Key Points of the Paleo Diet
- Protein makes up about 25-30% of the daily energy intake in Paleo diets. Paleolithic humans obtained protein from various sources, including meat, fish, and insects, while the modern diet often relies heavily on processed meats and animal products from factory farming. The authors noted that high-protein diets are effective for weight loss and can positively impact biomarkers in healthy adults.
- Paleolithic humans consumed carbohydrates primarily from fruits, vegetables, and nuts, while the modern diet includes a higher intake of refined grains and sugars.
- Paleolithic humans consumed fats from animal sources, such as meat and fish, as well as from nuts and seeds, while the modern diet includes a higher intake of unhealthy fats, such as trans fats and saturated fats from processed foods.
- Paleolithic humans had a higher dietary fiber intake due to consuming fruits, vegetables, and nuts. At the same time, the modern diet often lacks sufficient fiber due to consuming processed and refined foods.
- While the Paleolithic diet is associated with lower rates of chronic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, the modern diet is linked to higher rates of these conditions due to its higher intake of processed foods, unhealthy fats, and refined sugars.
Introduction to Paleo Diets
The hunter-gatherer lifestyle has long been a subject of fascination and study, particularly in the context of modern health and nutrition. The Paleo diet, known as the Stone Age, caveman, or hunter-gatherer diet, has gained significant popularity recently. This diet, based on the eating habits of our Paleolithic ancestors, emphasizes the consumption of lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds while avoiding dairy products, legumes, and grains. (S. Boyd Eaton & Melvin Konner, 1985; O’Dea, 1984)
Advocates of the Paleo diet argue that our genetics and anatomy have changed very little since the Stone Age, and thus, we should eat foods available during that time to promote good health. However, this diet has been controversial among health experts, with some praising its benefits and others criticizing it for being too restrictive. (Gurven & Kaplan, 2007; Norwood et al., 2019) A recent article breaks down controversies with the Paleo diet titled “Hunter-gatherer diets and activity as a model for health promotion: Challenges, responses, and confirmations” by Melvin Konner and S. Boyd Eaton and provides an in-depth analysis of the Hunter-Gatherer Model (HGM) for health promotion.(Konner & Eaton)
Understanding the Paleo Diet
The Paleo diet is based on the premise that the rise in chronic diseases in modern society stems from the agricultural revolution. It suggests that adding grains, legumes, and dairy to meals may lead to various chronic diseases and conditions — from obesity to allergies. The Paleo diet food list includes lean, unprocessed meat, seafood, leafy vegetables, fresh fruit, eggs, nuts, and healthy oils. At the same time, it restricts grains, milk, cheese, potatoes, legumes, processed foods, added sugar or salt, and refined vegetable oils.(Kuipers et al., 2010)
- Based on the data, the energy sources of typical late Paleolithic diets would have consisted of ~30% protein, ~35% carbohydrate, and ~35% fat. (S. B. Eaton & M. Konner, 1985)
This estimate is based on data from 179 warm-climate, nonequestrian hunter-gatherer groups that consumed a diet consisting of 53% plants, 26% meat, and 21% fish. It is important to note that this estimate is based on reconstructed data and may vary depending on the specific hunter-gatherer group and environment. In the United States, the average protein intake is around 15% of total calories, which falls within the recommended range.
- Paleo Diets consumed more protein than what is consumed today.
Recent estimates based on hundreds of pertinent analyses suggest that the energy sources of typical late Paleolithic diets would have consisted of approximately 35% carbohydrates. The Paleolithic diet primarily consisted of complex carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, and tubers, which provided more dietary fiber.
In contrast, the modern diet includes more simple carbohydrates from refined grains and added sugars, which have a higher glycemic load and lower nutritional value. The average American diet, for example, is high in refined grains, sugars, and high-fructose corn syrup, which contribute to a higher glycemic load and lower fiber intake compared to the Paleolithic diet.
