Can eating like a caveman improve your health?
The theory is simple: Our modern diet, loaded with processed foods, causes weight gain and disease. So, let’s go back to eating the way hunter-gatherer cavemen did and stick to the foods our bodies are designed to process and digest. Makes sense, right?
The Paleo diet focuses on meat, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds. It eliminates dairy, grains, refined sugars and processed foods — all things cavemen didn’t have access to more than 10,000 years ago.
“Paleo is a diet that can promote health and lower your disease risk,” says Melissa Roch, RD, LD, a registered dietitian at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center. “It encourages lean meats and unprocessed foods, which is great. Any time you’re shopping the outer aisles of the grocery store, that’s a good thing.”
However, Roch cautions that the diet is not evidence-based. Unlike other popular diets like the Mediterranean diet, there hasn’t been much research to validate the health benefits of the Paleo diet.
In fact, a study from the journal Lancet found that hardening of the arteries was more common in ancient populations than we previously believed. This suggests that the diet of the cavemen may not have provided significant heart health benefits.
In addition, the Paleo diet would probably be challenging for most people, Roch says. “Any diet that completely eliminates one or more food groups is difficult to stick to.”
If you’re on the Paleo diet, Roch says it’s important to develop a plan that supplements any vitamins you might be missing. For example, dairy products are a key source of calcium and vitamin D. If you stop eating dairy, you can get these nutrients from supplements or by eating more green, leafy vegetables, Roch says.
The bottom line: “If you want to do Paleo, I would recommend trying it for a couple of weeks and seeing how you do,” Roch says. “Then, slowly work whole grains and low-fat dairy back into your diet. That way, you’ll get all the nutrients you need and still see health benefits by sticking to unprocessed foods.”
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