Should you eat like a caveman? According to the guidelines of the paleo diet, if a type of food wasn’t on a caveman’s menu, it shouldn’t be on yours either. Those who adhere to the paleo diet eat only what was hunted or gathered during the Paleolithic Era. This includes protein, seeds and locally found fruits and veggies. Grains, processed foods, sugary edibles and dairy past toddlerhood are stricken from the grocery list.
In an era of junk food, inactivity and adult obesity rates exceeding 25% in 47 US states, attempting to go back to eating how we are biologically programmed to consume food has many paleo enthusiasts shouting “Hurray!” Others, though, are not as convinced.
Let’s examine three reasons in favor of the paleo diet and three reasons against it.
Three Reasons to Follow the Paleo Diet
A clean, satisfying diet
Paleolithic humans hunted and gathered organically produced food near their homes. Their eating habits included about three times more fruits and vegetables than your average 21st century American. Eating according to the paleo diet, therefore, means that instead of loading up on additives, preservatives, hormones, growth stimulants, antibiotics and pesticides, you will enjoy clean food that is rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. You get to eat what paleo-approved foods you want, when you want to, without any calorie counting or portion controlling. You get to focus on eating the right foods. This helps you feel fuller longer – and may even help you shed unwanted weight.
Can help strengthen the immune system
The main focus of the paleo diet is to avoid foods that may harm your health. Paleo enthusiasts don’t eat processed foods, gluten or sugar, instead favoring foods containing Vitamin A, Vitamin C, zinc and other immune boosters. The diet will therefore strengthen your immune system. It may also help lower your risk for contracting diseases, including cancer, by reducing the strain of modern toxins on your immune system.
An eco-friendly approach to eating
The paleo diet is not just good for the body but also for the environment. In fact, environmental sustainability is an important tenet of the paleo diet. It supports organic farming practices, upholding principles of nature-based agriculture techniques, biodiversity and conservation. This is opposed to the harsh and polluting practices of contemporary factory farming. And since Paleolithic hunters most certainly ate the entire animal, they captured and cooked, paleo diet followers aim to utilize the entire chicken, lamb, fish or pig, reducing food waste. While eating offal (the parts of the animal that make you squirm) may seem off-putting, it is apparently really good for you; the parts are lean, protein-rich and full of nutrients. For instance, liver is a great source of iron, animal fat can be rendered down into cooking oil, and bones can be cooked into a savory and nutritious broth.
Three Reasons Not to Eat Paleo
Not an effective way of life
Eating paleo is hard. Really hard. The paleo diet is extremely restrictive, limiting what you can order at a restaurant, pick up at supermarket or partake in at an office party. To successfully navigate through the world as a paleo adherent, you must always plan carefully and pack provisions when on the go, ensuring you are never stuck without what to eat when those hunger pangs begin. Tons of willpower is required, making the paleo diet less realistic as a long-term eating regimen. It may be a “one size fits all” diet, but its strict guidelines make consistency difficult. As such, for many, the paleo diet may not be a feasible or sustainable way of life.
Didn’t cavemen die young?
The average caveman lived to his mid-thirties, with only 57% of hunter-gatherers reaching the age of 15. It wasn’t until the advancement of agricultural technologies, including the harvesting of grains, that people began to live decades longer. Paleo adherents might claim that the average caveman was muscular, agile, and relatively healthy. In contrast, they argue, the modern-day man is in poor physical and emotional shape and dying from preventable diseases. However, cavemen didn’t have the diseases of today, because they never lived long enough to contract them! Had the cavemen been privy to modern technology and medical advances, their lifespan would have most likely been decades longer.
It’s too expensive
The processes involved in harvesting and processing organic produce and grass-fed, free-range proteins can be time-consuming and intricate. As such, purchasing these foods, on every paleo dieter’s grocery list, can be more expensive than buying other foodstuffs. For example, compare eating a large portion of organic beef, which costs around $5.62 per pound, to beans, which only cost about $1.99 per pound dried, and can serve at least eight people when cooked. This can be extremely frustrating from a financial perspective and can consequently discourage dieters from continuing to eat paleo.
The Bottom Line: Adhering to a paleo diet may help you feel better, fuller and lighter. However, is continuing to abide by its stringent grain, dairy and sugar-free tenets beneficial or realistic in the long term? What do you think? Feel free to continue the debate over a ginormous steak salad – hold the roll.