Although there are several versions, the Paleolithic diet always comes down to one idea - losing weight and improving health by eating the way our caveman ancestors did.
The Introduction of the Paleo Diet
The Paleolithic or "caveman" diet was proposed in the 1970s by Dr. Walter L. Voegtlin, in his book The Stone Age Diet. He essentially applied evolutionary principles to the modern diet, arguing that human genetics have changed very little over the centuries. He believed the human body is best adapted to the sort of diet that was eaten by the early humans, who lived as hunter-gatherers instead of an agricultural society.
Dr. Voegtlin's books is now out of print, but since then, numerous books have been written promoting variations of the idea. The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain, The Evolution Diet by Joseph Steven Breese Morse, and NeanderThin by Ray Audette all promote diets based on Voegtlin's original ideas.
Paleolithic Diet Philosophy
The Paleo diet is essentially very simple. Followers eat only foods that would have been found in pre-agricultural man's diet, or at least, modern versions of these foods. This means the diet is restricted to foods that would have been edible without technology, processing or even cooking. Quantities of allowed foods are not restricted.
- Sugars, other than small quantities of honey. No processed sugars, molasses, corn syrup, fructose or sugar substitutes.
- Grains - including oats, wheat, barley, rye, rice and corn
- Legumes - including peanuts and soy
- Starchy vegetables - no potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams or parsnips
- Seaweed byproducts
- Dairy products
- Some oils - corn, cottonseed, peanut, soybean, rice bran, and wheat germ oil
- Not all processed meats are completely forbidden, but are discouraged. Avoid meat products with added corn or corn products, starches or sugars.
- Processed products such as commercially produced mayonnaise or ketchup, ice cream, chocolate, carob, margarine, etc.
It should go without saying that foods containing any of the forbidden foods as ingredients also should not be eaten.
- Honey, in small amounts
- Most vegetables, other than listed above. Vegetables may be fresh or frozen, raw or cooked.
- Unprocessed meats - beef, pork, chicken, game birds, fish, shellfish, lamb or venison. Wild game is preferred.
- Eggs - preferably from free roaming chickens
- Most fruits
- Nuts and edible seeds - peanuts are not allowed, because they are technically legumes, not nuts. Cashews are also not allowed because they cannot be eaten raw, but must be processed.
- Lard, olive oil, flaxseed oil and coconut oil
- Juices with pulp and without additives
Each author's guidelines for the Paleo diet are slightly different, so there is some room for individual interpretation. For instance, in Audette's book, he prohibits all beverages other than water, tea, and small amounts of juice, and specifically prohibits coffee and alcohol. Cordain, on the other hand, says beverages other than water should be consumed in moderation, and allows coffee, tea, diet soda, and even alcohol in moderation.
Some Paleo dieters not only eliminate foods that could not be eaten without cooking, but eliminate cooking altogether and consume a strict raw-food diet. This approach is not required. Organic produce is recommended. Meat is also an important part of the Paleo diet, and should come from animals allowed to eat as natural a diet as possible. This would favor wild game, free-range chicken and grass-fed beef, and wild-caught fish.
Paleo Pros and Cons
Like any diet, there are pros and cons to the Paleolithic diet. In general, the diet is simple, since there is no counting or measuring required. You simply stick to the list of allowed foods. The food is also nutritionally dense, since heavily processed 'empty calories' have been eliminated from the diet.
The Paleolithic diet also has its drawbacks. One issue is the cost. Fresh fruits, vegetables and proteins are sometimes more expensive than their more heavily processed counterparts, and this price difference is even more apparent when purchasing organics. A bigger drawback for most people is likely to be the huge adjustment this style of eating would require. Even with the ever-increasing number of Paleo diet recipes available, total elimination of dairy and grains may be a bigger change than many people are willing to make long-term.