The Palaeolithic period, lasting 2.5 million years, ended approximately 10,000 years ago. The end of this period was marked by the advent of agriculture and the domestication of animals. Known as the Neolithic Demographic Transition or the ‘Agricultural Revolution’, it saw a cultural transition from hunter-gather lifestyle to settlement and farming of plants and animals as a means to feed an increasing global population.
What is the concept of the paleo diet?
The basic premise of the Palaeolithic diet (also known as the paleo or caveman diet) is that we eat as our caveman ancestors might have, before the agricultural revolution. This means, anything that would have been available while out hunting.
The caveman diet was popularised by Loren Cordain though one of his many published books and his website www.thepaleodiet.com. In order to lose weight and achieve optimal health, he recommends the following fundamental aspects to the diet:
– Higher protein intake
– Lower carbohydrate intake
– Higher fibre intake
– Moderate to high fat intake
– Higher potassium to sodium ratio
– Increased intake of vitamins, minerals and multivitamins
What foods are considered paleo?
Due to the nature of the original “paleo diet”, the only foods our caveman friends would have had would have been anything that they either found, caught or killed. i.e. ‘the hunter gatherer’.
Today’s equivalent of the paleo food list is based on foods that are considered “Clean” (although there is no definition of clean foods). For example, the following would be considered paleo:
– Grass-fed meats
– Fresh fruits
– Fresh non-starchy vegetables (For example: green beans, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower etc)
– Eggs (On the paleo diet, it is recommended to limit to 6 eggs per week. However, in a previous article I provided evidence that there is no need to limit eggs, especially when it comes to cholesterol count (http://www.theproteinworks.com/thelockerroom/article/peterwilson/side-effects-egg-protein )
– Nuts/ Seeds
– Healthy oils (olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, coconut)
A comprehensive list of ‘paleo foods’ can be found on a website called (http://desertcrossfit.typepad.com/Paleo_Food_List.pdf )
What foods are not allowed on the paleo diet?
While considering the food lists of the paleo diet, it is important to consider foods that are not to be consumed. It specifies that the following foods/ groups are not allowed on the paleo diet.
– Grains (Porridge oats, corn, barley, rice etc)
– Starchy veg (Sweet potatoes, yams, potatoes etc)
– Legumes/ beans (Chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, peas, miso etc)
– All dairy
– High fat meats
– Trans fats
– Salty food
These foods are not allowed because, during the Palaeolithic period, they simply would not have been an option. Our paleo ancestors had bodies and digestive systems which were adapted over thousands of years to allow healthy growth and maintenance using the foods they had available to them.
Therefore, when attempting to follow a paleo diet in a modern society, we must consider the way in which we typically acquire our nutrition. Beans and Legumes, for example, are a prime source of protein for vegetarians; oats, rice and rye are a staple for many diets as they provide carbohydrates, a macronutrient crucial to the healthy maintenance and functioning of the brain and the replenishment of glycogen stores post-training.
Dairy and sugars are to be eliminated on the paleo diet, however in our modern, fast paced society and with the current gym culture we train in, that would mean foregoing all sports supplements such as whey, casein and dextrose. These supplements have been shown to be beneficial in bookmarking your workouts- especially in liquid form. Liquid form of nutrition involves limited (if any) breakdown there leading to faster absorption. Whey protein pre and post workout have been shown to not only help fuel your training, burn increased calories in the following 24 hours but including a form of simple sugar such as dextrose or maltodextrin in a post workout shake leads to elevated insulin levels and therefore increase absorption of nutrients.
If we live according to the paleo diet as described above, the restrictions it imposes may lead to difficulties in maintain a modern eating style. Achievable, but it may require some adaptations.
What happened that our diets changed?
So why did our diets change and enter the Neolithic Revolution? The national Geographic provides an interesting insight into this change.
With the invention of agriculture and the domestication of animals, food sources became stable, rather than the dependence on hunting and gathering. This caused the global population to sky rocket from 5 million people at this time to 7 billion people today. To further reference the National Geographic article
“There was no single factor or combination of factors that led people to take up farming in different parts of the world”
However it is thought that a combination of climate change and an increasing pressure on the available foods sources may have caused people to begin growing and farming their own sources to ensure survival.
What are the benefits of eating ‘paleo’?
The premise of the paleo diet is to eat as naturally as possible, with the least amount of interference from manufacturing intervention with additives such as preservatives and other chemicals.
Increased amounts of fruit, vegetables and berries will lead to enhanced consumption of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Water soluble vitamins found in fruit and vegetables, as well as dairy and grains (currently excluded on this diet) cannot be stored by the body however they are fundamental to healthy maintenance of nerve function, vision, skin and blood health and enzyme metabolism.
Furthermore, fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K) are found in animal sources of food. Due to the nature of the diet, you will consume more red meats and fish (such as salmon, bass, cod) therefore will enjoy increased benefits such as: regulation of bone growth, cell division, immune system by Vitamin A, vitamin D to maintain healthy bones, while vitamin E works in preventing cancer, strokes and even diabetes. Vitamin K is essential in allowing blood to clot. Vitamin K is named so after the German word ‘koagulation’.
Author unknown [WWW]http://www.emedicinehealth.com/vitamins_their_functions_and_sources-health/article_em.htm
“Vitamins: Their functions and sources”
Author unknow [WWW] (https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/development-of-agriculture/ “The development of agriculture”
Jane Higdon, Ph.D [WWW] (http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/vitamins/vitaminK/
Loren Cordain [WWW] http://thepaleodiet.com/the-paleo-diet-premise/ “The paleo diet premise”
Peter Wilson [WWW] (http://www.theproteinworks.com/thelockerroom/article/peterwilson/side-effects-egg-protein ) “Side effects of egg protein”
Leslie Bonci [WWW] http://www.upmc.com/services/sports-medicine/newsletter/pages/paleo-diet.aspxhttp://www.upmc.com/services/sports-medicine/newsletter/pages/paleo-diet.aspx
“Pros and cons of the paleo diet”