Q: "Proponents of the Paleo diet claim that we'd all be healthier if we went back to eating like cavemen. Is there any truth to that?"
Answered by Linda Blarjeske, RD, CD, LDE, Providence Nutrition Services
The Paleolithic diet – also known as the caveman diet – certainly has some good things going for it. But like all diets, it has problems, too.
The theory behind the diet is that our stone-age ancestors did not get contemporary diseases like diabetes and heart disease, so if we go back to eating only what they did, we won't either. Let's set aside all the questions about which ancestors we're talking about, what they actually ate, and where, and when – because there's a lot of debate on all of these points – and focus only on what this diet actually proposes.
The Paleolithic diet recommends eating only meat, nuts, seeds, and fresh fruits and vegetables. These, the diet claims, are the only foods that were available in the Paleolithic era – the 2.5 million years, give or take, between the development of tools and the dawn of agriculture. Before agriculture, the thinking goes, our ancestors had no access to grains, legumes or dairy products. These food groups, therefore, are not allowed on the diet.
So what are the good things that this diet has going for it? It rejects all processed and packaged foods, relying instead on whole, natural foods. It is low in sugar and sodium. It's high in protein, fiber and potassium. And it emphasizes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. So far, so good – all of these are good building blocks for a healthy diet. The question is, is this diet healthier than one that also includes moderate amounts of whole grains, legumes and low-fat dairy products? Is it really necessary to cut out these food groups in order to be healthy? Let's look a little deeper.
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