Paleo diet: fab or fad?
The caveman diet or Palaeolithic diet has reached new heights in fad diet popularity in recent years. It has gone from niche to mainstream, with many restaurants opening up that advertise as ‘paleo only restaurants’. Loren Cordain’s bestselling book ‘The Paleo Diet’ sparked the movement towards hunter-gatherer style eating in 2010, but is there really much merit behind the fad diet?
What is a paleo diet?
We’ve all seen the fad diets advertised by celebrities, from the Hopkins diet to Celebrity Slim. Paleo diet seeks to radically change our energy sources by cutting out any food source that wasn’t available to cavemen 10,000 years ago. Anything available after the emergence of agriculture is out of bounds.
- Leafy vegetables
- Insects , meat and fish
- Dairy products
- Oils, sugars and salts
- Coffee and alcohol
What are the perceived benefits?
Loren Cordain’s main argument stems from the evolutionary medicine argument that our genome has not evolved quickly enough to adapt to our new diets. If all of human history was compacted down to a 100m sprint, then 99.5m would be spent as hunter-gatherer diets. This only leaves the last 50cm for us to adapt to agricultural diets.
The physiology and metabolism of modern humans has not had enough time to evolve to the extreme changes in diet. The argument is that these processed foods such as wheat and sugar are not healthy for us and therefore lead to problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
By cutting out processed foods many people have found that they have lost weight and feel much healthier. As with every fad diet you hear all the stories of huge weight loss and changed persona.
This video taken from the documentary ‘Fat Head’ may give us answers to why we are fat,
What are the criticisms?
The arguments against the diet are just as compelling. Apart from taking away delicious foods such as bread, ice-cream, donuts, and cheese, the diet can be very expensive! Eating strictly paleo restricts most foods on a typical dinner plate and it can be difficult eating at restaurants that aren’t paleo friendly.
A strong argument against the diet is that Palaeolithic men and women had an average lifespan of only 45 years. It is disputed that these men and women weren’t subjected to diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes simply because they did not live long enough to develop the diseases.
Many debate that it is our lifestyle choices not diet that is responsible for the decline in health. As William Leonard states in his paper Food for Thought: “The health concerns of the industrial world, where calorie-packed foods are readily available, stem not from deviations from a specific diet but from an imbalance between the energy we consume and the energy we spend.”
Ok so you’ve been given the facts, now it’s time to whether the diet is worthwhile. The only way to decide whether it really works is to try it for yourself! Give it a go, if you’re not convinced after 30 days then maybe it isn’t right for you. I’m sure another fad diet will replace it soon enough anyway.
Want to know more?
Here are some resources to make up your own mind and some meal planners if you want to get started: