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Whole Gourmet Natural Cooking

Alison Anton's Natural Cooking Blog offers healthy recipes, inspirational food articles and culinary advice for the natural chef, and features dessert recipes from her upcoming cookbook, Desserts for Every Body.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Caveman Diet

The paleolithic diet, or "paleo" diet for short, is the original diet that humans consumed before the advent of agriculture. It's based on our old hunter and gatherer ways of eating that consisted of lean meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Everything else, like wheat, all other grains, flours, sugar, dairy products, beans, legumes and starchy tubers, are out.

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Why? The answer is simple: According to paleo experts and anthropologists, humans were really not designed to eat these foods in the first place. Since we've only been eating agricultural foods (wheat, grains, dairy, etc.) for some 10,000 years, paleo scientists agree that it just hasn't been long enough for our bodies to adapt. For the 2.5 million years before then, the hunter-gatherer diet was the diet we "grew up" on.

Although some people seem to fare well with a modern diet of milk, wheat, sugar and grains, others have a harder time. Allergies, food intolerances, gastro-intestinal upset, yeast overgrowth, fatigue, menstrual disorders, chronic muscular pain, and a whole slough of other symptoms and diseases are showing up on the radar. These are becoming more widely recognized as related to the foods we eat. Folks who suffer from these symptoms may benefit from a simpler diet that's free of the common trigger foods.

Get the Recipes!
Beef Stew with Roots and Winter Squash
Tilapia on Vegetables Primavera

Here's a look at the "Yes" and "No" foods on the paleo diet, and why:

"Yes" Foods

Lean Meats, Poultry and Seafood - These make up almost half of the foods eaten on the paleo diet. Animal protein is consumed with just about every meal. Choose wisely though: fatty cuts (bacon, chops, chicken legs, ribs, etc.) should be avoided.

Vegetables - Almost all vegetables are good choices on this diet. Even the mildly starchy varieties, such as carrots, parsnips, winter squash and turnips, are valued. Raw and cooked vegetables should make up nearly half the diet, as they give us fiber to help digest the meat and provide us with many nutrients.

Fresh Fruits - Fruits can be eaten throughout the day. There is no limit or "carb counting" for these power-packed foods that provide us with disease-fighting nutrients, vitamins, minerals and fiber. For people battling with insulin conditions, such as diabetes, insulin resistance or syndrome X, sweet fruits should be limited or restricted.

Nuts and Seeds - Nuts and seeds have good fats, some protein and minerals. The "good fats", namely the omega 3's, are needed to balance cholesterol levels (especially when eating all that meat!) and support brain function. Since nuts are so concentrated in fat, people trying to lose weight might want to limit consumption to a small handful a day.

Dried Fruits - These can be eaten in moderation when you've got the sweet tooth. That means raw desserts are on the menu! See the Natural Cooking July '07 eLetter to learn all about how to make raw desserts that are both healthy and totally satisfying.

"No" Foods

Grains and legumes (including flours) - Grains and legumes contain what are called "anti-nutrients". These can interfere with the absorption of some minerals in the body. Some, but not all, of them are cooked out when heated. Many grains, especially the ones in the wheat family, are related to mild and severe gastro-intestinal problems.

Milk and Daily Products - Studies show that some people of Northern European ancestry and a few African tribes have genetically adapted to tolerate milk sugar after infancy (NY Times, 2006) but most others still aren't able to digest it very well, causing stomach upset, allergies, bloating, diarrhea and other conditions.

Starchy Tubers - According to Dr. Loren Cordain, a leading expert on the paleo diet, our paleolithic ancestors probably didn't eat too many of these. They are toxic when eaten raw and were probably eaten only in emergency situations. Starches are also linked with diabetes and other insulin conditions, as well as obesity.

That being said, the paleo diet is probably the hardest diet to follow. It's hard enough to give up just one of the staples from our standard American diet, but to give up almost all of them? For most, just the thought of this might tip the scales. But if you are one of those people (and you know who you are) who has struggled with unanswerable problems with immunity, digestion, and general health, the long term benefits of this simple way of eating might outweigh the quick fix and convenience from our modern staples.


At 1:32 PM , Anonymous Lynne Hagan said...


Thanks for the reminder. Naturally, because I work for a meat company (D'Artagnan), I'm a big believer in meat, the more the better...but it's helpful to be reminded once in a while. Love your site!



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