Paleo Diet: Back to the Stone Age?

What is the paleo diet? Are there science-based health benefits to following a modern day version of our hunter-gather ancestors' diet?
Paleo Diet: Back to the Stone Age? - News

Updated: September 8, 2018

Paleo Diet: Back to the Stone Age?

Bison painting in the Cave of Altimira, photo from Pixabay

“Eat like a caveman” and you might follow the eating patterns of our ancestors who lived during the Paleolithic era or Stone Age. According to an August 2017 Mayo Clinic Healthy Lifestyle article, “a paleo diet is a dietary plan based on foods similar to what might have been eaten during the Paleolithic era, which dates from approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago.” The basic ancient paleo foods hunted, collected and consumed by our ancestral hunter-gatherers were primarily lean wild game, wild plants, tubers, nuts and wild berries.

You may have seen advertisements and promotions for the “Paleo diet™,” a name coined by Loren Cordain PhD, formerly of Colorado State University. His work is predated by years of research and scholarly articles on evolutionary diets that tout the benefits of ancient meal patterns based on fossil and archeological evidence. Today there is a great deal of debate on the pros and cons of the paleo diet. As with any diet or food trend, it is very wise to consult with your healthcare provider before making any dietary changes.

Some believe a paleo diet can promote weight loss and result in fewer diseases associated with today’s lifestyle. However, paleo menus focus on greater amounts of meat and fish protein and fats, and do not include dairy or grain-based carbohydrates, legumes or potatoes. It is important to note the 2015-2020 US Dietary Guidelines do not recommend this type of eating, nor does the MyPlate model of balanced eating which focuses on a greater variety of food groups. On a positive note, paleo-style dining does exclude highly processed foods which typically contain high amounts of sugar, salt and unhealthy fats.

There are many doubts about the health implications of copying the dietary habits of our cavemen ancestors. The Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Words on Wellness newsletter observes “since the Paleo diet avoids foods from dairy and whole grains, dairy, peanuts, legumes, cereal grains, its long-term sustainability is questionable. We live in a society where it is not possible to eat exactly as our ancestors ate.”

If you are indeed curious about what a modern day paleo menu might look like, check out the Mayo Clinic Healthy Lifestyle Nutrition and Healthy Eating article: “Breakfast. Broiled salmon and cantaloupe; Lunch. Broiled lean pork loin and salad (romaine, carrot, cucumber, tomatoes, walnuts and lemon juice dressing); Dinner. Lean beef sirloin tip roast (ideally pasture-raised), steamed broccoli, salad (mixed greens, tomatoes, avocado, onions, almonds and lemon juice dressing), and strawberries for dessert; Snacks. An orange, carrot sticks or celery sticks.” Although the menu omits essential food groups, the paleo diet does “emphasize drinking water and being physically active every day.”

While it may be unrealistic to follow the true paleo diet of our ancestors, we are able to rely on the scientific, evidence-based information on nutrition and health available through Extension and our land grant universities.

Resources

Chow Line: Paleo diet has pros and cons. The Ohio State University.

University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Food Blog. Paleo diet not as simple as it sounds.

Words on Wellness: The Paleo Diet: A look at a popular eating plan. Iowa State University.

Authors

Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP)

More by Suzanne Weltman