The Paleolithic diet that I never heard of

I thought I read and heard about them all. South Beach diet, Mediterranean diet, Macrobiotic diet, cabbage soup diet, 3-day diet, 4-day diet… even a 3-hour diet! Seems not. The “contemporary” Paleolithic diet is almost 40 years old and I never heard of it until I read recently that the Dooce has been on it for almost a year. No, I’m not about to jump in — I prefer the no-diet diet — but I read about this Paleolithic diet (also known as Paleo, stone age or caveman diet) and it’s pretty interesting stuff — at least, academically speaking.

In trying to understand what the Paleolithic diet is, let’s clear up some things first. Not one of us — not even Walter L. Voegtlin, the doctor that popularized the Paleo diet — was alive during the Paleolithic era. So when one says “Paleolithic diet” it’s really just guesswork on what and how people ate during the Paleolithic era which lasted for some two-and-a-half million years. I don’t know if the good doctor ever wrote a book about it but a lot of people who jumped in on its popularity have made Paleolithic diet a huge and very profitable business — there are tons of books about the subject including cookbooks for those who want to follow it.

So, what is the Paleolithic diet? It is a dietary plan based on the presumed diet of cavemen. In other words, if the cave man didn’t eat it, we shouldn’t either. Since fire was discovered during the early part of the Paleolithic period, we can at least surmise that the Paleolithic man cooked his meat. Based on this presumption, the proponents of the Paleo diet devised a nutrition plan that consists of lean meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, roots and nuts are dietary staples, while cereals, dairy products, salt and processed fat and sugar are avoided.

How did the Paleo diet become popular?

Paleolithic diet

(The image is a 123RF Stock Photo.)

Between 1985 and 2002, Staffan Lindeberg (along with two colleagues) studied “more than 200 scientific journals in medicine, nutrition, biology and anthropology” and observed that “Increasing evidence suggests that a Palaeolithic diet based on lean meat, fish, vegetables and fruit may be effective in the prevention and treatment of common Western diseases. Avoiding dairy products, margarine, oils, refined sugar and cereals, which provide 70% or more of the dietary intake in northern European populations, may be advisable.”

The italicized portion is, of course, the big come on.

Other similar studies can be found here and here, and a rather long opinion here. Or you may want to read a negative opinion and a skeptical view.

Note that the studies have been limited to Western diet (I really love Asian diet!).

Personally, I take issue with a dietary plan based on a PRESUMED diet from millions of years ago. Secondly, evolution has to be factored in. Archeological relics have shown that the Paleolithic man had a very different physique from modern-day man. Even his teeth were different. In other words, he had the anatomical tools to eat what he did. The human diet did not change overnight from the Paleolithic age to now. The change had been gradual as one thing after another was developed — agriculture, food preservation, refrigeration… And man’s body adapted — evolved — to that gradual change in diet.

Of course, I’m just a lay person who’s never heard of the Paleo diet until recently. Still, some diets appeal to the common sense more than others. And this one doesn’t really appeal to mine.

  • Marvin

    Madam, alam mo naman lahat ng suggestion mo eh sinusunod ko. Kung di ko pa nabasasa yung ending malamang ginawa ko na ang paleo diet.

    • Connie Veneracion

      Wag mo gagawin yang Paleo diet. Bili ka na lang ulit ng camera lens hehehehe

      • claire

        Interesting point of view. this kind of diet not actually not short term and not only for weight loss. It’s a lifestyle and the long term effects is I think interesting. I follow a certain diet/lifestyle similar to paleo but I still include whole grains and dairy. The whole premise to this is avoiding processed food which the western dietis full of.

        • Connie Veneracion

          It’s not really for weight loss — the come on is getting rid of certain diseases/conditions. The criticism (in the linked articles) is that the experiments had very loose controls and the dropout rate among the subjects was high. Ergo, not conclusive.

          • Best PH Blogs (@bestphblogs)

            The Paleolithic diet that I never heard of: I thought I read and heard about them all. South Beach diet, Mediter…

          • Asian Food (@Asian_Foods)

            #homecookingrocks The Paleolithic diet that I never heard of: I thought I read and heard about them all. South B…

          • Lerker

            Mahirap tong diet na toh. Walang dinosaur meat sa SM. Hihi.

          • Connie Veneracion


          • Matet

            P.S. Does this diet come with a requirement that meat should only be cooked outdoors, BONFIRE style?

          • Connie Veneracion

            Matet, I agree about the ever changing definition of “fat” and “thin.”

            No, I don’t think there is a bonfire requirement. LOL

      • Ken_L

        I’ve never understood why we should attempt to copy the eating habits of people whose life expectancy was probably about one third of ours …

        • Connie Veneracion

          Exactly! The short, brutish life. :)

        • Matet

          I wonder how many people who go on diet to lose weight are already underweight. The problem with fat and thin is that the definition changes with each generation. I won’t be surprised if Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate moss are considered fat ten years down the road.

  • http://CafeE!emprezz aprilstarr

    Presence of fire doesn’t mean they used it for cooking.Fire was used when discovered to keep warm and drive away animals.

    Before the discovery of farming to get steady source of food -source of nutrition came from gathered fallen fruits, plants,and nuts. Protein from big game hunting was seldom used as they required a camp/organization for a team effort. Protein instead came from smaller game trapped or hunted with simpler technology and can be done by a lone individual , women, children and oh yes, the men . If they lived near bodies of water, fishing was a natural method to get their nutrients.

    It seemed the story of our ancestors we believe today is that of the bulky individuals, and yet their diet is very similar to the diet of people still subsisting on food gathering with occasional hunting lifestyle which gave them leaner physique.

    Perhaps skeletal remains where theories were based on came from areas with extreme temperatures rather than tropical rainforests and/or coastal areas. Evolution (changes)was checked by climate, too . Don’t forget there is always mutation. Diseases also played havoc on populations. Cultural practices and beliefs are significant factors to be considered.

  • Veronica

    First of all, Paleo lifestyle promotes healthy eating. Not only meat, but fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts. Processed foods have caused harm in society. Over and over again I have read how the way we produce wheat is not the same as what we used to grow 50 years ago. I am a Paleo/Primal eater for over a year now. I don’t miss the food I used to eat. Why? I love how my body feels now. From feminine problems, pre-diabetic, weight issues, having issues with skin problems (very dry, itchy and breakouts), the list goes on, all of these problems are gone. I am not the only one who has chosen this lifestyle and have the same or better results. I can run, I can jump, I have more energy, my hair looks shiny and healthy, my skin is glowing. I contribute all of this to the way we eat: Primal/Paleo lifestyle! We do our own ice cream with coconut or hemp milk, our own cookies and bread with nut flour. We do our meals from scratch and feel satisfied, not full and bloated. My kids have greatly appreciated my way of cooking. They notice the difference. Paleo for life!

  • Kelsey

    The word “diet”, when used in its noun form (i.e. Paleo Diet), means “the kinds of food that a person…habitually eats.” I started the Paleo/Primal lifestyle only a week ago and already feel the effects on the INSIDE. I honestly do not care what the cavemen ate, or how radical it may sound to some people, this is how I believe I was meant to eat.

    Yes it has been “a very profitable business,” but I have not spent a dollar in changing my lifestyle other than the few extra dollars here in there for the more natural choices. All of the information a person needs can be found on the Internet! For free!

    Thank you for your interest and review of this lifestyle! We are all entitled to speak what we believe, and I certainly don’t mind if others do not participate in my beliefs. Just my two cents. :)

    P.S. Most Paleo “lifestylers” eat bacon, and even cook with bacon fat! How awesome is that?