Commonly referred to as the hunter-gatherer diet, the caveman diet, or the paleolithic diet, the Paleo diet is the new-day interpretation of a dietary pattern based on the eating habits of our ancestors in the stone age around two and half million years ago.
During the paleolithic era, people ate foods that were available and accessible in their environment by hunting, fishing, and gathering. This is why the diet comprises lean meat, eggs, seafood, vegetables, and fruits, as well as healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and olive oil. There are different diet variations, but dairy products, grains, legumes, cereals, and refined and processed foods are excluded.
How the Paleo Diet Works
The original Paleo diet dates back millions of years, so there is no single guideline diet plan, servings, portion sizes, or exercise rules leading to a range of diet variations. For a weight-loss-focused diet, the Paleo diet has three levels of adherence that allow a certain number of open meals that do not follow the guidelines. Open meals provide flexibility and help make the diet achievable by transitioning through each level when you feel ready or if weight loss is your goal.
Level 1: Entry-level – Three open meals per week
Level 2: Maintenance level – Two open meals per week
Level 3: Maximal weight loss – One open meal per week
The Diet Plan
Basing your version of the stone age diet on the template below will help you stick to the actual eating habits of the caveman.
Foods to eat:
- Lean meats
- Fish and seafood
- Fresh fruit
- Non-starchy vegetables (but sweet potatoes are allowed)
- Nuts and grains
- Healthy fats and oils (olive, flaxseed, avocado)
Foods to avoid:
- Dairy products
- Grains and cereals (bread, rice, oats, pasta)
- Legumes (lentils, chickpeas beans)
- Processed foods
- Refined/added sugar foods
- Salt containing foods
- Sweetened beverages or fruit juices
The monetary cost of following the Paleo diet has been examined. It is generally not affordable for low-income people due to the increased consumption and high cost of seafood and meat. You should always consider the cost of any diet before beginning, as it determines the likelihood of sticking to the plan.
Dos and Don’ts
Essentially, sticking to the number of open meals and diet guidelines above are the only rules for the Paleo diet. By avoiding temptation, you will see the best results.
Sample Diet Plan
The Paleolithic people ate a variety of what was in their environment; consequently, the underlying aim of the diet was to eat whole foods that were available in your surroundings. Below are a few examples of a daily paleolithic diet meal plan.
- Scrambled eggs with tomatoes, mushrooms, and spinach
- Fresh fruit and nuts
- Tuna and mixed leafy salad
- Grilled chicken with greens
- Steak with steamed vegetables
- Baked salmon and vegetables with avocado
- Fresh fruit salad
- Carrot and cucumber sticks
- Boiled eggs
Health Benefits and Drawbacks
The Paleo diet craze is rising due to its assumed health benefits. The dietary pattern’s primary health benefit is the focus on eating more whole foods and discouraging processed foods. Whole foods are typically more nutrient-dense and offer greater physical and mental health benefits to the body than processed foods linked to poor health.
There is a lack of long-term research and sound evidence on the Paleo diet’s health benefits. However, a review of four clinical gold standard studies compared the Paleo nutritional pattern with other dietary habits. The Paleo diet resulted in greater short-term improvement for the five measurements contributing to heart disease and type two diabetes. These are waist circumference, blood pressure (systolic and diastolic), cholesterol, blood sugar, and triglyceride levels. Highlighting the potential benefits of a Paleo diet for people with type two diabetes and high blood pressure.
This same review concluded that the Paleo diet was more effective at reducing body weight. However, it was noted that further research should be conducted to establish the long-term impacts of the diet due to the moderate quality of evidence.
Good health is the foundation for good health. The key takeaway for a healthy diet is to eat a nutritious, balanced diet from various food groups, ensuring your body receives all essential nutrients. The Paleo diet excludes entire food groups of dairy, legumes, and whole grains and negatively affects the body.
A study investigating if the diet can meet the nutritional needs found that the diet can lead to calcium and vitamin D intake lower than the recommended daily intake.
Society assumes you will lose weight by eating the foods you were “built” to eat.
Judgment on whether the Paleo diet contributes to weight loss is controversial. The diet has been effective at weight loss for the short term, but beyond that, weight loss varies greatly. A study investigating the long-term effects of the diet reported that participants initially lost weight at one year but regained 7% of their weight loss at two years, questioning the diet’s success.
If you are vegan or vegetarian, the paleo diet is simply not for you. The limitation of vegan and vegetarian options makes the pattern unfeasible and unhealthy to follow.
The diet is difficult for participants to adhere to, and research has proved that participants found the diet most challenging to stick to.
The Bottom Line: Is the Paleo Diet a Healthy Way to Lose Weight?
Despite the craze and the probable good health of our ancestors, the bottom line is the Paleo diet is not a healthy way to lose weight. The diet cuts out essential food groups, is not backed by sound evidence, and is challenging to maintain. Instead of following directly in the footsteps of your ancestors, adopt some of the positive principles of their dietary patterns, such as increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and eating less processed foods with added sugar and salt in a less restrictive manner. These steps will build the foundation of well-rounded, healthy lifestyle habits you can maintain for life.