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Paleo Diet: Facts and Fiction

 Caveman diet and Paleo diet

You’ve probably heard of the Paleo Diet, a diet philosophy that started several years ago and has quite a passionate following. But what exactly is the Paleo Diet, and can it really help you achieve your wellness goals?

What is the Paleo Diet?

The Paleo Diet purports to mirror the foods that our hunter-gather ancestors would have eaten; prior to the advent of wide-spread agricultural practices about 10,000 years ago.

Paleo proponents believe that the maximum health of modern humans can be achieved only by following the ancient eating pattern of our ancestors. According to them, early humans would have eaten a diet high in animal protein, nuts and seeds and vegetables, with little to no consumption of dairy, legumes, grains or starchy vegetables.

What’s the Problem with the Paleo Diet?

The paleo diet is not rooted in real scientific evidence.

The archaeological record from Paleolithic times is rather sparse; in other words, it’s difficult to know exactly what was on your average cave man’s dinner plate.

However, experts in the field agree that humans are, at heart (and teeth and bones and digestive systems), omnivores. Eating whatever presented adequate energy is what enabled our ancestors to survive: including insects, grass seeds, and acorns.

Moreover, archaeologists and paleobotanists are digging up increasing mounds of evidence that our Paleolithic ancestors actually were eating starchy vegetables, tubers, and grains such as oats as long ago as 33,000 years ago. In fact, starchy vegetables are thought to have had a major role in the evolution of our very early ancestors’ relatively large brain sizes.

Still Convinced of the Paleo Diet Benefits?

If you are still not convinced that something is not quite right about Paleo philosophy, consider that Paleo “friendly” foods such as avocados, squash, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, cashews, and blueberries are New World foods.

If you aren’t of Native American descent, then your ancestors weren’t eating them. So, following the logic of the Paleo diet, shouldn’t they also be off limits?

And finally, consider this: the average lifespan of a caveman? Not nearly long as yours.

Problems with the Paleo Diet

On the whole, the Paleo Diet is terribly restrictive, and unnaturally so.

Take legumes, for example, which are forbidden on the Paleo for various reasons not backed up by valid scientific evidence.  Legumes are, in fact, rich in plant protein, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals.  As a plant protein legumes are environmentally friendly.  Legumes also contain prebiotics; meaning they help promote the growth of healthy colon bacteria. There is a strong consensus among nutrition experts that legumes provide important protective properties against heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and inflammation.

Paleo Diet Benefits

Something the Paleo diet does get right: it discourages processed foods and it touts higher intake of fruits and vegetables; which all nutritionists can agree have multiple health benefits.

So What’s the Best Diet Plan?

If you want to lose weight or eat healthier, remember that the best “diet” isn’t a restrictive fad protocol.  Rather, the best “diet” is a lifestyle change; one that embraces the omnivore tradition, and replaces low-quality processed foods with a variety of fresh, whole foods and unsaturated fats: vegetables, tubers, fruits, nuts, legumes, and whole grains.

Just like your ancestors ate!

If you’d like to learn even more about the Paelo Diet, read this article from National Geographic, titled: Ancient Oat Discovery May Poke More Holes in Paleo Diet.

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Penelope Nutrition Intern for Sweet Life WellnessBlog Author:

Penelope Taylor, Sweet Life Wellness Intern