Still left wondering if you should follow the caveman, or also commonly known as Paleo, diet?
I think it would be safe to say that by now you have heard of this diet and seen, heard or read the controversy that follows. I made comment on the hotly debated topic as seen in Body + Soul. Take a look and let me know what you think!
There is a growing movement that believes if we really want to be fit, healthy and disease-free, we need to return to the hunter-gatherer life our ancestors lived some 40,000 years ago and dump all foods which come from farming.
Known as the paleo, caveman, stone- age or primal diet, its burgeoning band of supporters swear it is more a lifestyle than an eating practice, because the focus is on overall health rather than weight loss.
The paleo philosophy is based on the belief that modern-day conditions such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease all started when ancient man embraced farming practices and cultivated food.
It claims that, genetically speaking, the human body is best built to deal with food which is sourced from hunting, fishing and gathering, as opposed to those items grown from agriculture – such as wholegrains, sugar, dairy and legumes.
A typical paleo meal plan might include eggs and steak for breakfast, soup or salad (preferably including meat or fish) for lunch and roast meat and vegetables for dinner. Paleo recipes include stews, stir-fries and egg dishes such as frittatas and omelettes.
“This program of eating was not designed by diet doctors, faddists or nutritionists, but by Mother Nature’s wisdom acting through evolution and natural selection,” says Dr Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet (Wiley). He says the diet is based on “extensive scientific research”.
Paleo supporters cite anthropological evidence that in most surviving hunter-gatherer populations, the chronic “diseases of civilisation” such as diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity are relatively rare.
A diet without dairy or grains?
Critics of the paleo lifestyle ask how a diet that discards at least two major food groups from the healthy pyramid can be sustainable or good for you. In fact, Melanie McGrice, of the Dietitians Association of Australia, describes the paleo trend as a “short-term quick fix” and “just another fad”.
“The Dietitians Association of Australia cannot support a diet that cuts out core food groups like dairy and wholegrains,” she says. “It is nutritionally incomplete and does not reflect the vast knowledge we have today about our nutritional intake based on scientific reviews and research.”
McGrice says this diet could lead to a calcium deficiency and also includes too many saturated fats from animal proteins. This is mainly due to the fact that the livestock of today contains significantly higher fat than the wild animals that sustained the Paleolithic era.
Understandably, Dairy Australia also has a major problem with a diet that prohibits the products it spruiks.
Glenys Zucco, Dairy Australia’s nutritionist, wonders where people who follow paleo diets will get their recommended daily allowance of calcium.
“To get the same amount of calcium as one serve of dairy you would need to eat 32 brussels sprouts, 21 cups of raw chopped spinach, 11 cups of diced sweet potato, six cups of shredded green cabbage or a cup of dry-roasted almonds,” she says. “Core food groups exist for a reason: they provide vital nutrients in quantities that other foods can’t.”
Zucco also cites recent research which shows that rather than contributing to obesity and cardiovascular disease, dairy products are linked with weight loss and improved heart health.
On the question of no dairy and other exclusions, paleo gurus say that because the diet prohibits many of the “highest acid-producing foods” (such as hard cheeses, cereal grains, salted foods and legumes), the amount of calcium leeching out of our bones is greatly reduced. As a result, eating high-calcium green vegetables provides adequate levels of this mineral.
Fervent fans and utter sceptics
The paleo diet inspires love and loathing. The US News & World Report magazine’s annual ranking of diets had the paleo in last place out of the 24 reviewed. It said its expert panel of nutritionists and dietitians “took issue with the diet on every measure”.
However, in addition to anecdotal evidence, the website supporting The Paleo Diet book lists research that is in favour of hunter-gatherer eating as well as the trend’s recommended exercise practices.
Responding to the US News & World Report ranking, Cordain says, “Five studies, four since 2007, have experimentally tested contemporary versions of ancestral human diets and have found them to be superior to Mediterranean diets, diabetic diets and typical Western diets in regards to weight loss, cardiovascular disease risk factors and risk factors for type 2 diabetes.”
Critics respond with the contention that these studies have not been big enough to offer real proof of the paleo diet’s benefits.
Melbourne health and lifestyle coach Travis Jones says he has never met a person who did not feel better after starting a paleo lifestyle and describes it as the “healthiest diet and lifestyle change there is”.
“I have witnessed clients lose up to 50 kilograms, some have come off diabetes medication with the guidance of their doctors and others have seen all kinds of autoimmune diseases settle,” he says.
Jones says paleo is far from being a “fad” diet. “Paleo is a lifestyle that you stick to for a healthier, better you. The fat loss is just a by-product of this lifestyle,” he says.
What you can eat
Paleo purists say we should only eat foods our primal ancestors ate, but it does seem there are several variations of this diet around, with some less rigid than others. Here is a general list:
Lean meat, game and organs such as liver and tongue are encouraged
Eggs (some diets recommend at least six a week)
Fruit (but not in vast quantities)
Vegetables (although some don’t encourage potatoes)
Nuts and seeds (in moderation)
Seafood and shellfish (all types)
Olive, coconut, avocado, walnut, flaxseed and canola oil in moderation
Foods to be avoided
Cereal grains (all)
Grain-like seeds (quinoa, buckwheat)
Legumes (all beans, chickpeas, lentils, soy products, peas)
Salt-containing foods (store-bought condiments, bacon, deli meats)
Fatty cuts of meat