The Paleolithic diet, usually referred to as the Paleo diet, is based on the idea that modern humans are biologically identical to our ancestors, and our healthiest potential can be reached through eating the same way ancient humans did.
Dr. Loren Cordain, the world’s leading expert on evolutionary diet and disease, believes ingesting foods our bodies aren’t equipped to digest is just what gunks up the works and leads to illness.
After decades of research on the connection between what we eat and how we feel, during which Dr. Cordain published numerous scientific papers on the subject, he eventually hit the big-time with his Paleo Diet books after the turn of the century.
By 2013, the Paleo diet was all the rage, and remains among the most popular diet plans today. Judging from the steady stream of new material over the past few years, followers from acne-sufferers and athletes to patients reclaiming vital health from serious illness have a long list of reasons for sticking with their choice.
Dr. Cordain is clear about the purpose of the diet, stating that it’s “….really not a diet at all, but rather a life-long way of eating to reduce the risk of chronic disease and maximize health and well-being.” (1)
The Short List
This plan has similarities to many other popular diets, including an emphasis on lean meats, poultry and fish, with plenty of fruits and vegetables. But in this case, the “Don’t Eat” list includes all foods that weren’t available in Paleolithic times, like cereal grains, dairy products, sugar, processed foods of any kind, potatoes, and legumes.
That means nothing made with wheat or other grains, no milk, butter or cheese, no French fries, and no peanut butter. (2)
That’s a lot of “no” to wade through on your way to the kitchen or your favorite restaurant, and rumor has it the Paleo diet (or “not-a-diet,” as Dr. Cordain refers to it) can be challenging to follow. Most of us would need solid reasons to cut all those foods out of our lives.
Maximizing health and well-being could certainly qualify as a very good reason. Avoiding chronic disease and ill health gets chancier every year. Metabolic disorders like obesity and diabetes continue to spread through the civilized world, and cancer has become epidemic.
An all-time high of 1500 people in the U.S. died of cancer daily in 2014; 11 million Americans have been diagnosed with cancer since 1990, and an estimated 8 million alive in our country today are dealing with cancer. (3)
Another alarming health issue on the rise is food allergies. Researchers claim up to 15 million Americans are plagued by food allergies of various types. (4)
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the leading cause of death worldwide is cardiovascular disease, felling more than 17 million people in 2012; a little more than half died of coronary heart disease and the rest from stroke. WHO researchers believe many of these deaths could have been avoided by behavioral modifications in regard to obesity, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and tobacco or alcohol abuse. (5)
If you’re reading this, you’d probably like to live long and prosper. What if following a Paleo diet could improve your chances of staying healthy as you age? Dr. Cordain and thousands of others think it’s worth a shot.
This Just In
The Paleo diet hasn’t been around long enough to rack up too many studies, but there have been a few, and when it comes to some of the most pressing health issues, the early returns look promising.
When fourteen healthy medical students followed a Paleo diet for three weeks, the 9 women and 5 men dropped an average of 5 pounds and decreased waist measurements by a little over half an inch. Systolic blood pressure also went down by 3 mm Hg. (6)
In a 12-week study of 29 men who suffered from heart disease and type 2 diabetes or elevated blood sugar readings, comparisons were made between the Paleo diet and a Mediterranean diet. Paleo took the honors in glucose tolerance (the body’s ability to clear sugar from the blood), weight-loss, and shrinking waist measurements. (7)
In another 3-month study with 10 men and 3 women, results were compared to subjects following a typical diabetes diet, which includes dairy products, whole grains and processed foods. Participants eating a Paleo diet lost more weight, improved blood sugar tolerance, bumped up their HDL cholesterol levels (the “good” kind), and dropped triglyceride counts (fat concentration in the blood), all at more significant rates than the diabetic diet group. (8)
Metabolic syndrome is a phrase used to describe a group of conditions that can lead to serious health disorders; these include high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, and excess body fat in the waist, as well as high blood sugar measurements. These symptoms have been fingered in raising risk factors for heart disease.
A small study tracked ten obese post-menopausal women who displayed conditions of metabolic syndrome, and results focused on changes in fatty liver deposits (which is often present when the above conditions exist, and compromises liver function), as well as other health markers.
Over five weeks of following a Paleo diet, patients dropped an average of nearly 10 pounds; the mean decrease in waist girth clocked in at more than 3 inches. Other benefits included reducing fatty liver deposits by nearly half, as well as lowering cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar levels. (9)
Tabling the weight question, another trial was done with 9 sedentary people who ate Paleo-style for ten days. Researchers adjusted calories to each subject’s normal intake levels so they wouldn’t lose weight, then tracked specific physical and metabolic changes. The following measurements all dropped: both total and LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, diastolic blood pressure and insulin AUC. (10)
These studies were done with small groups of people over relatively short time spans, but if the popularity factor of this approach to nutrition continues, more clinical trials will likely be done on a larger scale.
If you’re looking to decrease your risk of developing coronary heart disease and other serious health disorders (and maybe some excess weight while you’re at it), the Paleo diet could be a great place to start.