Overview of the Paleolithic Diet

Overview

The paleolithic diet (also known as the paleo diet plan, caveman diet, Stone Age diet, and hunter-gatherer diet) is based on the diet of Paleolithic humans.  It draws on the fact that human genetics have changed only minimally since the dawn of agriculture and that modern humans are adapted to the diet of the Paleolithic era.

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The paleolithic diet consists mainly of fish, grass-fed pasture raised meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, fungi, roots, and nuts.  It excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, potatoes, refines salt, refined sugar, and processed oils.  Certain portions should be established for balance of nutrients to maintain homeostasis.

Proponents suggest that modern human populations subsisting on traditional diets similar to those of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers have shown improved health outcomes relative to other widely recommended fad diets.

History

The paleo diet was first popularized in the mid 1970s by Walter L. Voegtlin, a gastroenterologist who was one of the first to suggest that following a diet similar to that of the Paleolithic era would improve a person’s health.  In his 1975 publication, The Stone Age Diet: Based on In-Depth Studies of Human Ecology and the Diet of Man, he claimed that humans are carnivorous animals.  His dietary recommendations as a gastroenterologist were based on his own practice experience with medical problems such as colitis, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome, as well as on the Paleolithic human diet, and included mainly fats and protein, with small amounts of carbohydrates.  More mainstream attention was gained with a publication of an article on Paleolithic nutrition by Eaton and Konner on the New England Journal of Medicine.

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In the late 1980s and early 1990s, scientific surveys of the non-westernized population on Kitava, an island of Papua New Guinea, found that this population apparently did not suffer from stroke, ischemic heart disease, diabetes, obesity, or high blood pressure.

Since the end of the 1990s, Paleolithic-type diets have been advocated by a number of medical doctors and nutritionists, and the diet is gaining popularity today.

Method

The paleolithic diet is a modern dietary regimen that attempts to replicate the diet of preagricultural hunter-gatherers.  It includes only foods that are thought to have been available to these ancestral humans.  However, the modern diet is tailored to foods that are commonly available now, and includes cultivated plants and domesticated animal meat as an alternative to the wild sources of the original diet.

The paleolithic diet consists of foods that can be hunted (meat and seafood), and foods that can be gathered (eggs, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, insects, and herbs). Preferred meats include wild game meats and grass-fed beef since they contain higher levels of omega-3 fats. Food groups that advocates claim were rarely or never consumed by Paleolithic humans are excluded from the diet (grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugars and processed oils).

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Water is the preferred drink on the paleolithic diet, and consuming a variety of plant foods is recommended to avoid high intakes of toxins present in some roots, vegetables, and seeds. All foods may be cooked, as desired, without restrictions. It should be noted that there are some who believe that humans have not adapted to cooked foods.

According to certain proponents, the diet should provide about 56ñ65% of food energy from animal foods and 36ñ45% from plant foods, with a breakdown of 19-35% protein, 22-40% carbohydrates, and 28-58% fat.

Ideas Behind the Diet and Evolution
The reasoning underlying the paleolithic diet is that natural selection led Paleolithic humans to genetically adapt to the preagricultural diet, but in the 10,000 years since the advent of agriculture, natural selection has not had enough time to make the appropriate genetic adaptations to the new diet.
Proponents of the paleolithic diet point to current epidemic levels of obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes in the US and other Western nations as evidence that humans are maladapted to current diet trends, and that a preagricultural diet is more appropriate.

Exercise
The Paleolithic human lifestyle likely involved high levels of physical activity, and therefore proponents of the paleolithic diet typically argue for high levels of physical activity in addition to dietary practices.

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Critics
Critics have argued that the reason hunter-gatherer societies did not suffer from “diseases of civilizationî seen in our society may be due to reduced calories in their diet, shorter average lifespans, and many other factors other than dietary composition. One of the most common criticisms of the paleolithic diet is that preagricultural hunter-gatherers did not live long enough to develop diseases of modern civilization. While Paleolithic hunter-gatherers did have a shorter average life expectancy, modern populations with lifestyles resembling that of preagricultural humans have little or no diseases of affluence despite sufficient numbers of elderly. This strongly suggests that a shorter lifespan does not adequately explain differences in disease prevalence between preagricultural and modern humans, and that dietary tendencies may indeed play a role.