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If you’re anything like me, you love sugary, fatty, refined foods. They’ve become a staple of modern American diets, filling in the cracks before, between, and after mealtimes (and many times even during). These foods have adverse affects, sure, and we all claim to know them, but we still keep right on eating our way through the cookie and bread aisle, leaving plastic wrappers and sweet crumbs in our wake.
The paleolithic diet (better known as paleo) is designed to eliminate those refined foods from our diet, as well as all instances of processed sugar, carbohydrates, dairy, starches, and even alcohol. It focuses on staples like fruits and vegetables, as well as lean meats, seafood, nuts, and unsaturated fats.
On its face, it seems intuitive—if you want to feel better, eat better. One Google search can confirm this—sites will tell you about our modern diet being “at the root of degenerative diseases such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, depression, and infertility.”
That’s a hell of a lot to unpack all at once, but despite the seeming outrageousness of the claim, it still doesn’t come across as that crazy. After all, eating natural foods and cutting down on things that slow you down and build fat—carbs, saturated fat, sugar, etc.—doesn’t seem like the worst formula to feel better physically.
There is scientific literature to back that up—a study published in 2014 found that a paleo diet was more effective in reversing metabolic syndrome in patients with strong risk factors for diabetes. Another in 2009 found that people with Type 2 diabetes on a paleo diet finished with lower triglyceride and blood pressure levels than their conventional diet counterparts.
As with any other diet, there are people who absolutely swear by paleo. In a 2014 article published by the Huffington Post, Dr. John Berardi outlines that paleolithic humans’ diet consisted of three times more produce than the typical American diet, as well as more protein, fiber, unsaturated fat, vitamins and minerals, and of course less saturated fat and sodium.
The article is a pros and cons list about paleo, though, and eventually he gets to the main idea—that a “best diet,” one designed for every person on the planet, doesn’t work terribly well. People are different depending on where they’re born, what they’re born with, and how they’ve been raised. Dr. Michael Pollan, also writing in 2014, for Mother Jones, explains that meat today is nothing like the meats our paleolithic ancestors ate, as they’re “fed artificial diets of corn and grains, and beefed up with hormones and antibiotics.”
That seems obvious, and though it’s still popular, the connection to evolutionary diets is probably why the craze has died down since its apex a few years ago. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be taken from paleo diets—namely to eat fruits and vegetables, focus on lean meats, and generally being more conscious about what to feed your body. Just don’t forget to acknowledge your modernity.