One thing is certain—every few years, a radical new diet will emerge and become a hit, followed by a bunch of how-to books, celebrities giving testimonials*, and too many social network posts. Typically, with all this, comes controversy, and little agreement among doctors and nutritionists whether this diet is good for you.
It seems ironic that, now that almost everything is digital, the hot diet of the moment is all about going back in time, preferably 10,000 years or more more. This is the paleo diet, otherwise known as the caveman, Stone Age, or Paleolithic diet.
This diet is based on the belief that while we Homo sapiens have been around hundreds of thousands of years, we only developed agriculture about 10,000 years ago, and—while it sounds like a long time—in evolutionary terms, the paleo people believe 10,000 years is not long enough, and that our bodies are still better adapted to foods our Paleolithic ancestors were eating. They believe that while our diet has radically shifted, our guts are still stuck in the Paleolithic period.
The Paleo theory states that many our chronic diseases, especially obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and autoimmune diseases such as asthma, allergies and arthritis, are the result of a dietary mismatch between now and then.
More “radical” adherents to the paleo diet may change other aspects of their lives, so they more closely approximate the Paleolithic lifestyle. They like to walk or run instead of drive; may try to exercise like a caveman would when hunting prey; sleep without a mattress; go shoeless when they can, and some stop showering. But this is the extreme—most modern paleos just try to follow the diet.
The paleo diet is big on animal meat (preferably wild game or grass-fed cattle), fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts and seeds, natural oils such as olive, and eggs. Not allowed are processed foods of any kind, sugar, salt, grains such as wheat or quinoa, legumes such as peanuts, rice, corn, dairy products, and potatoes. Strictly followed, the paleo diet does not allow coffee or alcohol, but paleo dieters make their own rules as to what their diet allows, and how strict they want to be.
As you might imagine, this diet has sparked much controversy. It doesn’t help that the most extensive studies on the paleo diet have only lasted about 3 months, so not much is known about the long-term health effects. But, despite the lack of proof—and what sounds like a ridiculous concept that we need to go thousands of years back in time to rediscover our best diet—still, there is much to like about the paleo diet. Just the fact that the diet prohibits processed food and sugar might cause us to pay close attention.
Like many things, the paleo diet could be good for you or bad for you depending on your own particular body and lifestyle. That is what we will look at in Part II on the pale diet.
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