In the quest for optimum health and weight loss, many Americans have been influenced in recent years by the “Paleolithic Diet,” which recommends modifying the way we eat to more closely resemble the diet of our preagricultural hunter-gatherer ancestors.
Also referred to as the Caveman diet, Stone Age diet, and Hunter–Gatherer diet, the Paleolithic─or Paleo─diet is comprised of foods that were available before the dawn of agriculture, a period which began approximately 2.5 million years ago, when humans first started to use stone tools, and ended about 10,000 years ago.
The general idea with this diet is to target lean meats, fish, poultry, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and nuts. Modern day foods not on the menu include grains, dairy products, sugar, added salt, and processed oils. Needless to say, a dietary shift like this would be a novel concept for many, when you consider that dairy products, margarine, oils, refined sugar, and cereal grains make up 70% or more of the dietary intake in northern European populations.(1)
Does this way of eating sound healthy to you? Many wellness experts applaud it, based on considerable evidence attesting to its benefits. According to the Journal of Nutrition: “All populations appear to develop diseases of civilization if they consume Western foods and have sedentary lifestyles. It therefore seems prudent for modern-day humans to remember their evolutionary heritage. The Paleolithic diet might be the best antidote to the unhealthy Western diet.”(2)
Another study noted that “Until 500 generations ago, all humans consumed only wild, unprocessed food foraged and hunted from their natural environment. The result was a diet high in lean protein, omega-3 EFAs, monounsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other beneficial phytochemicals. Historical and anthropological show that hunter-gatherers were, as a result, generally healthy, fit, and largely free of the degenerative diseases common in modern societies, such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.”(3)
Would you eat like a cave dweller if you could reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease? A 2009 study found that individuals following this diet experienced improvements in glycemic control and several cardiovascular risk factors.(4) Additional research found that adopting a hunter–gatherer diet for 7 weeks resulted in a 10% weight loss and reduced fasting glucose, insulin, and triglycerides.(5) It appears that even short-term consumption of a Paleolithic type diet improves blood pressure and glucose tolerance, increases insulin sensitivity, and improves lipid profiles in healthy sedentary people.”(6)
How about weight loss? One 3-week study of a Paleolithic diet in 14 healthy subjects resulted in significant improvements in weight, body mass index, waist circumference, and blood pressure.(7) Another study found that munching like a cave dweller is even more conducive to safe weight loss than the Mediterranean diet. The Paleolithic diet was found to be more satiating per calorie─in part due to the emphasis on protein.(8)
Could the diet be improved upon? Definitely. A clever approach would be to embrace the general concept, but to replace saturated fat and cholesterol-laden forms of protein with leaner, healthier options, such as whey protein isolate, aiming to consume more than half your body weight in total ounces of protein per day.
Another important innovation is to incorporate green superfoods daily─not only for their powerful array of nutrients and phytochemicals, but also because of their highly beneficial alkalinizing effect on your body. And, unless fish is on the daily menu, 1-3 grams of high quality fish oil will provide those crucial omega 3 EFAs, specifically EPA and DHA.
Last but not least, remain consistent with your daily multi-vitamin/mineral formula to ensure an optimal nutrient intake. These smart additions will help you capitalize on this dietary approach, with enhanced daily energy, immune health, and overall wellness. Now, that’s Paleo with a PhD.
1 Am J Hum Biol. 2012 Jan 19. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.22218.
2 J Nutr. 2003;133(11 Suppl 2):3886S–3892S.[PubMed] 3 Mayo Clin Proc. 2004 Jan;79(1):101-8.
4 Cardiovasc Diabetol. 2009;8:35. [PMC free article][PubMed] 5 Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009 Aug;63(8):947-55. Epub 2009 Feb 11.
6 Diabetes. 1984;33(6):596–603.[PubMed] 7 Eur J Clin Nutr. 2008;62(5):682–685.[PubMed] 8 Nutr Metab (Lond). 2010 Nov 30;7:85.