The Paleo diet goes by many names. Common alternative names are the paleolithic diet, caveman diet, hunter-gatherer diet, and the stone age diet. This diet focuses on eating only foods that were available to us thousands of years ago before farming. The theory is that these foods are the best fit for human nutrition and genetics.
The Discordance Hypothesis
The Paleo diet’s groundwork references the discordance hypothesis. The hypothesis states that many of today’s chronic diseases are a mismatch between our bodies and our environment (1). The rapid change of environment, brought by farming and industrialization, did not allow enough time for our bodies to evolutionarily adapt to new foods and lifestyles.
As a result, we get many chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes which correlate to this mismatch. Eating foods that are closer to those available to hunter-gatherers or cavemen should fit best to our genetics (2).
Critics of Paleo
Critics of the Paleo diet, or at least its basis, state that the foods available to us now are in no way similar to the Paleolithic era. Plants available to eat back then were dependant of geography and meat wouldn’t be an everyday meal.
Hunter-gatherers were always moving and the meat they hunted was very lean. Nowadays, we don’t move enough and the meat we eat is not always lean or grass-fed.
Truth be told, it is almost impossible (or at least very inconvenient) to undertake a ‘true’ Paleo diet. Furthermore, some foods that were available in the Paleolithic era, like potatoes, are still not allowed in this diet. It’s easy to find technicallities, but that doesn’t change the fact that the diet exists.
What is the Diet?
The Paleo diet concentrates on eating lean meats like fish and poultry, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. As a result, dairy products, grains, legumes, and processed foods should be avoided.
On average these foods make a diet high in protein, moderate in fat, and low carbohydrate. It is rich in fiber, moderate in healthy fats, low in sodium, and low in sugar. Overall, it comes out to be a pretty balanced diet.
Benefits and Concerns
Research seems to favor Paleo diets for weight-loss in the short term- as with most diets. Ignoring entire food groups may lead to nutrient deficiencies more common in past eras. Calcium, vitamin D and folate deficiency may become more likely. There is also concern with heavy meat intake.
Should I try It?
Depending on what your goal is it might be worth a shot. Just be aware of potential drawbacks and consult a nutritionist or dietitian if possible. Remember that as with most diets, the weight-loss effects may be short-lived and not sustainable.
To summarize, it is always better to concentrate on having a balanced diet rich in fruit, vegetables, water, and plenty of exercise. Sometimes restrictive diets are counterintuitive and lead to overeating and stress.
- Konner, Melvin, and S. Boyd Eaton. “Paleolithic Nutrition.” Nutrition in Clinical Practice, vol. 25, no. 6, 2010, pp. 594–602., doi:10.1177/0884533610385702.
2. Konner, M. “Evolution and Our Environment: Will We Adapt?” Western Journal of Medicine, vol. 174, no. 5, 2001, pp. 360–361., doi:10.1136/ewjm.174.5.360.