Your grandparents had Weight Watchers. Your parents had Atkins and South Beach. You have Paleo.
Okay, maybe you don’t have Paleo because it’s been around for almost 40 years. But this diet, sometimes dubbed the Caveman Diet, has garnered lots of attention from media outlets, nutritionists … and millennials. Let’s debunk it.
Walter L. Voegtlin was on to something in the mid-‘70s when he published The Stone Age Diet, one of the first books to discuss the concept of Paleo eating. In it, the gastroenterologist said that early humans followed a carnivorous diet. After comparing our stomachs and teeth with those of animals, he concluded that cavemen thrived on animal protein because they couldn’t adapt to eating plants. Mind you, cavemen also lived before any agricultural revolution — so accessible carbohydrates and processed dairy were nowhere to be found (or eaten).
More experts jumped into research and made adjustments to Voegtlin’s ideas, and by the 1990s, the Paleo Diet included a variety of wild or grass-fed meats, fish, leafy vegetables, and fats from eggs, avocados, nuts, and olive oil. Basically, you can eat what cavemen ate.
Paleo supporters believe that the diet will lower your risk for obesity, cancer, acne, gout, and autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases. Many athletes follow the regimen for its high levels of protein. And according to U.S. News and World Report, you can lose weight under the diet with certain adjustments. Eating as naturally as possible can’t hurt, either, and many claim to feel their best on the diet.
But for all its popularity, Paleo has some problems. The diet was built on the premise that the way our bodies process food hasn’t changed since the Stone Age, and that we still haven’t adjusted to the grain-rich agricultural revolution that occurred around 10,000 years ago — neither of which are firmly proven facts.
According to Josh Vales, the Paleo Diet also limits your options. Modern food production makes it virtually impossible to eat what cavemen found in the wild. And between choices like oatmeal and bacon on a diner menu, the caveman-follower chooses the bacon because he can’t eat grains. The diet, in some forms, also allows for cheat days where you can eat dairy, carbs, and refined sugar — thereby negating some potential benefits.
Paleo dieters don’t realize the added bodily harm they can cause from avoiding carbs to the extreme. Dieters lose fluid quickly without carbohydrates but can’t effectively burn fat, which accounts for rapid (but unsubstantial) weight loss. Many Americans already get more protein in their diet than they need.
The American Heart Association also mentions that high-protein diets increase saturated fat intake that would have otherwise been displaced by carbohydrates, leading to high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems (things that Paleo claims to prevent). Without carbs and the glucose they produce, your body breaks down fat and makes molecules called ketones — and after a short period, that leads to ketoacidosis. This buildup of acid in the body can cause nausea, weakness, and death in extreme cases. Makes the bacon seem like a poor choice.
Nothing explains why millennials continue to adopt the Paleo lifestyle; maybe we’re simplifying our otherwise noisy lives, or we’re working on fitness. Either way, talk to your doctor before you start living the Stone Age lifestyle and find the balance that works for you.