The paleo diet (from “Paleolithic,” also known as the caveman diet) has, literally, been around since the Stone Age. In recent years, though, it has made a resurgence, first among athletes and later spreading to the health-conscious in general. But is this diet really healthy? Or is just the latest fad?
The Paleo Diet: What Cavemen Ate?
Essentially, the paleo diet limits food intake to what our prehistoric ancestors would have been able to hunt and gather, with the idea that human bodies were “engineered” for this kind of diet. This means that adherents eat primarily protein from meat, fish, shellfish, and eggs, and get their plant foods from vegetables, roots, fruits (especially berries), and tree nuts. Excluded from the diet are grains, dairy, drinks other than water and tea, and all the trappings of modern eating like pre-packaged and processed foods.
Detractors say that while this diet is certainly healthy, it’s only a vague approximation of what our Stone Age relatives would have eaten, especially if you’re eating foods that have been factory farmed and conventionally grown. Plus, different “cavepeople” would have eaten hugely different diets depending on where in the world they were hunting and gathering. But beyond potential historical inaccuracy, let’s talk about the science behind the paleo diet.
On the “Healthy” Side…
A small 2009 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that even a short-term switch to a paleo-style diet may have huge benefits. Potential pluses may range from increased insulin sensitivity to lower blood pressure to improved lipid profiles, even before weight loss is factored in.
Supporters also point out the nutritional profile of the foods available to paleo dieters. The diet is based on lean proteins, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats, which have been shown to keep you feeling fuller longer, control your blood sugar, and lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Plus, because paleo dieters strike out processed foods, refined sugar, and salt, they’re more likely to eat home-cooked meals featuring only whole ingredients, without preservatives and additives.