Last Updated on 26 September 2020 by Ray Plumlee
Everyone has heard the phrase “everything old is new again.” But the phrase does not only apply to the rebooting of television shows from your youth or the reinvention of World War II superheroes as modern-day fighters of injustice. When I say “old”, I mean really old! Old, like from paleolithic times, some two and a half million years ago! Maybe you’ve heard about the paleolithic diet, or “caveman’s diet” as it is sometimes called, and been curious about it. Well, I was too, so let me give you a little information about how our distant ancestors ate, and why I believe that such a diet is just the right choice for my current lifestyle.
Millions of years ago, our genetic forefathers lived off the land in the most primitive way. Their diet was limited to what they could hunt, or what they could gather growing wild in the environment. This meant lean, fresh meat and fish, whatever fruits and vegetables were available seasonably in the area, and little else save for a few nuts and berries. I actually find this concept amazing. Eating what your ancestors ate and eating in an almost primitive manner.
Ten thousand years ago, these wandering hunter-gatherers settled down and learned to farm. While this worked out well, in providing a stable form of nutrition, available year-round it caused other problems. New foods were introduced, foods that were edible and easy to produce, such as dairy products, grains, and legumes. Humans learned how to produce such foods quickly. The population increased, farming communities became towns, towns became cities, and so on. Civilization developed rapidly, but, it seems, our bodies have not. The introduction of these more readily available foodstuffs has, it would seem, outpaced our body’s ability to evolve to keep pace. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t trade today’s modern conveniences for a lifetime of hunting game and searching the woods for edibles. These days, I do my hunting at the butcher shop and my gathering at the produce section of the supermarket. But I have found that my body still craves, and actually thrives on, the foods my ancestors brought back to the cave.
So, what, exactly, are the benefits of the paleo diet? Firstly, I have found it much easier to maintain a healthy weight or even lose unwanted pounds. This is because I avoid carbohydrates. Limiting my intake of carbs leads to a corresponding lowering of body fat, as well as more efficient use of the insulin my body produces. Fewer carbs mean less insulin produced. And lowering my carb intake leads to a lower chance of my developing type 2 diabetes. My heart health is also improved by the decrease in carbs. I found a 2015 study which indicates that the paleo diet can lead to a decrease in total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides, with a corresponding increase in beneficial HDL. I also feel more energetic. That’s right, my “caveman” diet seems to give me the energy of a caveman. And, let’s face it, they needed a lot of energy to hunt down dinner! My diet can also lead to a drop in inflammation in my body, and we all know that inflammation can contribute to arthritis, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, and many other conditions I would like to avoid.
Now that I’ve given you an inkling of just what the paleo diet is, and just how beneficial it can be, the next step is learning just what foods you can include in your own caveman diet plan. There are many different types of diet plans, all very similar but not identical. The fundamentals are simple enough, and you can alter your own menu to suit your taste, just as I have. There are certain foods to include, and, of course, others to be avoided. First, let’s start with the good ones. Fruits and vegetables are a must, with nuts and seeds also on the good list. I like to keep a small packet of nuts in my pocket to snack on as a healthy alternative to those sweet treats which many prefer. Lean meats, especially wild game or such as grass-fed beef or free-range chickens, provide needed protein. But you don’t have to do your hunting in the woods, as many game types of meat are available at upscale or specialty markets. Healthy fish, especially those rich in omega 3 fatty acids, such as salmon, mackerel, and albacore tuna, are also good for you. I love to explore the fish counter at my local supermarket, looking for new varieties to try. And get over your preconceived notions about oils. Don’t overlook healthy plant oils, such as olive oil and walnut oil.
But, just as is always the case, there is a flip side, unfortunately. Just as there are good foods, there are also foods to avoid, and you must accept the fact that they may be some of your favorites. These include grains such as wheat, oats, and barley, so definitely no more fruity breakfast cereals or sandwiches on fluffy white bread. Avoid legumes like beans, lentils, peanuts, and peas. Dairy products are a no-no, as well as refined sugar and salt. And stay away from potatoes (this from an Idahoan is almost sacrilegious) in any form, be they fried, baked, or boiled. I may miss my french fries more than anything, but I value my health more. And about those sandwiches, I mentioned before. Don’t think you can get away with snacking on some deli meat without the bread. Most luncheon meats are highly processed and should be avoided. No caveman in his right mind would chow down on bologna and cheese-food lunch. I sometimes crave a hot dog at the ballpark, but I usually opt for something else. Not always, though, I hate to admit – I’m trying to be a caveman, not a superman!
Following a paleo diet may seem, at first, a bit too stringent, but this type of diet plan is not about setting strict limits. I eat full, healthy meals with little sacrifice. For breakfast, I like to have a piece of broiled salmon, a couple of hard boiled eggs and half of a cantaloupe or any other fruit. Froot loops are a thing of the past. At lunch, I like a little chicken, or tuna, and maybe a salad. Dinner could be a really nice grass-fed steak, with a salad and a fresh veggie on the side. And I don’t deprive myself when it comes to serving size. I eat until I feel full, and walk away from the table satisfied. For dessert, I’ve gotten used to fruit instead of that gooey carrot cake. But that just makes my birthdays indulgence a little more special. The hardest part may be snacking. No more candy, chips, pie, or ice cream. I used to snack to avoid that late afternoon slump when my energy felt depleted. Don’t get me wrong, I still snack, but I’ve grown accustomed to carrot sticks, celery sticks, or fruit. And, in fact, I don’t feel that afternoon slump quite so acutely now that I’m following what “I” believe is a more healthy diet.
I know I’ve seemingly set down a lot of rules, but I don’t want you to feel discouraged. The so-called caveman diet is not about deprivation, merely adjustment. The menu works for me, and I think it will work for you, too. Especially if you are a meat lover! And there are a lot more things to feel good about. I don’t have to spend my days counting calories. I never worry if I’ve eaten too much. I eat until I’m no longer hungry. I don’t concern myself with quantity, just quality. My focus is on feeling good by feeling full. You should never feel like you’re starving yourself. And I don’t worry about keeping track of my carbs, either, as I don’t really eat any, barring the occasional indulgence. I feel an all-around increase in energy because I am avoiding those ups and downs that come with “sugar slumps” and “sugar highs” that come with sweet snacks and sugared drinks. And I find that I sleep far better at night because my body now responds naturally to serotonin, a sleep-inducing chemical which it produces, unhindered by other chemicals contained in processed foods. In addition, all the fruits and vegetables that I have included in my diet provide an abundance of antioxidants, phytonutrients, and fibers, which have a detoxifying effect. The elements act to cleanse my body of built-up waste products and accumulations. I like to think of it as a sort of lazy man’s detox if you will.
There are so many advantages to this type of diet plan, that I find it difficult to imagine that anyone would mind giving up those frequent trips to a fast-food restaurant. I find that I can follow this type of diet plan without feeling deprived. And if I can do it so can you. I have experienced the benefits and weighed them against the sacrifices, and I know which side tips the scales. The caveman diet may not, in fact, be for everyone. There is any number of healthy eating plans out there, after all. Enough that you can pick and choose from them to find one that works for you. But this one works for me, and I have no regrets about suggesting it to you. Study it, research it, and decide for yourself. You won’t be giving up much, after all. But, do be prepared to sacrifice certain comforts. After all, when was the last time you saw Ronald McDonald and a caveman sharing a table?
Professor Loren Cordain: The Paleo Diet Explained