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  • The Palaeolithic Diet

    “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” Theodosius Dobzhansky

    The Bottom Line

    My advice – make sure that at least 80% of your food intake is from this list of “Healthy Foods”:

    • Grass-fed Meat (or any unprocessed meat if unable to find grass-fed meat)
    • Organ meats (liver, kidney, sweetbreads, black pudding etc…)
    • Fish
    • Eggs
    • Root Vegetables
    • Vegetables
    • Fruit (whole fruit – not smoothies or juices)
    • Herbs
    • Nuts (except for peanuts, which are actually legumes)

    And avoid these foods as much as you can:

    • Refined Sugar
    • All Grains (i.e. bread, pasta, rice, bran, oats, porridge, chapatis, cereals, wraps, cakes and all other foods made from grains)
    • Dairy Products
    • Refined Vegetable Oils
    • Alcohol
    • Fruit juices and Smoothies
    • Processed Meat (i.e. meat which contains salt, preservatives or refined oil)
    • Pulses and Legumes (lentils, beans and peanuts)


    The In-Betweeners:

    My self-experiment.

    The Palaeolithic Diet
    A few years ago I stumbled upon evidence suggesting that the current dietary guidelines might be flawed. Cue for my lifelong obsession with diets to turn into an addiction to reading the latest research papers on nutrition.
    With an open mind, I embarked on a quest to unearth the healthiest diet; the unexpected and somewhat surprising conclusion was that the healthiest diet is the Palaeolithic diet. Although in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been in the least bit surprised – we apply evolutionary principles to everything else in biology, why not to nutrition as well?

    So what is ‘The Palaeolithic Diet’?
    It is the diet that man ate for the first 95% of his existence.
    (aka ‘Paleo Diet’, ‘Caveman Diet’ or ‘Stone Age Diet’).

    A simple way of remembering how to eat like a Caveman:
    1) Eat meat (preferably grass-fed and unprocessed), fish (ideally that is caught in a sustainable way) and eggs.
    2) Eat organ meat at least once a week.
    3) Add in a few vegetables, root vegetables and a little bit of fruit.
    4) Cut out grains, refined sugars, milk, legumes and cooking oils.
    Not a particularly cheap way of eating in the short run, but extremely cheap in the long run.

    Does this mean no bread, pasta, rice, bran, oats, porridge, chapatis, cereals, wraps, cakes, desserts, chickpeas, lentils and peanuts? Sadly, yes it does.
    Am I telling you to give up these delicious foods permanently? No, this isn’t what I’m saying. I am not a tyrant (my children might disagree), so I am not telling any one to eat this way 100% of the time, (although it would certainly be good if you could!). One has to be realistic; my aim is to get you to reduce your consumption of these foods.

    Just as lions thrive on a carnivorous diet and elephants thrive on a herbivorous diet, Homo Sapiens thrives on the omnivorous diet which he has been used to eating for the last 200,000 years.
    The problem is that many new foods, which weren’t around in the previous 190,000 years of our existence, have appeared on our menu in the last 10,000 years. It seems that we haven’t fully adapted to these relatively new foods – this is the crux of why the Paleo diet is healthy, and why many modern diets are not.

    A common criticism of the Paleo diet is that we have actually adapted to grains and dairy – after all eating a sandwich or drinking a glass of milk isn’t going to make most people drop dead immediately. But then neither is smoking a pack of cigarettes – certain toxins and carcinogens take years to wreak their havoc.
    If one looks at people who eat a diet similar to pre-historic Man, they have virtually none of the diseases that are endemic in the modern Western world.

    Click here for some corroborating evidence from the Kitava Study.

    Another criticism of the Paleo diet is that it cuts out whole food groups – grains and dairy. But one doesn’t cast aspersions on vegans for cutting out whole food groups (meat and dairy), even though veganism without supplements leads to many nutritional deficiencies (it is impossible to get adequate vitamin B12 from a vegan diet).
    So why lambast the Paleo diet for cutting out whole food groups, when actually it leads to an increased intake of vitamins and minerals? This increase in ‘micronutrients’ is in fact one of the key differences between the Paleo diet and most modern diets.

    Click here for a summary of the benefits of cutting out milk, refined oil, refined sugar, grains and legumes from your diet.


    Why should we as a society change our diet?
    Because the standard Western diet puts you at an increased risk for obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, autoimmune diseases, allergies, osteoporosis and psychiatric illnesses.
    Being slim and fit does reduce your risk for many diseases. But being slim, fit and Paleo virtually abolishes your risk for many Western diseases. (And remember you might also be a TOFI – ‘Thin on the Outside, Fat on the Inside’).

    What’s different about the Paleo diet?
    Once you have consumed a certain minimum to cover essential requirements, there are no constraints on how much fat, protein or carbohydrate that you eat.

    What is of paramount importance is the source of the fat, protein or carbohydrate that you eat.

    Part of the attraction of this way of eating is that your appetite control mechanisms start working as they should, and you naturally stop eating when you are full.
    So there’s no need to worry about:
    1) Counting calories.
    2) Portion size.
    3) How much fat, carbohydrate or protein you are eating.

