If you thought you were getting sick of hearing the term “gluten-free” in your local hip urban restaurant, you are in for a change with the latest health food trend – “paleo.”
After seeing a paleo cookbook in my local library a couple years ago, the term came into my realm of consciousness but only passingly. It wasn’t until I witnessed a coworker order butter-less poached eggs in a cup at the café we worked at and a friend eating a heaping bowl of vegetables recently that I remembered the diet again.
Short for Paleolithic, the paleo diet is one that is based on the types of foods that were presumably eaten by early humans. According to paleodiet.com, paleo can be simplified to the consumption of “foods that we ate prior to agriculture and animal husbandry” and the exclusion of “foods that result FROM agriculture or animal husbandry.” In attempts to remove the pretentious subtext that comes from “animal husbandry,” this can be simplified to PROCESSED FOODS. No grain, no dairy, no sugar, and especially no fake foods!
Research biochemist and author of The Paleo Solution Robb Wolf endlessly lists the benefits of going paleo with his book such as stable blood sugar, clear skin, better teeth, improved sleep pattern, reduced allergies, and balanced energy throughout the day.
Shape Magazine, like many fitness blogs, also commends the Paleo diet. “It’s unprocessed, it reduces bloat, it’s high in fruit and vegetables, it’s high in healthy fats, and it’s filling.”
The most common argument to the paleo diet is evolution: Our bodies have simply adapted and changed since this era for agriculture and processed foods, but in such a way that is beneficial to the human body. This week, The Washington Post explored the growing debate around the paleo diet:
“Two relatively recent gene variants help humans survive with deficiencies characteristic of agricultural diets; another genetic shift appears to help fight the dental cavities that arose with farm-based staples; another changes the way humans digest fats; dozens of others help fight the diseases that came with living at higher densities.”
Pro-paleos counter argue that our bodies have been calibrated for the hunter-gatherer lifestyle for much longer than our adaptation for agriculture. Thus, we are more benefited by the paleo diet. Melvin Konner, a professor whose research on Paleolithic nutrition is quoted in the Post:
“The newly discovered genetic differences between Paleolithic hunter-gatherers and modern humans are not very numerous. Although there may be some ways in which humans have adapted to agricultural diets, those are far outnumbered by the ways in which human bodies remain suited for the Paleo era.”
However, the nature of the unprocessed foods we eat today has changed as well. In 2014, The Atlantic compared different diet trends, including the Paleo, nothing, “the composition of most meat in today’s food supply is not similar to that of mammoth meat, and that most plants available during the Stone Age are today extinct.”
Like any diet, whether or not you decide to go Paleo, or even modify your eating habits to closer resemble your Paleolithic ancestors, take into consideration what your own body will adapt best to, and just how long you expect the diet to last before kale re-triumphs the next health craze.