Paleolithic Diet

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The paleolithic diet is a fad diet based on the foods that proponents believe Paleolithic humans might likely have eaten, such as meat, nuts, and berries, and excludes food which proponents think Paleolithic humans did not eat, like dairy. The Paleolithic era was a period lasting around 2.5 million years that ended about 10,000 years ago with the advent of agriculture. It was characterized by the use of flint, stone, and bone tools, hunting, fishing, and the gathering of plant foods.

The diet is based on the academically unsupported premise that Paleolithic humans evolved nutritional needs specific to the foods available at that time, and that the nutritional needs of modern humans remain best adapted to the diet of their Paleolithic ancestors. Proponents believe that modern human metabolism has been unable to adapt fast enough to handle many of the foods that have become available since the advent of agriculture. Thus, they believe modern humans are maladapted to eating foods such as grain, legumes, and dairy, and in particular the high-calorie processed foods that are a staple of most modern diets. Proponents claim that modern humans' inability to properly metabolize these comparatively new types of food has led to modern-day problems such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. They claim that followers of the Paleolithic diet may enjoy a longer, healthier, more active life.

Critics of the diet have pointed out that although little is known about the diet of Paleolithic humans, it is very likely that they consumed wild grains and legumes. Additionally, during the 2.6 million year long Paleolithic era, the highly variable climate and worldwide spread of human population meant that humans were, by necessity, nutritionally adaptable, in stark contrast to the claims made by Paleo diet supporters.


A 2015 systematic review of the effects of paleolithic nutrition on metabolic syndrome concluded that there was insufficient evidence for the diet's supposed beneficial effects and treatment potential. As of 2014, there was no conclusive evidence the paleo diet is effective in treating inflammatory bowel disease.

The British Dietetic Association judged the paleo diet a "Jurassic fad" and listed it as one of the five worst celebrity-endorsed diets of 2015, saying it was "unbalanced, time consuming, [and] socially isolating" and so "a sure-fire way to develop nutrient deficiencies". David L. Katz and Stephanie Meller have written that the paleo diet presents a "scientific case" in part because of its anthropological basis, but that there is comparatively limited evidence supporting its health benefit over other popular contemporary diets.

According to evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk of the University of Minnesota: "Those who follow the [paleo] diet may be missing out on vital nutrients, and it is believed that could create long term health problems, in particular for adolescent girls who may be at risk of developing osteoporosis later in life as a result of not getting enough calcium."

History and terminology

The idea of a paleolithic diet can be traced to the work in the 1970s by gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin. The idea was later developed by Stanley Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner, and popularized by Loren Cordain in his 2002 book The Paleo Diet. The terms caveman diet and stone-age diet are also used, as is Paleo Diet, trademarked by Loren Cordain.

In 2012, the paleolithic diet was described as being one of the "latest trends" in diets, based on the popularity of diet books about it; in 2013 the diet was Google's most searched-for weight-loss method. The diet is one of many fad diets that have been promoted in recent times, and draws on an appeal to nature and a narrative of conspiracy theories about how nutritional research, which does not support the supposed benefits of the paleo diet, is controlled by a malign food industry.


Cordain has said the diet requires:

  • More protein and meat: meat, seafood, and other animal products represent the staple foods of modern-day paleo diets, since advocates claim protein constituted 19–35% of the calories in hunter-gatherer diets. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention likewise recommends that 10–35% of caloric intake should come from protein.[19] The increased uptake of meat and proteins should consist of meats from grass-fed animals. Livestock raised on a grass diet are able to incorporate omega-3 fatty acids from grass into their tissue, as opposed to a grain fed diet high in omega-6 rich corn. This includes grass fed meats that are "finished with grains."
  • More fats: advocates recommend that paleo diet adherents should have moderate to higher fat intake, relative to contemporary diets. The fat intake should consist mainly of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and omega-3 fatty acids, and avoiding trans fats, and Omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Less carbohydrates: non-starchy vegetables. The diet recommends the consumption of non-starchy fresh fruits and vegetables to provide 35–45% daily calories and be the main source of carbohydrates. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the acceptable macronutrient distribution range for carbohydrates is 45 to 65 percent of total calories. A typical modern diet mostly provides carbohydrates from grains and dairy products, but both these are excluded in the paleo diet.
  • More fiber: a high fiber intake not from grains, but from non-starchy vegetables and fruits.

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