The True Meaning of Paleo

The paleo diet, sometimes called the caveman diet, is a current health fad that centers around eating natural foods that were likely accessible to and eaten by people in the Paleolithic era. For instance, foods mainly obtained through hunting and gathering. The paleo diet is based on the idea that people are meant to consume natural foods that existed before developments in farming, domesticated livestock, and food processing. In essence, the paleo diet assumes that people are not designed to consume artificial or processed foods that exist today. In order to have a healthy diet, people should eat similarly to our Paleolithic ancestors.

Why do people follow the paleo diet?

While the process of manufacturing food has evolved quickly over time, it is believed that people’s dietary needs and digestive functions have not had efficient time to keep pace with our current food industry. As such, people likely still need the natural, unprocessed foods that we consumed in the early days of humanity.

In Paleolithic times, people consumed what was readily available to them and were able to intake naturally nutritious foods. The evolution of our dietary needs was slow and study, unlike the fast-paced food industry from which many people eat today.

In fact, some believe that a variety of ailments experienced in modern day humans is due to our poor choices to consume artificially processed and manufactured foods. Essentially, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and even tumors may stem from the fact that we eat foods that our bodies cannot digest properly, and this may be particularly true in more modernized nations like the US. Not only are people likely consuming undigestable foods, but we may be missing out on important nutrients. Some suggest that this could account for the rise in obesity and malnourishment among people today.

On the flip side, people who subscribe to the paleo diet often experience incredible health benefits, from improved heart health to decreased effects of autoimmune disorders and even reduced diabetes-related health problems. This is likely because people on the paleo diet have removed or significantly reduced harmful, processed foods and instead consume highly nutritious natural foods.

What foods can, and can’t, people on the paleo diet eat?

Because the paleo diet calls for similar diets to that of cave people, there are specific foods that are considered paleo and plenty that are not, some of which may surprise you. For specifics, check out this list:

Paleo food:

  • Grass-fed, high-quality meats (nothing processed)
  • Just about any kind of seafood
  • A variety of fresh fruits and non-starchy veggies
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds (but not peanuts)
  • Healthy oils that come from nuts
  • Natural forms of unrefined sugar, but only in moderation

NOT Paleo food:

  • Any time of grain
  • Legumes and beans, including peanuts 
  • Dairy-based products 
  • Refined and artificial sugars 
  • Starchy vegetables 
  • Processed foods (if it’s not natural, it’s not paleo)
  • High salt foods
  • Refined vegetable oils (palm oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, etc.)
  • Alcohol

In essence, much of what people eat today for an average meal is not considered paleo, such as chicken parmesan, pizza, cheeseburgers, French fries, milkshakes, candy, bread, baked goods, and much more.

Why aren’t grains, dairy, and beans paleo?

As you may know, grains, dairy, and beans can cause stomach-related medical problems for individuals, such as IBS, low energy levels, and allergic reactions. Many people may be able to eat them without an allergic or dietary reaction, but foods in these categories can cause serious harm to some. This is likely because people have not evolved to eat grains, dairy, or beans. Not to mention, it’s unlikely that people in the Paleolithic era ate grains, dairy, or beans, as these foods require a commitment for cultivation, cleaning, and preparation that would be unusual for cavepeople. What’s more, they contain fewer nutrients, minerals, and protein than true paleo foods.

Who started the paleo diet?

The paleo diet fad can be traced back to the 1990s and is often attributed to Dr. Loren Cordain, the author of “The Paleo Movement” and a leading specialist on the paleo diet. Many others have also had their hand in expanding and studying the paleo diet, including Mark Sisson and Rob Wolfe.

Many paleo diet authors and researchers promote the idea that Paleolithic people were nomadic, and either hunted or foraged for food that was easily accessible to them and often ready to eat. It’s unlikely that Paleolithic people farmed or reared livestock, and as such, the human body didn’t evolve to eat processed foods as seen today.

This implies that early people DID eat natural foods, such as wild plants, nuts, grass-fed meat, fish, and shellfish, and that they DID NOT eat beans, grains, large quantities of salt, dairy products, or refined sugar.