The Paleo Diet is based around the principle of eating only food that was available to our forefathers during the Paleolithic period. The Paleolithic period occurred between the first bipedal primates 2½ Million years ago and the agricultural revolution about 8,000BC.
Proponents of the Paleo Diet avoid eating diary products, grains (& grain products), potatoes and other tubers, because they believe these products only became part of the human diet after the Paleolithic period. I say believe as no-one knows for sure and some archeologists believe some of those food groups were actually available and eaten during the Paleolithic period.
The concept of the Paleo Diet started in the 70’s with a gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin “who believed modern humans could achieve optimal health only if they exclusively ate the same foods their Stone Age progenitors ate.”
The Paleo Diet gained traction in 2002 when The Paleo Diet was published by Loren Cordain. In this book he proclaims that the Paleo Diet is the one true way to eat. “With this diet, we are returning to the diet we were genetically, programmed to follow.” When CrossFit endorsed the Paleo Diet the number of followers of it increased and it entered the mainstream.
In the book Cordain advises people to get at least 50% of their calories from fat each day. Christina Warinner (a biomolecular archeologist) explains that the first humans and hominids that came before, possibly ate that much when meat was plentiful (such as after a successful hunt) but unlikely all of the time and the majority of the time they would have been gathers eating berries, fruit and routes that they found..
Farther, the food eaten by our Paleolithic ancestors have changed significantly through natural evolution. Wild lettuces where indigestible, had spines, were bitter and contained latex which irritated their gastrointestinal system.
Going back to the claim of the Paleo diet to eat large quantities of meat because it is healthier. We all remember the recent advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that warns of the increased risk of cancer and other disease when people ate an excessive amount of meat (initial media misrepresented the data to mean eating any meat, when in fact it should have been focused on processed meats). Some is OK in moderation, but as the quantity/volume of meat increase so to does the risk of dying early.
The Paleo Diet also claims that dairy and grains are also unhealthy and by excluding it from your diet you will be healthier as a result. But in 2010 Peter Elwood from Cardiff University proved that eating more dairy products was associated with a decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, as well as death by any cause.
Also the National Institutes of Health – AARP Diet & Health study which tracked the health of half a million people over nine years found that those who ate the most whole grains were 22% less likely to die during the study than those who ate the least amount. They were also 29% less likely to develop heart disease.
The Paleo Diet isn’t a bad diet it just isn’t the One True Way it preaches to be. One of the best features of Paleo recipes are the encouragement of the consumption of more appropriate, healthy fats such as avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, almond butter etc…
For more information about the Paleo Diet there is a more in depth chapter in Matt Fitzgerald’s book Diet Cults- The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of Us.
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