The Paleo (short for Paleolithic) diet was invented in 1975 by Dr Walter L. Voegtlin.
Voetglin was a gastroenterologist who was searching for a dietary treatment for Crohn’s disease. This led him to a study of the eating habits of Paleolithic (early Stone Age) humans.
Adopting such a diet cured not only Crohn’s, but also Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Colitis. This led Voegtlin to the view that optimum health can be obtained by returning to the hunter-gatherer diet of our early ancestors.
After all he reasoned, the genetic make-up of humans has remained largely unchanged. For that reason, our eating habits should also be in tune with our Paleolithic forebears. In practical terms that means eating a diet high in proteins, fats and low in carbohydrates.
The recent surge in popularity of the Paleo diet is the result of two popular books, The Paleo Diet by Dr. Loren Cordain and The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us About Weight Los, Fitness and Ageing by Art De Vany.
The Paleo Diet is also known as The Caveman Diet, The Stone Age Diet and the New Evolutionary Diet. It is a modern day attempt to emulate the eating habits of Paleolithic humans.
The Paleolithic period lasted from some 2.5 million years ago until the start of the agricultural age, which began around 8,000 CE. During that period of time people ate what they were able to hunt, kill and gather. That means that their diet was high in . . .
- Wild game
- Nuts and seeds
- Green leafy vegetables,
- Root vegetables
The Paleo Diet, then, is composed of a simple maxim:
Eat what our cave dwelling ancestors ate and stay away from what he didn’t eat
That means avoiding as many processed foods as possible. Agriculturally based products should also be kept to a minimum. Cavemen didn’t spend all day preparing foods in the kitchen and neither should you.
How the Paleo Diet Works
The Paleo diet is built around 4 fundamental principles:
- The genetic code of humans has remained fundamentally unchanged. Society and environment have changed beyond belief but the nutritional needs of the body haven’t. The modern diet is killing us. We need a return to the basics of our cave dwelling ancestors.
- The Plants eaten in Paleolithic times grew naturally in the wild. Their lower glycemic load resulted in reduced negative impact on insulin levels. This meant that the zig- zagging blood sugar levels that lead to energy spikes and crashes today were not known back then.
- Meats derived from wild game were largely free of saturated fats. Today we should source our meats from grass fed rather than grain fed animals. Wild game are preferred over farm animals. The leaner the meat the better.
- The plague of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other modern health issues are directly related to agriculture and the processing of foods that are part of our modern lifestyle.
From these fundamental under-pinnings come the following guidelines:
- Before you put it in your mouth, ask if a cavemen would have eaten it. If he would, chow down. If not, throw it in the garbage.
- Find out where your food came from before it arrived in the supermarket. Ideally meat will be from wild animal sources or grass fed animals.
- Eat as many fruits and root, water and leafy vegetables as you want. Avoid dried and canned fruits (cavemen didn’t own any can openers!).
- Avoid processed foods. You want foods in their simplest most basic form. Preservatives, flavouring and colourings were unknown in Paleolithic times, so don’t go near them.
- No table salt – it’s a post caveman food additive!
- You can cook. Yes, cavemen had fire – but they didn’t have convection ovens or microwaves. So while raw is best, you can cook to a limited degree.
What The Paleo Diet Promises
- Lose weight without cutting calories – the reduction in processed carbs will allow you to drop the fat while still eating to your heart’s desire.
- Have more energy – natural foods are packed with all the energy producing vitamins and minerals you’ll ever need
- Reduce risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer
- Eliminates bloating and other digestive problems – cutting sugar, processed foods and other rubbish from your diet will do your stomach a whole world of good
- Muscle growth – More wild meat means more lean protein, the ideal foundation for increased strength and mass
- Enhanced mental alertness – eating more wild fish (especially salmon) will give you more Omega -3 fatty acids, which will make your brain work better
- Better sleep – this is due to a more balanced interplay between insulin, cortisol and growth hormone that comes from eating the Paleo way
- Improved mood and attitude – It eliminates the mood swings that come with fluctuating insulin levels. Natural whole food eating produces it’s own internal high.
- Better nutrient absorption – Paleo encourages the consumption of foods that the human body has spent thousands of years adapting to absorbing. It’s bound to do so more efficiently than any chemically produced, processed non-food.