- Paleo diets consist of more fiber and fewer carbohydrates compared to modern diets.
According to research, the Paleolithic diet had approximately 35% fat intake. This fat comes from various sources, including animal fats, nuts, and seeds. In the Paleolithic era, fats were derived from wild game animals, including their organs and fat stores, as well as from wild plant sources. The fats consumed by hunter-gatherers were likely higher in omega-3 fatty acids and lower in saturated fats. The balance of fatty acids would have reflected the natural diet of the animals and the wild plants consumed.
In contrast, the modern Western diet typically has a higher fat intake, emphasizing saturated and trans fats. This is due to the increased consumption of processed and fried foods and vegetable oils high in omega-6 fatty acids. The modern diet often includes a higher intake of unhealthy fats linked to various health issues, including cardiovascular disease and obesity.
- Paleolithic fats were derived from natural, unprocessed sources, while modern fats often include refined and processed options. The fats consumed by hunter-gatherers were likely higher in omega-3 fatty acids and lower in saturated fats. The balance of fatty acids would have reflected the natural diet of the animals and the wild plants consumed.
Physical Activity in Paleolithic Times
In Paleolithic times, physical activity levels were much higher than modern man’s. Hunter-gatherer societies engaged in activities such as hunting, gathering, and building shelters, which required constant movement and exertion throughout the day. They had to walk long distances, carry heavy loads, and perform physically demanding tasks to survive.
In contrast, modern man has significantly lower levels of physical activity. With the advent of technology and sedentary lifestyles, many people now have jobs that involve sitting for long periods and relying on machines and vehicles for transportation. This decrease in physical activity has contributed to the rise of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems.
- Hunter gathers likely burned over 1000 calories daily, hunting for food, building shelters, etc. Today, the average physical activity of a man ranges from 150 to 490 calories.
Health Benefits of the Paleo Diet
Scrambled Eggs with Spinach and Avocado: Cook the eggs in olive oil or ghee, and mix them with fresh spinach and sliced avocado.
Fresh Berries: A small bowl of mixed berries like strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries.
Herbal Tea or Black Coffee: If you need a caffeine boost, stick to plain black coffee or herbal tea without added sugar.
Almond Butter and Celery Sticks: A satisfying snack with healthy fats and crunch.
Grilled Chicken Salad: Grilled chicken breast served over a bed of mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and a sprinkle of nuts or seeds. Dress with olive oil and lemon juice.
Apple Slices: For a sweet touch, enjoy some crisp apple slices.
Carrot and Cucumber Sticks with Guacamole: A nutrient-dense snack full of flavor.
Pan-Seared Salmon with Asparagus and Cauliflower Rice: Cook the salmon with herbs and serve with steamed asparagus and cauliflower rice sautéed in garlic.
Mixed Berry Salad: Toss some fresh berries with a splash of lime juice for a refreshing dessert.
Evening Snack (if needed):
A Handful of Mixed Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, or macadamia nuts.
Water, Herbal Tea, or Black Coffee: Stay hydrated with these Paleo-friendly options.
Avoid Grains, Legumes, Dairy, and Processed Foods: This sample menu excludes these food groups to align with the Paleo Diet principles.
Adjust Portions According to Your Needs: This is a general plan, so feel free to adjust portion sizes based on your individual energy needs and goals.
Variety is Key: The Paleo Diet food list is rich and diverse. Rotate different meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds to ensure a wide range of nutrients.
This sample Paleo Diet provides a balanced approach to eating like our hunter-gatherer ancestors might have. It emphasizes whole, nutrient-dense foods that are rich in protein, healthy fats, and fiber, reflecting the potential health benefits of the Paleo Diet.
