A Diet So Easy a CaveMan Could Do It

When I heard about the Paleo diet, it sounded kind of funny, so I wrote a light-hearted vignette with our hero eating bugs, berries and the occasional hunk of meat from a kill. To me it was obvious that a real paleo diet would include foodstuffs that only desperately hungry people would eat today.

In, Paleo diet is half-baked, Scientific American assumes that we all actually believe that paleolithic men got their meat and veggies from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s:

Most nutritionists consent that the Paleo diet gets at least one thing right — cutting down on processed foods that have been highly modified from their raw state through various methods of preservation. Examples include white bread and other refined flour products, artificial cheese, certain cold cuts and packaged meats, potato chips, and sugary cereals. Such processed foods often offer less protein, fiber and iron than their unprocessed equivalents, and some are packed with sodium and preservatives that may increase the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.

But the Paleo diet bans more than just highly processed junk foods — in its most traditional form, it prohibits any kind of food unavailable to stone age hunter–gatherers, including dairy rich in calcium, grains replete with fiber, and vitamins and legumes packed with protein.

I have a confession to make. I’ve never read a traditional Paleo diet book. I couldn’t even name one. The idea of going back to less processed foods did appeal to me, so I cut out a lot of pasta, potatoes, bread and sugars, ate more greens, lost a lot of weight and felt better. I cut back on processed meat, but didn’t start eating slabs of beef. I still include 2% milk and one hunk of shredded wheat for breakfast, and a small bowl of vanilla ice cream now and then.

Later I ran across the TED talk, Minding Your Mitochondria, by Dr Terry Wahls, about how a Paleo-like diet brought her back from debilitating MS, so I incorporated some of her suggestions – carrots, but not seaweed. I already loved beets.

For some reason the Paleo diet really offends people, though. I think it is partially that it allows meat, and partially that it works without spending a lot on bizarre foods. I ran across competing views on Stack, which has an irritating habit of opening Gatorade popups if you click anywhere:

The Paleo Diet Leaves Athletes Powerless

I’m not bashing the Paleo diet. It’s a great program for optimizing hormonal output, minimizing fat gains and preventing hypertension in inactive people.

For you as an athlete, however, performance is everything. And carbs must be a part of your arsenal. Feed your body what it craves for fuel during hard workouts, and watch how much you improve as a result.

Is the Paleo Diet Right for Athletes?

Encouraged by CrossFit, the Paleo Diet is gaining favor with athletes. In his latest book, The Paleo Diet for Athletes: A Nutritional Formula for Peak Athletic Performance, Dr. Loren Cordain argues that the Paleo Diet provides perfect fuel for athletes by supplying plenty of vitamin C, fiber, calcium, iron, foliate, and essential fatty acids, while reducing sugar, salt, and saturated fats. Nevertheless, some nutritionists have a problem with the carbohydrate intake of the Paleo Diet, since it does not allow for grains. In a recent Runner’s World article, Dr. Cordain suggested that athletes can benefit from the Paleo Diet by getting their carbs through fruits and vegetables instead of starches.

Here are the seven guiding principles for the Paleo Diet Food List, outlined by Dr. Cordain:

1. Consume much more animal protein than the typical American diet.

2. Get good carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables instead of grains and refined sugars. Eat fewer carbohydrates than most modern diets recommend.

3. Eat a large amount of fiber from non-starchy fruits and vegetables.

4. Eat a moderate amount of fat, with more good (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) fats than bad (saturated) fats, and nearly equal amounts of omega 3 and omega 6 fats.

5. Eat foods with high potassium content and low sodium content.

6. Aim for a diet with a net alkaline load (balanced pH level). The easiest way to achieve this is to get approximately a third of your daily calories from fruits and vegetables.

7. Eat foods rich in plant phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

I don’t follow #1, so I’m not much of a mighty hunter. I eat about as much meat as I always have. I don’t measure to see if I follow #6, but I think I might comply. Maybe I’ll start a version of the diet. I’ll call it the Paleo Diet for Distracted Hunters.

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