These days, it seems like everyone is constantly talking about a hot new diet and claiming that theirs is the quickest way to lose weight. Unfortunately for people who seek to gain better health and shed pounds, fad diets tend to be unsustainable in the long run. What if, instead of trying to invent all-new methods of eating, humans simply returned to their nutritional roots? That doesn’t necessarily mean root vegetables, but we’ll get to those soon, too.
In the early 2000s, American scientist Loren Cordain, Ph.D. published his research on the dietary habits of Paleolithic humans. To provide some background, the Paleolithic period started 2.5 million years ago and extended up until about 10,000 years ago. It was during this time that the earliest humans were first beginning to add stone tools to their repertoire of bone and wood tools. (Hence the reason that the Paleolithic period is more commonly known as the Stone Age.) Those early ancestors, also known as cavemen, were hunters and gatherers. They hadn’t yet figured out agriculture, so they foraged what morsels they could from the earth.
Evolutionarily, the body of the modern human is not that far removed from that of its primitive predecessors. To paraphrase Charles Darwin, a being’s structural changes take place over very, very long periods of time. But the modern human diet is starkly different from the diet of recent ancestors, and human metabolism has not evolved quickly enough to keep up with those dietary alternations. Thus, ailments such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity have taken hold in today’s poorly nourished humans. In order to reverse this degenerative trend, Dr. Cordain recommends a diet more similar to the humans of the Paleolithic period. To keep it simple, he calls it The Paleo Diet.
Early humans foraged for nuts, seeds, and non-starchy fruits and vegetables. They hunted, fished, and gathered animal eggs. These are the foods that The Paleo Diet recommends eating. (Mind you, their veggies were all non-GMO, their poultry and eggs were free-range, their red meats were grass-fed, and their seafood was wild-caught!) They didn’t have means to plant cereal grains, beans, or even legumes, so none of those are encouraged in The Paleo Diet.
According to Dr. Cordain, animal protein should comprise 19-35% of daily caloric intake. Those non-starchy fruits and veggies are to be your primary source of carbohydrates, and they should make up 35-45% of daily calories. To fill in the remainder of energy needs, the diet has some fantastic news for grease junkies, in that it actually suggests adding more fat to your diet! So long as your oils are unrefined, you are in the clear. Stick with monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and omega-3 fats, while avoiding the dreaded trans and omega-6 fats.
Fiber is making a comeback, even within non-Paleo circles. Doctors and dieticians are realizing the importance of fiber consumption, and making corresponding recommendations to inquiring patients. The diet’s fruit and veggie requirements render it quite high in fiber. The importance of this nutrient is its positive effect on digestion and heart health. Fiber serves to “clean you out.” Think of it as a little scrub brush that travels through your GI tract, taking with it anything that’s sticking to the sides of your gut.
Now that you’ve figured out this diet’s macronutrient composition, it’s time to pay attention to micronutrients. Potassium is an oft-overlooked element of good nutrition. Fortunately for early humans, many of the foods they ate were high in potassium. This micronutrient is essential for proper organ function. As long as you maintain a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet, those foods will cover this need.
Nobody likes to feel deprived, but this diet does have some exclusionary rules. Stay away from legumes. This includes peanuts and, by extension, peanut butter. Don’t eat cereal grains. Keep your distance from dairy. After all, cavemen didn’t have time to sit there and leisurely milk bovine passersby; they had sabre-toothed tigers to fend off. Also, avoid adding salt to your food. (Remember that this one won’t be easy, so don’t beat yourself up if you slip. Even Ghandi said that salt was the hardest thing for him to give up.) And finally, don’t touch refined or processed foods with a 10-foot pole. This means no more white sugar or flour, and to the chagrin of many baseball fans, absolutely no hot dogs.
Finally, the diet promotes the balancing out of acid and alkaline foods, as too much acid can wreak havoc on your body. Every food that you eat has a net impact on your kidneys, which is either acidic or alkaline. To make things simple, remember this: meat ends up as acid, while fruits and veggies wind up alkaline. If you stick to the daily caloric proportions indicated earlier in this article, then your acid versus alkaline balance should remain in check.
The Paleo Diet has its skeptics, but there’s no doubt that we are better off without processed foods. This method of nourishment is old as the hills–both literally and figuratively–and kept cavemen alive long enough for them to create their modern successors. Any diet that is proven to maintain a species for millions of years is certainly worth its salt… even if you can’t eat said salt.