Paleo diets are based on the hunter-gatherer style of eating of the Paleolithic period. So basically, it’s the caveman diet. But the 'paleo diet' people follow today does not have an absolute definition, as in the Stone Age, this way of eating was different between global locations, climates, seasons and access to food. So not all cavemen ate the same.
With improved farming and developed food manufacturing, our food today does not reflect the food of the Stone Age. Although we can apply principles of this diet to our eating, it is actually impossible to eat exactly as our ancestors did – and as I just mentioned, even they didn’t all eat the same things. Our ancestors ate whatever they hunted for and had access to - primarily vegetables, fruit, nuts, insects, roots, and meat/fish. The modern paleo diet promotes meat and poultry, fish and seafood, along with nuts, seeds, eggs, vegetables and some fruit. It also promotes certain oils like olive, coconut and flaxseed. Dairy food, legumes, and grains are out – together with sugar and processed food. As you may be aware, with the abundance of food availability we have, and food manufacturing mechanisms available, we don't need to hunt for food and we definitely don't have difficulty accessing food, so it is impossible to eat exactly the way our ancestors ate.
But, can someone just tell me how, if paleo restricts processed food, why there is 'paleo bars' being sold, 'paleo pancakes', 'paleo brownies', 'paleo protein balls', and 'paleo donuts'? – Did cavemen really have access to resources to make these processed products? And is it really the Stone Age diet being followed, if this is the food that is being promoted in cafés and supermarkets?
Although there is no strong evidence, and really no need for us to follow a Paleo diet, there are still many people who will follow it. So, if you are passionate about going Paleo, go ahead, but be wary of those who use the name to promote their products. Donuts, bars, pancakes, and brownies should be eaten in small amounts and very occasionally, whether they are Paleo or not.
Finally, make sure your paleo style of eating is supervised by a health professional (celebrities and health gurus don't count) – without professional guidance, you could see yourself really deficient in many nutrients, especially calcium and fibre.
Find a health professional you can trust and allow them to work with you and your way of eating. As a Dietitian, I will work with all my clients, no matter what diet they follow, to ensure their body is still receiving all the essential nutrients for optimal health and wellbeing.
For the Paleo Way, it is neither a yay or a nay from me... Yes you can follow any style of eating you like, as long as you have a professional guiding you through, but no, you can't follow any diet you like if the only information you're getting about it is off of the internet. It is also important to be aware and cautious of nutrition claims, and never forget to ensure your health is on track by checking up regularly with your practitioner.
Yours in health,
Joyce Haddad, Director of A Dietitian's Mission, is an Adelaide based Dietitian/Nutritionist and Master Personal Trainer with a passion for health and wellbeing. ADM aims to help the public make informed and realistic nutritional choices and ensure everyone has a healthy relationship with their body and with food.