East Africa.
Eaton believed eating meat fat and protein and excluding dairy to keep with a low saturated-fat diet was the way to a healthy life. It is based on Eaton’s ideas that Cordain has amplified his own claims, one of which is that our ancestors were free of ‘modern diseases’ such as cardiovascular, acne, autoimmune disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, gout, osteoporosis, gastric reflux and even varicose veins, and that these modern diseases are the result of an incompatibility from our stone age to contemporary anatomy and way of eating.
Back to cave days!
The paleolithic diet, or paleo diet for short, claims to be able to reduce chronic degenerative diseases, enable weight loss, eliminate acne, reverse autoimmune disease, increase libido, improve athletic performance and overall, provide a healthier life. The motto of the paleo diet is simply, if cavemen couldn’t eat it, you can’t eat it.
There is no dispute that eliminating processed foods is a great beginning to weight loss and a healthier diet. Refined foods are notorious for their lack of fiber and protein and their overabundance of preservatives and sodium. However, nutritionists view the paleo diet as nonsensical and dangerously restrictive. Some have even gone as far to point out that modern science is used by special interest groups to establish a preferred outcome and that the discipline of science is no longer science.
Paleo enthusiasts are set in the belief that the human body adapted to life during the stone age and therefore, modern humans should mimic, as closely as possible, the diet of our predecessors as the only true way to be healthy. This is where an enormous dispute arises.
Evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk of the University of California, Riverside says it’s evident that not only have human genetics and anatomy evolved over the last 10,000 years, so have the plants and animals humans consume. Therefore, eating as a caveman hunter-and-gatherer is no longer ideal — or possible — for the modern human. An example of human dietary evolvement is the development of a lactose tolerance, allowing humans to eat dairy.
Does the Paleo diet work?
The big question is does this caveman diet fad actually produce a disease-free, healthier lifestyle? The fact of the matter is human genetics and anatomy are not set in stone age stone. Zuk explains, “‘Paleofantasies’ call to mind a time when everything about us — body, mind and behavior — was in sync with the environment…but no such time existed. We and every other living thing have always lurched along in evolutionary time, with the inevitable trade-offs that are a hallmark of life.”
She adds, “If humans and other organisms could only thrive in circumstances similar to the ones their predecessors lived in, life would not have lasted very long.”
While there is no dispute that cutting out highly processed foods will produce healthier results, there is no credible research to show that dating our modern diets to stone age animal protein and plants is beneficial.
It is also important to take into consideration that the foods of today’s modern society are not the same as the foods grown 10,000 years ago, making these caveman claims unsubstantiated. Although some paleo dieters have been noted for citing ‘recent studies’, the studies they cite to justify their recommendations were short-term studies involving only a small number of participants, resulting in a lack of adequate proof.
Eliminating processed foods and cutting back on carb-obsessed eating habits will surely result in weight loss, especially if combined with adequate physical exercise — which is not exactly a caveman concept.