Against the grain, 'caveman' diet gains traction

Could Paleolithic man hold the key to today's nutrition problems?

A growing number of adherents to the so-called "caveman" contend that a return to the hunter-gatherer foods of the Stone Age -- heavy on meats, devoid of most grains -- could alleviate problems like obesity, and many coronary problems.

The Paleo diet movement is backed by some academics and fitness gurus, and has gained some praise in medical research in the US and elsewhere even though it goes against recommendations of most mainstream nutritionists and government guidelines.

Loren Cordain, a professor of health and exercise science at Colorado State University, said he believes millions in the United States and elsewhere are following the Paleo diet movement, based on sales of books such as his own and Internet trends.

"It was an obscure idea 10 years ago, and in the last two to three years it has become known worldwide," Cordain, one the leading academics backing the Paleo diet, told AFP.

"There are at least a half-dozen books on the best seller list that are promoting this," he added.

The underlying basis for the Stone Age diet is a belief that homo sapiens evolved into modern humans with a hunter-gatherer diet that promoted and overall health. Backers say the is essentially unchanged from the end of the Paleolithic era 10,000 years ago after evolving over millions of years.

"It's intuitive," Cordain said. "Obviously you can't feed meat to a horse, you can't feed hay to a cat. The reason for that is that their genes were shaped in different ecological niches."

He said peer-reviewed research has shown the Paleo diet better than the , US and diets aimed at controlling adult diabetes.

One study published in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology showed a Paleolithic diet "improved glycemic control and several compared to a ."

A Swedish study published in the Journal Nutrition and Metabolism found that a Stone Age diet is "more satiating per calorie than a Mediterranean-like diet," making it something to be considered in fighting obesity.

High-energy foods at the lowest energy cost

Some aspects of the Paleo diet are widely accepted, such as shunning many refined and processed starches and sugars in favor of fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables. But the controversy stems from its elimination of most cereals, legumes and dairy products, relying instead on high-protein meats, fish and eggs.

The Paleo diet has a devoted following, some who link it to improved fitness and longevity, including Arthur De Vany, a 74-year-old former economics professor who promotes vigorous workouts and wrote a 2010 book, "The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us about Weight Loss, Fitness, and Aging."

"Our forager ancestors sought out high-energy (meaning high-calorie, high-fat) foods that could be obtained at the lowest energy cost," De Vany says in his book.

"We began getting heavier and developing new diseases once we ceased to be hunter-gatherers and instead became farmers -- or more specifically once we started eating the food we grow rather than gathering food."

But a US News survey of nutritionists ranked the Paleo diet last among 20 possible options, far below the Mediterranean, vegan or Weight Watchers diets.

It noted that the Paleo diet gets 23 percent of calories from carbohydrates compared to 45 to 65 percent in US government recommendations, and that the Stone Age regime is higher than recommended for protein and fat.

"While its focus on veggies and lean meat is admirable, experts couldn't get past the fact that entire food groups, like dairy and grains, are excluded on Paleo diets," US News said.

Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, told AFP that the Paleo diet "would not be appropriate for today's sedentary lifestyles."

Nestle and others also dispute some of the historical claims of Paleo diet advocates. "The claim that half the calories in the Paleolithic diet came from meat is difficult to confirm," she said.

In a research paper, Nestle said the life expectancy of Stone Age man was around 25 years "suggesting that the Paleolithic diet, among other life conditions, must have been considerably less than ideal."

Cordain argues however that there are modern societies of hunter-gatherers where the theory can be tested.

In these societies, "elderly people have been shown to be generally free of the signs and symptoms of chronic disease (obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels) that universally afflict the elderly in Western societies," he says on his blog.

"When these people adopt Western diets, their health declines and they begin to exhibit signs and symptoms of 'diseases of civilization.'"

Cordain acknowledges that because of the way society has evolved, it is impractical to feed the world with Paleo diets because many societies have become dependent on cereals.

But he says it can be successfully used in many Western countries, and argues that despite jokes about the Stone Age, mainstream nutritionists will come around to his conclusions.

"This is not a fad, this is not Fred Flintstone, this is the wave of the future," he said.

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(c) 2011 AFP

Citation: Against the grain, 'caveman' diet gains traction (2011, September 15) retrieved 22 February 2019 from
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Sep 15, 2011
Pretty much the Adkins diet sans dairy products. Low carbohydrate diets are known to be effective in treating/preventing metabolic syndrome (obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease).

It is unlikely nutritionists will embrace the diet regardless of the effects and/or health of participants. Nutritionists insist on high carbohydrate diets even for diabetic individuals, obese individuals and heart disease patients.

Sep 15, 2011
Yeah, because that's what the world really needs right now, I meant heavy diet.

Sep 15, 2011
Yeah, because that's what the world really needs right now, I meant heavy diet.

No, even the article admitted that for many places in the world, such a diet cannot be widely available. Nevertheless, a diet which can treat metabolic syndrome and extend life with healthy years can be important to those who can avail themselves of it.

Sep 15, 2011
Stuff and nonsense. "Backers say the human genome is essentially unchanged from the end of the Paleolithic era 10,000 years ago after evolving over millions of years" is plain wrong.