Health Benefits of the Paleo Diet
Several studies have suggested that the Paleo diet might improve glucose tolerance, decrease insulin secretion, and increase insulin sensitivity. (Marlowe, 2005) This diet has been shown to result in health benefits such as weight loss and other health improvements.(Genoni et al., 2016) The Paleo diet focuses on naturally raised meat and fish, as well as vegetables and fruits, which can potentially lead to a healthier way of eating. (Тихонов et al., 2019)
Australian aborigines who had become urbanized and had developed type II diabetes experienced marked improvements in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism when experimentally returned to the “bush,” where they resumed their former hunter-gatherer diet and physical activity patterns. (O’Dea, 1984)
Several authors advocate very low refined-CHO, near-vegetarian diets with high non-refined carbohydrates and low fat to improve health like hunter-gatherers. These diets appear safe and reduce major cardiovascular events.(Esselstyn et al., 2014; Markofski et al., 2019) One meta-analysis showed that “The Paleolithic diet resulted in greater short-term improvements in metabolic syndrome components than did guideline-based control diets.”(Manheimer et al., 2015)The Myths and Limitations of the Paleo Diet
The Paleo diet has faced criticism for its perceived restrictions and long-term sustainability. Some argue that it may not be affordable for many individuals. Critics also question the lack of scientific evidence supporting certain claims made by the diet. Moreover, certain medical conditions or dietary restrictions may make the Paleo diet inappropriate for some individuals. It is crucial to evaluate individual needs and preferences before embarking on any new dietary or lifestyle change.
The Myths and Limitations of the Paleo Diet
Some have suggested that excluding dairy from the diet can put you at risk for calcium and vitamin D deficiencies, which are critical to bone health. While the diet restricts dairy products, a common source of calcium, it encourages the consumption of leafy greens, nuts, and seeds, which are also good sources of calcium. The paleo diet encourages the consumption of fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel, which are excellent sources of vitamin D. Additionally, spending time outdoors and getting sunlight exposure can help the body produce vitamin D naturally.
In conclusion, the Paleo diet offers a healthy alternative to the standard Western diet by emphasizing whole, unprocessed foods. However, it’s important to be mindful of potential nutrient deficiencies due to the exclusion of grains and dairy. While the diet’s claims of mimicking prehistoric eating habits may not be entirely accurate, it can still provide benefits when personalized to meet individual dietary needs. Approach the Paleo diet with caution, and always consult a registered dietitian or healthcare professional for personalized advice.
Eaton, S. B., & Konner, M. (1985). Paleolithic Nutrition. New England Journal of Medicine, 312(5), 283-289. https://doi.org/10.1056/nejm198501313120505
Eaton, S. B., & Konner, M. (1985). Paleolithic nutrition. A consideration of its nature and current implications. N Engl J Med, 312(5), 283-289. https://doi.org/10.1056/nejm198501313120505
Esselstyn, C. B., Jr., Gendy, G., Doyle, J., Golubic, M., & Roizen, M. F. (2014). A way to reverse CAD? J Fam Pract, 63(7), 356-364b.
