The Paleo Diet and The Caveman Myth

This is the second article in our Paleo Diet series. To find out more about the Paleo Diet check out, 'What is Paleo'

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or in a cave) you’ve probably heard of the Paleo diet. It’s a grain-free, whole foods diet that claims to replicate the eating habits of Paleolithic man. It’s caused quite a bit of controversy, with some of its opponents going as far as to call Paleo ‘dangerous’. So what’s the go? Should we all be eating a diet of meats, nuts, and vegetables? Should we all be banishing sugar and refined carbohydrates? Should we all be reassessing our attitude towards fats?

The answer is yes

but it’s not because our Paleo ancestors did it. Let’s think about the Inuit people, whose traditional diet is rich in walrus blubber, but light on fresh vegetables. Now look at the diets of ancient Asian populations, which generally centre around rice and fresh plant foods. Both groups of people are healthy, but they have vastly different diets. What do they have in common? Unrefined whole foods that reflect the season, the climate, and their bodies’ needs.

That’s where Paleo really comes in to its own. By promoting plenty of grass-fed meats, fresh vegetables, fermented foods, and minimal starches and sugars, people’s health improves. But it has everything to do with a whole foods diet and nothing to do with what was going down in the caves. That’s not to say that it’s a dangerous way to eat either. Rather, it is a collection of good eating practices that has been wrapped up in a story to make is a sellable diet.

And that, to me, is the danger. The Paleo movement seems to have sparked a culture of food-shaming where anyone who doesn’t do Crossfit and eat liver is looked down upon. It causes a fanaticism around food that leads to guilt with even the tiniest grain-induced slip up.

The fact of the matter is, one or two serves of whole grains won’t do any damage. In fact, they may do some good! One serve of oats can lower cholesterol, improve digestion, and act as a nervine in herbal medicine, meaning that it’s good for mood and energy.

We have a tendency – especially in ‘fad’ diets – to look at foods as either black or white: good for us, or bad for us. Saturated fats used to be considered bad; now they’re not. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we all need to fill our bowls with lard. Similarly, of course starches are going to be problematic if we eat five or six servings a day, because we overload our gut, don’t have enough enzymes to it all down, and eventually it passes on down to the gut bacteria to ferment, causing gas and bloating.

So how about this for a concept: balance.

Wave goodbye to fanatical food fantasies (sorry paleo fans!) and instead concentrate on what we know to be true: whole foods nourish the body. When doing your shopping, keep to the perimeter of the supermarket so that all you load up on is the good fresh stuff, and dodge the things with cardboard boxes and barcodes.

About Reece

A self-confessed gym junkie, it was Reece's love of exercise and good nutrition that led him to his studies in natural medicine. Herbal medicine was...

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