Eat like the Caveman Did? Determining if the Paleo Diet is Right for You

By Kalyn Weber, August 1, 2022


Few would disagree that the evolution of the human diet has indeed been harmful for today’s society. The rise of processed, calorically dense, low-nutrient foods has spurred an epidemic of obesity and chronic disease. Could the solution to our woes simply be to return to the diet of our hunting and gathering ancestors?image

That is the founding principle of the so-called “paleo diet” (also referred to as the caveman diet, paleolithic diet, the stone-age diet, and the hunter and gatherer’s diet). This fitness trend emerged in the late 1970s but has resurfaced in recent years and is promoted by many health professionals, researchers and elite athletes as the most healthful way to optimize fitness levels while reducing the risk of developing chronic disease. However, like Atkins and other low-carb diets, the Paleo Diet has also been criticized for its extreme focus on nutrient restrictions and its lack of suitability for the general public.

What to eat on the paleo diet

The paleo diet emphasizes whole, unprocessed food and is based on the premise that we should only be eating foods that were available to our ancestors 10,000 years ago. The work of Loren Cordain, the founder of the paleo movement, suggests that the paleo diet is rich in the following:

grass-fed beef; fish and seafood; fruits and vegetables; eggs; nuts and seeds; and certain oils, such as olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, and coconut.

 Paleo followers are instructed to avoid or limit:

cereal grains; legumes (including peanuts); dairy; refined sugar; potatoes; processed foods; salt; and refined vegetable oils.

What does all this amount to? The most striking difference is a smaller proportion of carbohydrates and a slightly higher proportion of fats and proteins. Paleo dieters end up consuming about 30% of calories from protein, 30% from fats (mostly unsaturated) and 40% from carbohydrates (mainly from fruits and vegetables).

The elimination of grains and dairy has received the greatest amount of backlash from dieticians and other health professionals. After all, the current dietary guidelines promote the consumption of whole grains and dairy as a component of a healthy diet. For most (those without gluten or lactose intolerance), grains and dairy are the most difficult items to add to the “do not eat” list. Many paleo subscribers make some modifications this basic tenet, simply for daily convenience. For example, butter is a dairy product and is often used in cooking as a fat source. Could you eliminate butter from your diet? What about coffee? If you are an athlete, what about sports drinks and supplements? You can begin to see the problem. Obviously we have an enormous amount of resources at our fingertips that were unavailable to our ancestors. Paleo eaters must themselves decide where to drawn the line.

Click here to learn about what Paleo-friendly foods are good for your body based on InsideTracker’s nutrition software.

Paleo for athletes

Because paleo prohibits the intake of grains and is relatively low-carb, many endurance athletes, like runners, cyclists and triathletes find it difficult to adhere to the diet during training. Traditional carb-loading becomes very difficult. Therefore runners and other endurance athletes should adjust their intake before, during, and immediately after workouts to include normal sugars. Strength and power athletes, who generally consume higher amounts of protein, may find it easier to comply with the paleo plan.

Biomarkers to monitor

Thinking of going paleo? Get a blood test, such as that offered with InsideTracker, to assess your baseline first. What changes can you expect? Due to the increased consumption of meat and poultry, you might see higher concentrations of vitamin B12, a nutrient only found in animal products. Iron status, which is measured by the biomarkers ferritin and hemoglobin, is also closely related to meat consumption. All of these biomarkers have shown to be critical indicators of health and athletic performance.

For most Americans, milk and other fortified dairy products are a key source of calcium and vitamin D — two nutrients that are absolutely essential for bone health. Followers of the paleo lifestyle should carefully monitor their calcium and vitamin D statuses, particularly if they choose to fully eliminate dairy from their diet. Replacing dairy with an alternative source of calcium, such as broccoli and collard greens, is a good way to ensure adequate intake.

Finally, although the mechanisms are not fully understood, the paleo diet seems to also have an impact on blood levels of glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides. These three biomarkers of metabolism are closely related to chronic disease, such as diabetes and heart disease, and are important to keep track of.

So…Is caveman eating right for you?

You and your healthcare team are the only ones who can answer that question. In the end, the paleo diet follows the basic tenet of most healthy eating plans: whole, unprocessed foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables. InsideTracker can provide you with essential information to help you manage and optimize your own health. Consider checking out which InsideTracker plan is right for you today.

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