There is little evidence of our fruit, root, nut etc. in the archaeological record because they left fewer relics than animal bones.

Sep 15, 2011
Not to mention the difference between available fruits and vegetables of the time compared to today's which have been selectively bred for thousands of years to taste better and grow larger.

I believe cutting down on grains is a good idea for most people, and the less heavily processed food the better; but I won't be adopting the diet of people with a life expectancy of 25 years in the name of health.

Sep 15, 2011
I believe cutting down on grains is a good idea for most people, and the less heavily processed food the better; but I won't be adopting the diet of people with a life expectancy of 25 years in the name of health.

Did you (or these nutritionists) consider the fact that average life expectancy of paleo-humans was low because of: poor housing/exposure to the elements, nonexistant medicine, and PREDATION of humans by large animals, WAR with other humans over available resources? Not to mention the numerous opportunities for a hungry hunter-gatherer type to eat something poisonous or contaminated.

The average life expectancy of even modern humans is not 70 years in all parts of the world.

Sep 15, 2011
The caveman diet would be great IF the foodsources would be avaialble in the modern day. Caveman diet was healthy when there were no pesticides, growth homones, antibiotics, and industrial pollutants in the system. Back when what we gathered wasn't monsanto's frankenstein, when what we hunted was healthy, free range, 'organic' and a proper part of the food chain. Hunter gatherers didn't exclusively eat beef, chicken, and pork fed on genetically modified grains, they hunted whatever had some meat on it, and what was seasonal, thereby keeping things in balance with the local environment.

Today the caveman diet scares me, because it consists of the toxic animals that come from factories, I'm vegan, I'm also a four star chef and I know a bit about food. I'd gladly go with the caveman diet if it was still avaliable, including the hunting and gatering part. I wish I could just live naturally without a government and society persecuting and prosecuting me for it.

Sep 15, 2011
Febuary 15th 2011 - I was 355 lbs and getting larger.
Sept 15th 2011 - This morning I was 292 lbs and getting leaner AND stronger.

Primal Blueprint baby.

Ideal meal? 2/3's vegetables(brocolli, calliflower etc) 1/3 meat (grass-fed beef, free-roaming pork/wildboard, freepasture chickens, Wild Alaskan Salmon).

Generous helping of salt-free butter (also grassfed) and salt-less spices

Treenuts for snacks, berries anytime, heavy cream if you can tolerate it.

This is the way to break free of the grain-matrix. Eat when you are hungry. Period, not a 3 meal or 6 meal slave.

Ever wonder how Canola Oil is made? Absolutely disgusting. Evil evil evil. (for the brain, the body, your kids etc).

Eat real food not food products!

I'm going to walk in the sun, in my super-thin runnin' sandals.

Inspired by

Sep 15, 2011
Is Marion Nestle releated to the Nestle company? Who IS processed foods inc?

That would also be worth investigating....

Sep 15, 2011
Is Marion Nestle releated to the Nestle company? The very definition of processed foods inc?

That would also be worth investigating....

Sep 15, 2011
The state monopoly on information and control of the food supply is slipping.

Sep 15, 2011

Yes, low carbohydrates is the way to go (for me at least). I also like butter and cream, though that is excluded on the Paleo diet, it is OK on Adkins and if you can tolerate milk, you probably have the genes to make butter, cream and cheese healthy for you.

Sep 15, 2011
What really matters is what YOUR stone age ancestors ate. Some had ready access to high carb, non-grain foods and adapted well to eat that.
This is described in the Metabolic Typing Diet. So if you tried traditional low carb diets, check out this book. There are many questions that help guide you to the proteins, fats and some carbs that are best suited to your genetic type.

Of course this makes it difficult for modern science methods to test and validate as all people are assumed to be the same metabolically and we all know that is a bad assumption.

Sep 16, 2011
Someone needs to tell Cordain that his "intuition" isn't scientific research. A cat can't eat hay, but a cat also doesn't get hypercholesterolemia. Last time I checked, humans do.

Sep 16, 2011
Humans do get hypercholesterolemia. They also get hair, fingernails, etc. That is to say, hypercholesterolemia is a meaningless term. It means that someone has more cholesterol in his blood than some other people do. Since we don't know if there is a proper level of cholesterol and since we know that drugs which modify cholesterol have no measurable beneficial effect, the term hypercholesterolemia is meaningless.

Sep 16, 2011
Low carb diets increase 'good' cholesterol and lower 'bad' cholesterol.

Sep 19, 2011
Note to article's author: cats may not eat hay, but they regularly eat grass.

Sep 19, 2011
By the way, and this isn't to suggest that organisms evolve within short periods of time in direct response to their environment, you must consider that over time organisms do indeed evolve in response to environmental pressures. Chief among these can be food supply. For example, early primates like Paranthropus certainly diverged taxonomically. The larger masseter muscles suggest adaptation to an environment requiring different dentition than other early primates. Likewise, the evolution of lactose tolerance is putatively very recent (though you won't find a phenotype for this expression as far as I know, unlike the Paranthropoid masseter enlargement).

All this to say: environments change, species (generally) change (or die off).

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