The Paleolithic – or “caveman” – diet is remarkably popular. The underlying theory says you’ll be healthier if you eat the way your ancestors did. Because that’s how your body has adapted over some 250,000 years.
This seems to make a lot of sense. But, in spite of tens of thousands of people following various versions of the caveman diet, none of them have truly “gone Paleo.” And it’s a good thing.
Honesty Is the Best Policy… Unless You’re Selling a Diet
The Paleo craze is based on a subsistence lifestyle. Your ancestors ate what was available, when it was available.
When fruit was in season, they gorged on fruit. When they chanced on a honeybee nest, honey went on the menu. And on those lucky days when a hunt was successful (which was less often than you might think) they ate meat.
But there were often seasons without these foods. Where winters were cold, long months passed between servings of fruit, nuts, and vegetables. Even when food was plentiful, most of it wasn’t like the foods you buy in your supermarket.
We’ve bred fruits and vegetables to be bigger than their natural versions. And to resist pests and disease. Same with our animals. Which, by the way, wouldn’t have been on your ancestors’ menu, anyway. They ate wild game… which tends to be leaner and stringier than our domestic animals.
But when millions of dollars are at stake, details like these tend to get swept under the carpet. If the Paleo-pushers told you to go out and hunt wild game and forage for tubers and nuts, nobody would buy their diet books.
At its heart, though, the Paleo fad has at least one idea right…
How to Build a Leaner, Healthier Body
We know one thing about your ancient ancestors: They didn’t eat processed foods – especially carbs. And what carbs they had were nothing like the rice, wheat, and potatoes in your supermarket.
And that’s where the Paleo crowd has definitely gotten it right. Replacing processed foods and carbs with more fruits, vegetables, and a little protein, and you can achieve some amazing results.
While not all studies agree, hundreds of trials have shown a low-carb (low-glycemic) lifestyle with a modest amount of added protein has big health benefits. For example…
• In a 2015 review, researchers looked at the results of 17 studies on lo-carb vs. lo-fat diets. They found a low-carb diet led to greater weight loss – and lower heart risk – at both 8 weeks and 24 months.
• Scientists in Australia gave 120 overweight men either a low-fat diet or one high in protein and low in carbs. After a year, the high-protein, low-carb group lost and average of 12.8% more weight, 35.6% more fat, and 31.5% less lean muscle than the low-fat group.
• 32 overweight patients with diabetes took part in a 2014 diet study. Half ate a low-carb diet for 3 weeks. The others ate a low-fat diet. Insulin resistance improved in the low carb group – along with triglyceride (blood fat) levels, blood pressure, and heart function. The low-fat group didn’t see these improvements… until they switched to the low-carb diet.
• In Denmark, doctors put 932 obese families on one of four diets. The diets varied by the amount of protein and carbs they ate. The high-protein/low-carb group saw the best results. Not only did they lose the most weight and fat, they also saw the biggest improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and inflammation.
Your Better Health Take-Away
As trendy as it is, forget trying to go Paleo. It’s impossible. Instead aim for an achievable goal with proven results:
• Replace high-glycemic carbs – sugary and starchy foods like potatoes, rice and bread – with more low-carb vegetables and a modest amount of fruit.
• Add a small amount of extra lean protein to your diet. Shoot for one extra serving a day, split amongst your meals. (A serving of protein is 1palm size.)
• Don’t add extra calories. In spite of what some self-styled “experts” say, calories do count.
• Keep moving. Staying active helps you burn more calories and preserve more lean muscle.
I know this simple plan isn’t as catchy as going Paleo… but it works. And I’m betting you’d rather get results than fuss over a diet plan you can never actually achieve.
Wishing you strength and vitality,