    For example, eating large amounts of fat from avocados and steamed fish is fine, but it’s not so healthy to consume vast amounts of sunflower oil.
    And carbohydrates from whole fruit are healthy, whereas carbohydrates from refined sugar aren’t.
    This is such an important tenet of the Palaeolithic diet, that it is worth repeating:
    Neither fat nor carbs are your enemies. It is the source of the fat or carbohydrate – or protein – that is important.
    So there’s no need to vilify any of them.

    The source of calories matters because different foods have different effects on your body – specifically on hormones and the parts of your brain that control your appetite. The human body is an extremely complex system – all foods that we consume undergo some form of biochemical processing, so it isn’t surprising that calories from kale will be processed differently to calories from cake (some metabolic processes cause energy to be lost as heat, others cause energy to be stored as fat).
    A whole post dedicated to ‘all calories are not equal’ is in the pipeline. Until then, click here for an explanation of why a calorie might not always be a calorie.

    10 Advantages of the Paleo Diet:

    1. Reduces your risk for Western diseases.
    2. There’s no need to starve yourself or count calories on this regime.
    3. Calorie-for-calorie it makes you feel more full than other diets.
    4. No need to worry about portion size.
    5. Increases your muscle mass and reduces your fat mass.
    6. Improves your Gut Bacteria profile.
    7. High in vitamins and minerals – no need for supplements.
    8. Reduces inflammation.
    9. Improves insulin sensitivity.
    10. Gives you higher energy levels.

    Disadvantages of the Paleo Diet:

    1. In the short run it is more expensive than other diets.
    2. Your street credibility might go down due to some people thinking that you are just following the latest fashionable diet – remind these people that this is the way Man ate for the previous 190,000 years of his existence. Not exactly a new fad.

    If the evidence is so clearcut and convincing, why hasn’t the entire medical community embraced this diet?
    Mainly because most doctors haven’t seen the evidence, but also because it’s hard to change your mindset.

    The reluctance of the medical community to accept change is tragically illustrated in the story of Dr Semmelweis:

    Semmelweis Story

    A bit more corroborating evidence:
    There is now incontrovertible archaeological evidence to show that the average man’s health, height and longevity took a serious downturn with the advent of agriculture. Contrary to popular opinion, the transition to a grain based diet meant taking a step backward as far as man’s health is concerned.

    Now that grains have done their job and helped civilise us, maybe its time to discard them and go back to the diet that biologically suits us?

    Some of you might be concerned about the effects of the entire population going Paleo on the planet. Read Richard Reese’s “Sustainable or Bust” to look at some of the causes of our current predicament, as well as options to avert the current suicidal course of humanity. It is eminently possible for all to go Paleo without ruining the planet.

    We may be civilised and living longer than ever, but are we healthier and happier? “Health and the rise of civilisation”, written by an anthropologist, Mark Nathan Cohen, challenges the commonly held idea that civilisation has improved the lot of everyone on this planet.

    Click here for an excellent review and summary of this book by Alfred W. Crosby.

    A question that some of you might have on your mind – do I eat this way all of the time? Unfortunately no. So much of our social lives revolve around eating (and drinking!), that I would risk losing many friends if I were rigid and inflexible. Not a good idea to turn up at a friend’s place for dinner and say that you are ‘Paleo’, only to discover that the menu consists of risotto, pasta and Crème Brûlée.

    In January a vegetarian friend put on an amazing Paleo meal for my birthday – quite a feat! Slowly but surely I’m converting my friends to my way of thinking.
    Or maybe resistance is futile? It could be that they are fed up with my evangelical rantings about the Paleo diet.

    And finally, those all-or-nothing chapters of my life are over; I now have no desire to cut things out completely from my life. Certainly no more vegetarian, vegan or fishetarian phases for me. And I do occasionally eat unhealthy foods such as pizza, pasta and ice cream; I try not to feel guilty when I do give in to these enticing temptations.
    My rule now is to keep at least 80% of my diet in the healthy range and not to worry too much about the rest.
    Or to look at it another way – 17 out of 21 meals every week is roughly the same as 80% – i.e. 4 cheat meals a week allowed. Easy-peasy!

    Click below for more information on the Paleo Diet:

    The Story of Mokolo the Gorilla: How he shed 65 pounds whilst doubling his calorie intake.

    Is there such a thing as one single Hunter-Gatherer diet?

    How Man's ancestral diet ties in with evolution.

    Didn't Caveman die at thirty?

    '10 Paleo Myths Busted'

    10 FAQs about the Paleo Diet.

    Further reading

    “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” Theodosius Dobzhansky

    Many thanks to Staffan Lindeberg, Pedro Carrera-Bastos, Maelán Fontes-Villalba and Ekta Thakur for proof reading this post.


    These three links on vegetarianism are from the website of the eminent Loren Cordain:
    Problems with being vegetarian Part 1

    Problems with being vegetarian Part 2

    Problems with being vegetarian Part 3

    I have no personal issues with vegetarians – one of my sons and two close friends are vegetarian; but I do think they should be aware of the nutritional problems associated with their lifestyle choices.

    Coming up soon:

    Next week, the blood results from my ongoing 3 month experiment of eating Paleo 80% of the time.

    And the week after, results from my 2 week study of the Paleo diet on a group of friends.

    And thanks also to Derek Kirk for sorting out all the coding problems on this site!

    Posted in Health & Nutrition, Home Page.


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