Paleo diet: fab or fad?


Caveman food can be appetizing. Image credit: Nams82 [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr
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.

Paleo Diet Flowchart
How to decide what you can eat. Image credit Next TwentyEight (CC by 2.0) via Flickr

Can eat:

  • Leafy vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Insects , meat and fish

Can’t eat:

  • Dairy products
  • Grains
  • 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.

Excercise, not diet, may be the answer. Image credit Tejvan Pettinger (CC by 2.0) via Flickr

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.” 

Decision time.

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:

Paleo Pitfalls

Paleo Diet Meal Plan and Menus



7 Responses to “Paleo diet: fab or fad?”

  1. rsleaby says:

    Great post rileym – I have even come across paleo exercises and pages on how to “workout like a caveman” (e.g. but as you said, I think it’s just another fad in the diet/fitness world!

  2. lchisenga says:

    I’m all for eating healthier, but paleo seems a little too much for me. What I don’t get is trying to say that grains and legumes only came on the scene with the emergence of agriculture. Breeding and selection are responsible for ALL the agricultural produce we have now. Thanks for posting this it’s making me take a closer look at what ‘healthy’ food means for me. I’ll probably be ‘borrowing’ a little from paleo though!

  3. georginao says:

    A white hot topic at the moment, great choice to write about.
    It’s such an expensive way to eat as well! So much meat, seems like such a shame to miss out of the health benefits of legumes and dairy too. And we’re just not cave men anymore!!

  4. wesleyw says:

    I don’t think the Paleo diet is the best way to go when using a diet to lose fat/weight.

    Here’s a great video (love this guy so much) focusing a meta-study that compared the effectiveness of a range of different diets including moderate micronutrient diets, low-fat and low-carb diets. While Paleo is a low carb diet, although not included in the study, it seems extreme to practically cut out ALL carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are essential in the metabolism in almost every cell in our bodies and depriving them of this is dangerous as other metabolic pathways which are often slower need to be constitutively used. The best diets are sustainable diets – something that a person can stick to of which the Paleo diet is often not one of them.

    I agree that a balanced diet that covers all the food groups, essential micronutrients and is able to be conformed to for prolonged periods of time is the best.

  5. vchhen says:

    Mmmm…Not a fan of the paleo diet at all – witnessed first hand one of my mates go on the paleo diet where she drastically lost some weight over the month. It got to the point that she was getting way too skinny and because of this, she was getting more sick due to a weakened immune system. She only stopped because her doctors advised her that the diet was doing her more damage than good – during this time she was seeing the doctors for gastro…

  6. rileym says:

    I agree, most diets these days focus on measuring, or restricting everything you eat. By simply eating a balanced diet (including treats) and doing consistent exercise there should be no problem in maintaining a healthy weight. Personally I could never stick to one of those diets so I’m hoping I maintain an active lifestyle otherwise things may start to go downhill.

  7. sogandh says:

    I have read about this a bit and in my opinion no diets are a good diet. I think people will convince themselves that it works and then majority of them will go back to their old habits and put on more weight then before. If you can stick to it then well no problem there but still i think it’s important to have a well balanced diet and some exercise. We eat too much of what is bad and not enough of what is good but there should be room enough in your diet for a bit of everything as long as it is in moderation. In fact too much meat isn’t even good for you(i agree with William Leonard on this one).