Diet Review: The Caveman (Paleo) Diet
The Caveman Diet: How It Works
Supporters of the Paleo Diet say people are genetically programmed to eat like cavemen did before the agricultural revolution. They also say it's a way to cut the spiraling cases of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions plaguing American adults.
That's because a diet rich in lean protein and plant foods contains fiber, protein, and fluids that work together to satisfy, control blood sugar, and prevent weight gain and type 2 diabetes.
You may not need to eat this way all the time. According to Cordain, eating like our ancestors 80% of the time offers health benefits. He suggests trying the diet for two weeks to see if you feel better on the plan.
The plan encourages people to be physically active on a regular basis. After all, hunter-gathers had active daily lives seeking food, water, and shelter. Though you don't need to do that, you do need to move.
The Caveman Diet: Experts' Views
Nutrition experts have been clamoring for years for a cleaner diet based on whole foods, lean meats, fruits, vegetables and less sugar, sodium, and processed foods.
But they also typically include low-fat dairy, legumes, and whole grains based on the wealth of research that supports the role of these foods in a healthy, well-balanced diet.
“People who eat diets high in whole grains, beans, and low-fat dairy tend to be healthier because these foods are nutrient-rich and there are mountains of research about the health benefits of diets that include, not exclude, these foods,” says Keith Ayoob, EDd, RD, an assistant professor at New York's Albert Einstien School of Medicine.
American Dietetic Association spokeswoman Heather Mangieri, MS, RD, says, "This diet has some great aspects, but the limitations make it another diet that people go on but can’t sustain for a number of reasons, including a lack of variety, [cost], and potential nutrient inadequacies" due to the elimination of certain food groups.
David Katz, MD, the author of Way to Eat, tells WebMD by email that “eating more foods direct from nature is far better than the typical American diet, but how the Paleo-type diet compares in terms of long-term outcomes to an Asian, Mediterranean, vegan, or other optimized diet, we just don’t know.”
The Caveman Diet: Food for Thought
A diet that includes whole, unprocessed foods is the basis of most all healthy diet recommendations. But so are whole grains, low-fat dairy, and legumes.
Including these food groups will help meet nutritional needs and contribute to a well-balanced diet plan. You can satisfy dietary requirements without these foods, but that requires careful planning and supplementation.
If the Paleo or Caveman diet appeals to you, be sure to supplement the plan with calcium and vitamin D.
Eliminating all grains, dairy, processed foods, sugar, and more will most likely lead to weight loss. But it may be tough to follow this plan long-term due to the diet's strict nature.
Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, is director of nutrition for WebMD. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.