Genoni, A., Lyons-Wall, P., Lo, J., & Devine, A. (2016). Cardiovascular, Metabolic Effects and Dietary Composition of Ad-Libitum Paleolithic vs. Australian Guide to Healthy Eating Diets: A 4-Week Randomised Trial. Nutrients, 8(5), 314. https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/8/5/314
Gurven, M., & Kaplan, H. (2007). Longevity Among Hunter- Gatherers: A Cross-Cultural Examination. Population and Development Review, 33(2), 321-365. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1728-4457.2007.00171.x
Konner, M., & Eaton, S. B. Hunter-gatherer diets and activity as a model for health promotion: Challenges, responses, and confirmations. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, n/a(n/a). https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1002/evan.21987
Kuipers, R. S., Luxwolda, M. F., Janneke Dijck-Brouwer, D. A., Eaton, S. B., Crawford, M. A., Cordain, L., & Muskiet, F. A. J. (2010). Estimated macronutrient and fatty acid intakes from an East African Paleolithic diet. British Journal of Nutrition, 104(11), 1666-1687. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114510002679
Manheimer, E. W., van Zuuren, E. J., Fedorowicz, Z., & Pijl, H. (2015). Paleolithic nutrition for metabolic syndrome: systematic review and meta-analysis12. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 102(4), 922-932. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.115.113613
Markofski, M. M., Jennings, K., Dolan, C., Davies, N. A., LaVoy, E. C., Ryan, E. T., & Carrillo, A. E. (2019). Single-Arm 8-Week Ad Libitum Self-Prepared Paleo Diet Reduces Cardiometabolic Disease Risk Factors in Overweight Adults. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827619866157
Marlowe, F. W. (2005). Hunter-gatherers and human evolution. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 14(2), 54-67. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1002/evan.20046
Norwood, R., Cruwys, T., Chachay, V. S., & Sheffield, J. (2019). The Psychological Characteristics of People Consuming Vegetarian, Vegan, Paleo, Gluten Free and Weight Loss Dietary Patterns. Obesity science & practice. https://doi.org/10.1002/osp4.325
O’Dea, K. (1984). Marked improvement in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism in diabetic Australian aborigines after temporary reversion to traditional lifestyle. Diabetes, 33(6), 596-603. https://doi.org/10.2337/diab.33.6.596
Тихонов, Д. Г., Лебедева, У. М., Степанов, К. М., проблем», Ф. Я. н. ц. к. м., & академия», Ф. В. П. г. ф. (2019). From the History of the Study of the Diet in North-Eastern Siberia: From the Paleo Diet to Coca-Cola in Just 100 Years. Istoriya Meditsiny. https://doi.org/10.17720/2409-5583.t6.2.2019.01a
What is the paleo diet and how does it work?
The paleo diet, also known as the “Stone Age” diet, is based on the premise of eating foods that our ancestors consumed. This diet emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods such as lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds while avoiding processed foods, grains, dairy products, and refined sugars.
Introduction: The Stone Age Diet
The Paleo Diet, also known as the Stone Age Diet, is based on the principle of consuming foods that were available to humans during the Paleolithic era. This means focusing on whole foods like lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, while avoiding processed foods and certain agricultural products.
What to Eat on a Strict Paleo Diet
A strict Paleo Diet emphasizes the following:
Paleo Foods: Includes poultry, fish, eggs, fruits, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, and healthy fats like avocado oil.
Whole Foods: Focuses on unprocessed and natural foods that provide essential nutrients.
Low-Carb Approach: Minimizes carbs by avoiding grains, legumes (including lentils and peas), and starchy vegetables.
What to Avoid
Whole Grains: Despite being a part of many healthy diets, whole grains are excluded from the Paleo Diet.
Dairy Products: Items like yogurt and ice cream are not part of the traditional Paleo eating plan.
Legumes: Lentils, peas, and other legumes are avoided due to their carb content.
Processed Foods: Anything processed or artificial is typically off-limits.
Benefits of the Paleo Diet
Blood Sugar Control: By focusing on low-carb foods, the Paleo Diet may help regulate blood sugar levels.
Anti-Inflammatory: The emphasis on antioxidants and nutrient-dense foods may reduce inflammation in the body.
Gut Health: Some proponents claim that the Paleo Diet can improve gut health, potentially benefiting conditions like irritable bowel syndrome.
Blood Pressure Management: The inclusion of potassium-rich foods may help in managing blood pressure.
Weight Management: The Paleo Diet can be an effective eating plan for active people looking to maintain or lose weight.
Cravings Control: By avoiding sugary and processed foods, some people find that their cravings for these items diminish.
Comparison with Other Diets
Mediterranean Diet: Unlike the Paleo Diet, the Mediterranean Diet includes whole grains, legumes, and dairy, promoting a more varied eating plan. Both diets emphasize healthy fats and whole foods.
Low-Carb Diets: The Paleo Diet shares similarities with other low-carb diets but is unique in its focus on prehistoric times and avoidance of specific food groups like legumes and dairy.