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Understanding the Paleo (Caveman) Diet

Nina Ghamrawi, MS, RD, CDE
June 3, 2023
December 8, 2023

The paleo diet, also known as the "caveman diet," is a dietary approach that has gained popularity in recent years. The premise of the diet is to consume foods that were available to our ancient ancestors during the Paleolithic era, approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. The diet consists of primarily whole, unprocessed foods. Foods that are allowed on the paleo diet include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.

It is typically slightly less restrictive in carbohydrates than the Keto Diet, but still potentially risky. Foods that are not allowed include grains, legumes, dairy, added sugars, and processed foods. In some less-restrictive versions of the diet, potatoes and other starchy root vegetables are allowed, making this slightly lower carb.

Origins of the Paleo Diet

The concept of the paleo Diet was first introduced in the 1970s by gastroenterologist Walter L. Voegtlin, who believed that modern-day diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease were a result of our modern diet. He proposed that humans were designed to eat a diet that was similar to what our ancient ancestors consumed, which was high in animal protein and fat, and low in carbohydrates. The idea behind the paleo diet is that humans evolved to eat a certain way, and that our modern diet is not consistent with our genetics. The caveman diet suggests that we should eat foods that were available to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, and that we should avoid modern processed foods.

The paleo diet has many names, so don’t get confused! The terms "caveman diet," “Paleolithic diet,” and “Stone Age” diet are all names often used interchangeably with the paleo diet. In fact, “paleo” is just short for Paleolithic.

The Pros and Cons of the Paleo Diet

The safety of the paleo diet has been a topic of debate among health professionals. While some studies suggest that the diet can lead to weight loss and improvements in certain chronic conditions, others suggest that it may not be safe for everyone.

The Pros

One study found that the paleo diet improved blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes compared to a standard diabetes diet. Another study found that the paleo diet improved risk factors for heart disease, such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels, compared to a diet based on the American Heart Association guidelines.

The Cons

However, some health professionals are concerned about the long-term effects of a diet high in animal protein and fat, and low in carbohydrates. The high intake of animal protein and fat can lead to an increased risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer, while the low intake of carbohydrates can lead to nutrient deficiencies and an increased risk of constipation. The paleo diet may not be safe for people with certain chronic conditions, such as kidney disease or gout. People with these conditions may need to limit their intake of animal protein and fat, which is a staple of the paleo diet.

Takeaways

While the paleo diet has its roots in the concept of the caveman diet, it is important to consider the potential risks and benefits before adopting this dietary approach. While some research suggests that the paleo diet can lead to improvements in certain chronic conditions, it may not be safe for everyone. Instead, consult with a doctor, a Dietitian or a Nutrition Specialist before making any major dietary changes like this one.

If you are interested in exploring other popular diets, check out our articles on the Mediterranean Diet and the Whole30 Diet.

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