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?
(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.
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.