Yeah, we know this diet is kinda old news (about 10,000 years, in fact). But ever since a revised version of the science behind this ancient way of eating was released in 2010 by Swedish medical doctor and scientist Staffan Lindeberg, the Stone Age menu has been on the lips of bloggers and tweeters. There’s even a Paleo-inspired takeaway restaurant opening in Denmark this year. So, what’s the rub with prehistoric grub?
The theory behind Paleo (short for Paleolithic, and also known as the caveman, hunter-gatherer or Stone Age diet) is that the cheeseburgers, Doritos and sugar-laden snacks of our generation are responsible for the spikes in heart disease, cancer and obesity. Advocates of the Paleo diet suggest farming and food processing introduced over 300 generations ago have wreaked havoc on our bodies and that by going back to the way our ancestors ate, we’ll enjoy much better health. Oh, and jaw-dropping weight loss, according to some bloggers.
I can hear you screaming – not another diet! But there are some upsides to going back to a more simple way of choosing what to put on your plate. It makes sense that by eating foods our ancestors used to hunt and gather themselves, such as meat and fish; root vegetables, leaves and fruit and skipping nutritional baddies like processed foods, that you’re going to enjoy better health. “Choosing a range of different-coloured vegetables is a good way to get in a variety of nutrients and antioxidants for weight loss, brighter skin and more energy,” says Sue Radd, principal dietitian at Sydney’s Nutrition and Wellbeing clinic.
The Paleo diet also includes avocado, nuts and olive oil which are not only good for heart health but also for inflammation and your mental health. By cutting a lot of sugar and bad fats you’ll also have more energy and score brownie points for the environment too, as processed foods contribute to a lot of wasteful packaging. Another tick for Paleo is there’s no kilojoule counting, no weighing food and no swapping at different phases. It’s pretty easy to follow.
1 poached egg
Bowl of grated carrot, grated beetroot, grated apple, raisins and cinnamon
Avocado, tomato and spinach salad
Peach with walnutsDINNER
Baked sweet potato, roma tomatoes and capsicum with whole
garlic cloves, steamed asparagus
Fresh berries and passionfruit
READ: Paleo Diet Foods
The flipside of the Paleo diet
There’s a reason why men love the Paleo way of eating (clue – it’s to do with the caveman part) – it features
a lot of meat. It’s pretty impossible to go Paleo if you’re vegetarian and some women will find it difficult to eat almost a third of their meals as meat. Eating this much meat may also increase the risk of mortality. One study published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine that followed more than 120,000 participants for 28 years found that just one extra serving of unprocessed red meat (equivalent to the size of
a deck of cards) a week raised the risk of premature death by 13 per cent.
Another discrepancy between today’s version of the diet and what our ancestors ate is that the meat we eat today isn’t the same as it was a million or so years ago. The meat they devoured would have had a much lower fat content than livestock beef or the pork or fast- food burgers we chow on now.Yet another controversial aspect of Paleo eating is that two major food groups are banned – dairy and grains, cereals or legumes. The common belief from Paleo advocates, including scientist Dr Loren Cordain, author of
The Paleo Diet (John Wiley and Sons), is that grains and dairy are supposedly “acid” foods which cause disease and inflammation. But unless you have an allergy, most sound dietitians won’t recommend cutting out entire food groups. In fact, cutting out all grains from your diet may be harmful to your health. In a recent study, researchers at the University of Wollongong, NSW, found that eating one to two serves of wholegrains per day reduced the risk of early death and chronic diseases by 20-30 per cent. And dairy has been shown to ease PMS symptoms, help with cognitive function and play Superman to your bones and teeth.The bottom line
Obesity and chronic diseases were relatively stable until as recently as the 1970s, meaning we may not need to go back to the diet we ate 333 generations ago. We may just have to go back to a diet we ate 33 years ago. One where processed foods were a rarity, and treats were for special occasions. Whole food, including whole grains, featured readily in homemade dishes, and food was served in smaller portions. In other words, adopt the good parts of the Paleo way of eating – more fruits and vegies, less processed foods and alcohol and you’ll be on the right path to healthy eating. But you already knew that, didn’t you?