Overview of Nutrition and Controversies of the Paleolithic Diet


The Paleolithic era began around 2.5 million years ago and ended about 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture. Before the cultivation of grains, our ancestors consumed a variety of wild plants and animals that thrived in the prehistoric environment. The modern Paleolithic diet – usually abbreviated as the Paleo diet – attempts to mimic the foods eaten by our hominid ancestors. Referred to as the caveman diet, hunter-gatherer diet, and Stone Age diet, the modern Paleo diet has helped hundreds of people lose weight and achieve a healthier lifestyle.

The contemporary Paleo food regimen focuses on fish, grass-fed meat (chicken, pork, and beef), vegetables, fruit, roots, and nuts. Wild game is highly recommended but often difficult to find in a modern city. The foods recommended to exclude are refined sugar products, grains, legumes, dairy, and processed oils.

The Paleolithic diet was first popularized in the mid-1970s by Walter Voegtlin. As a gastroenterologist, Walter studied the effects modern food played on the digestive system. Building upon his research, a number of authors and researchers promoted the concept of evolutionary medicine. The foods chosen are based on the concept that modern humans adapted to the diet of our Paleolithic ancestors and that our genes have barely changed since the introduction of agriculture. By this logic, the ideal foods for human health would resemble those eaten by our primitive ancestors.

Proponents of the diet contend that people living on the modern agricultural diets (heavy in grains and sugars) are more susceptible to diseases of affluence, such as cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and tooth decay. Several studies of the Paleolithic diet show positive health outcomes in the dieters.

The diet is very controversial amongst nutritionists and even anthropologists. Some researchers debate the accuracy of the diet’s evolutionary aspects. Others dispute whether the modern diet correctly reflects the same foods of ancient Paleolithic diets. Critics argue that prehistoric humans experienced modern agricultural diseases due to reduced daily calories and shorter lifespans, rather than some specific dietary plan.

The Paleo diet is not viewed favorable with mainstream nutrition experts. In 2011, a panel of 22 experts for the U.S. News & World Report ranked the Paleo diet the lowest of 20 common diets, based on factors of health, weight-loss results, and ease of following. The ranking has proved to be very contentious given the multitude of dieters who have succeeded in losing weight. Proponents of the low-carbohydrate Paleo diet point to four studies since 2007 that have experimentally confirmed the success of the Paleolithic diet. Yet, the critics countered by saying the studies on the Paleo diet have been too small and too short in duration to adequately compare the results with the more popular diets

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