This week, US News rated 32 of the most popular diets in America; although it comes in last, the Paleo Diet is still considered one of the best diets available to Americans today. The 32 top-choice diet plans were critiqued by a panel of health experts who ultimately ranked the Paleo Diet #32 of the bunch. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), a government-endorsed health program, snagged the #1 spot. In order to be considered for the top spot by the panel, diets had to be nutritious, easy to follow, successful in terms of weight loss, and help prevent diabetes and heart disease.
The Paleo Diet is unique from other types of diets because it is based on archaeological evidence from 2.6 million to 10,000 years ago, during the Paleolithic Era. During this formative period in human history, human ancestors were hunter-gatherers who quite literally ate what they could find: leaves, vegetables and game. Paleolithic people were nomadic, constantly moving their camps to find new sources of food. It wasn’t until about 10,000 years ago that these ancestors in the Middle East were first able to create and maintain gardens and farms to provide for themselves on a regular basis, a technology that led rapidly to the creation of cities and city-states.
The Paleo Diet is based upon the diets of the Paleolithic forebears, who didn’t have access to large amounts of grains or dairy products. Why should this be beneficial to modern humans? Some researchers and health gurus believe that the human body evolved greatly during the Paleolithic Era, which means that modern human bodies are actually adapted for a diet high in vegetable fibers and meat. Supporters of the Paleo Diet put it simply:
“If a caveman couldn’t eat it, neither can you.”
Despite the fact that Paleolithic humans had an average lifespan of 30 years, the so-called Paleo Diet was likely not to blame. During the early Stone Age, people lived in crude shelters and caves, which exposed them to extremes in heat and cold. They also suffered infections due to a dangerous lifestyle and a lack of modern hygiene. With the modern health system and a simple bar of soap, humans live – on average in America – well into their 70s on a diet filled with processed foods that are high in sugar and salt. Dieticians wonder if with a combination of top-quality medical care, as well as a caveman’s pure and nutritious diet, could people start to see an even longer lifespan?
Of course, to generalize about a caveman’s diet is difficult at best, since during the Paleolithic Era, archaeologists believe that most people lived hand-to-mouth. The Paleo Diet, then, is really comprised of the ideal foods that a Stone Age forager and hunter would have had at his or her disposal. Fortunately, for modern followers of the Paleo Diet, actually finding food to put on the table isn’t a full day’s job.
According to the US News report, the aims of the Paleo Diet are not just weight loss, but the maintenance and protection against “diseases of civilization” such as diabetes and heart disease. The diet also placates the growing epidemic of gluten and wheat allergies, since grains are kept off the plate in favor of vegetable fibers. In terms of human history, the Neolithic Era, or agricultural era, did not begin until at least 10,000 years ago in the Middle East. During this time, humans’ diets underwent a major shift as grains became and dairy products became their dietary staples.
The health panel responsible for this week’s Best Diets list notes, however, that the long-term effects of the Paleo Diet are unknown, since a sufficient amount of scientific study has not been conducted on its participants. In all, the Paleo Diet was awarded two out of five stars in every category, including weight loss, nutrition and safety.
by Mandy Gardner
Nerd Fitness – Paleo Diet
Paleo Terran – Paleolithic Nutrition