by Teresa Rhoades
Some of the books on the Paleo Diet in the Howard County Library System collection include The Paleo Solution, Practical Paleo, and the Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat. Certainly, if you read the back covers and Amazon reviews of the book, they are filled with effusive praise for the Paleolithic diet.
However, this should not downplay the importance of seeking an outside source. In this case, I did some research on Pub Med and the Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, sourced through the HCLS Specialized online research tool, Gale Virtual Reference Library.
What Is a Paleolithic Diet?
The Paleolithic period began approximately 2.5 million years ago. The Paleolithic, or caveman, diet is a reversion to the foods eaten by humans prior to the advents of civilization, agriculture, and technology. During the Paleolithic times, they made use of of chipped, stone tools. The human diet during the “Stone Age” is thought to have consisted largely of lean red meat and vegetation. (Helwig, D. 2005) For example, wild animal sources of meat, fish, eggs and uncultivated-plant source foods (vegetables, fruits, roots) and nuts. (Klonoff, D.C. 2009)
According to David Helwig, there are several aboriginal, hunter-gatherer societies in Australia, Africa, and South America that have survived into the twentieth century. In these populations, the rates of cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, were remarkably low until they switched to modern diets. (Helwig, D. 2005)
Based on the readings, the dividing line for the advent of the modern diet happened about 10,000 years ago with the establishment of agriculture. During this time it was discovered that many inedible plants could be rendered suitable for human consumption by cooking. This resulted in the introduction of grains, beans, and potatoes as foods, and was later followed by sugar, milk, and milk products. (Helwig, D. 2005) The Paleo diet excludes grains, legumes, dairy products,salt, refined sugar, and processed oils; all of which were unavailable before humans began cultivating plants and domesticating animals. (Klonoff, D.C. 2009)
In contrast to the lower rates of disease that prevailed in the societies that did not adopt so-called modern lifestyles, other authors highlight the problems with current life-style habits. James H. O’Keefe, JR, MD, and Lores Cordain, PhD, write that today most of us dwell in mechanized urban settings, leading largely sedentary lives and eating a highly processed, synthetic diet. (Klonoff, D.C. 2009, with Mayo Clin Proc., 2004)
O’Keefe and Cordain went on to discuss obesity rates and hypertension rates associated with the modern lifestyle. Since the original article was penned in 2004, I have updated the statistics, using information gathered from the CDC and others.
According to the CDC, more than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7%) and approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years are obese. Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death.
About 1 in 3 U.S. adults—an estimated 68 million—has high blood pressure. High blood pressure was listed as a primary or contributing cause of death for more than 347,000 Americans in 2008.
Metabolic syndrome is a condition in which you have some combination of too much fat around the waist, high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, or high blood sugar.
Approximately 34% of adults met the criteria for metabolic syndrome.
Total: 25.8 million children and adults in the United States—8.3% of the population—have diabetes.
I would be remiss in my research if I did not include a section on concerns regarding the diet. One of which is the environmental effects of millions of people switching to diets heavy in red meats. This could result in farms switching from growing crops to raising livestock or wild areas could be ravaged in the search for Paleolithic meat sources. The global food supply is widely thought to be incapable of supporting widespread adoption of this diet. Furthermore, modern-day “Paleos” should monitor their consumption to ensure a balanced diet. Some nutritionists caution against total dietary exclusion of milk and milk products, arguing that low-fat dairy products can be useful to maintain sufficient levels of calcium.
As always, please consult your doctor or medical professional before making any sort of drastic change in your diet.
Helwig, D. (2005). Paleolithic Diet. In J. L. Longe (Ed.), The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine (2nd ed., Vol. 3, pp. 1531-1532). Detroit: Gale.
Klonoff, D.C. The beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on type 2 diabetes and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. J Diabetes Sci Technol. 2009 Nov 1;3(6):1229-32.
O’Keefe JH Jr Mayo Clin Proc. 2004 Jan;79(1):101-8. Cardiovascular disease resulting from a diet and lifestyle at odds with our Paleolithic genome: how to become a 21st-century hunter-gatherer.