Diet Review: The Caveman (Paleo) Diet
Nutrition science continues to reveal new findings -- almost daily -- about healthy eating. But some experts say all we need to do is eat like our Stone Age ancestors to be healthy.
The Caveman Diet, also called the Paleolithic (or Paleo), Stone Age, and Warrior diets, is a plan based on eating plants and wild animals similar to what cavemen are presumed to have eaten around 10,000 years ago.
Why turn back the hands of time and eat that way? The premise is that our bodies are genetically programmed to eat like our Paleolithic ancestors.
Proponents claim it's the biologically appropriate diet that suits us best, with the proper balance of nutrients to promote health and reduce the incidence of chronic diseases.
Paleo (Caveman) Diet: What Supporters Say
The Paleo diet is a very healthy diet, says Loren Cordain, PhD, Colorado State University professor and author of The Paleo Diet.
“Clinical trials have shown that the Paleo Diet is the optimum diet that can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, blood pressure, markers of inflammation, help with weight loss, reduce acne, promote optimum health and athletic performance," Cordain says.
Supporters of this nutritional approach have published papers and books, and created web sites, to promote it. They argue that today's typical Western diet is responsible for the epidemic levels of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and more.
The Paleo or Caveman diet is not without controversy. Some nutrition experts assert that humans have adapted to a broader diet including whole grains, dairy, and legumes. Others question the evidence for the diet’s evolutionary logic.
And even though grains and dairy seem healthful, Cordain says our "genome has not really adapted to these foods, which can cause inflammation at the cellular level and promote disease.”
The Caveman Diet: What You Can Eat
The diet is based on the foods that could be hunted, fished, and gathered during the Paleolithic era -- meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, tree nuts, vegetables, roots, fruits, and berries.
But a true paleolithic diet is impossible to mimic because wild game is not readily available, most modern plant food is cultivated rather than wild, and meats are domesticated.
At best, you can eat a modified version of the original diet that's gluten-free and includes lean meat, organ meats, fish, poultry, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and nuts. It's a wide variety of foods.
You won’t find any dairy, grains, sugar, legumes, potatoes, processed oils, and any foods that were grown after agriculture started.
On this diet, you'd skip salt and any drinks other than water, coconut water, or organic green tea.
You can satisfy your sweet tooth with raw honey or coconut palm sugar, but only in limited quantities.
Some versions of the plan encourage fasting, eating raw foods, and eliminating nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant).
Some plans allow a little flexibility, like adding some processed oils from fruits and nuts, such as olive and flaxseed oil.
Supporters suggest eating organic plant foods, wild-caught fish, and grass-fed meats because they're closer to the nutritional quality of the foods of our ancestors.