So easy... a Caveman could do it!
What is Paleolithic Nutrition?Paleolithic Nutrition, also known as the "Paleo Diet", can be best described as a modern attempt to replicate the optimal diet of humans by eradicating technologically-dependant foods. Although the diet isn't dependant upon uncooked foods, any food that requires cooking, milling, or chemical alteration to become edible is off-limits. It is not really a diet, there is no calorie counting, if you are hungry - you eat! It can be restrictive, is definately expensive, but nowhere near as expensive as being unhealthy, requiring "energy drinks", allergy medications, antacids, and the anti-constipation/diarrhea medications that the majority of Western World dieters require just to "make it through the day".
How does the Paleo Diet work?The predominant theory is that inflammation is the primary reason why the Paleo Diet works. Many plant foods are loaded with toxins that prevent or inhibit digestion. These are plants which have evolved defenses to prevent plant-eating critters from eating their means of reproduction (i.e. legumes, grain, tubers). These foods might be "partially edible" in their raw state, but it comes with some gastrointestinal discomfort (que the "Magical Fruit" song). By cooking these foods, this discomfort is lessened but as any seasoned "bean-eater" would tell you, much of that gastrointestinal distress remains.
Much of these toxins cause inflammation as their primary defense. This can be inflammation of the gastrointestinal system (IBS, Chrons, Celiac), joints (gout), and can even cause obesity by elevating levels of stress hormones to combat the toxins.
Another popular theory has to do with foreign proteins and how they are processed by the human body. This is a popular theory because of the treatment success that sufferers of Autism Spectrum Disorders have gained by adopting a casein-free (no dairy) and gluten-free (no grain) diet. This also explains why sufferers of environmental allergies (hay fever, asthma) also see an improvement in their condition when adopting a diet free of these foods.
The most contraversial theory is also the simplest, that Man as a species has not been on the planet long enough to adapt fully to certian foods, evolutionarily speaking. Pre-agricultural man would not have been able to consume dairy, grain, legumes, or tubers without cooking... and would have acknowledged that these foods caused illness and discomfort.
What foods are restricted on the Paleo Diet?Ray Audette, in his book Neanderthin describes the food you can eat as "anything you could logically eat if naked in the savannah armed only with a sharp stick", some folks have referred to it as the "green face" diet, i.e. if it is green, or has a face, you can eat it. Here are the basics...
Do not eat: Grains, Legumes, Refined Sugars, Refined Oils, Tubers, Artificial Flavorings (sweetners, MSG, nitrates), or Dairy.
Do eat: Meat, Eggs, Fish, Poultry, vegetables (green, root, squash), nuts (excluding peanuts and cashews), fruit.
*Note: Some Paleolithic dieters also restrict "Nightshades", the family of fruit that gives us tomatoes, tomatillos, chili peppers, eggplant, and some obscure berries - as these are foods that developed chemicals to resist being eaten (capsicum being the most obvious). However, since they are technically a fruit, they occupy a grey area in the above list. If you like them, eat them... if they cause further physical distress after eradicating the above foods, do not.
The Golden Rule: If it has an "Ingredients Label" - it probably isn't Paleo.
Isn't all that meat bad for you?Meat, and more to the point, dietary fat, have been demonized for the past 30 years as the cause of the majority of the degenerative illnesses that face western society today. Statistically, however, as our dietary fat has been systematically reduced in the modern Western diet, modern illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and rheumatoid arthritis have went up. In fact, in the past few hundred years, the introduction of the western diet to primitive hunter/gatherer cultures, seems to cause these illnesses to run rampant within just a few generations.
In absence of existing medical conditions, there has never been a solid link of dietary cholesterol to blood cholesterol. I have added a handful of research on this site that might help clear it up. Anecdotal evidence and testimonials also back up the theory that once an individual eradicates the foods not permitted in a Caveman-type diet, that blood lipid and cholesterol profiles actually improve. Of course, I am not a doctor... nor do I even play one on TV. You will need to make your own choices.
How does this diet differ from the traditional Adkins/Low Carb diet?Adkins and Low Carbohydrate diets in general focus on weightloss. The Paleolithic diet focuses on health. Atkins works (in the short run) because people replace their junk foods with healthy foods that have processed to taste similar to the junk food (Adkins Chips, Breakfast Cereals, Milkshakes, etc). Adkins dieters embrace synthetic flavorings so that the dieter can continue to drink sodas, cakes, cookies, etc... The diet as a whole does not address or re-train the dieter into a lifelong healthy eating lifestyle. When the dieter inevitably returns to the Standard American Diet (SAD), they gain back the weight even faster than they originally put it on.
Where do I get more information about Paleolithic Nutrition?I was introduced to Ray Audette's Neanderthin back in 2004, as well as Dr. Loren Cordain's book The Paleo Diet. There are also several deviations of varying success, such as Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint.
For a comprehensive list of Paleolithic foods (some are the subject of some debate), visit AltMed's Paleolithic Diet site.
For some of my personal favorite recipes, rants, etc... relative to my paleo diet adventures, click here for my blog.