Deciphering Diets: Paleo

If you don’t know what the Paleo Diet is here’s a quick synopsis a la Wikipedia:

“The Paleolithic diet is a modern nutritional plan based on the presumed diet of Paleolithic humans. It is based on the premise that human genetics have scarcely changed since the dawn of agriculture, which marked the end of the Paleolithic era, around 15,000 years ago, and that modern humans are adapted to the diet of the Paleolithic period.


The Paleolithic diet consists mainly of fish, meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, fungi, roots, and nuts, and excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, potatoes, refined salt, refined sugar, and processed oils.”

Many people who know of the Paleo Diet, and even some who practice it, are not aware that the Paleo style of eating actually dates back to the mid ‘70s. In 1975 self the professed ‘creator’ and grandpappy of Paleo diets, gastroenterologist Dr. Walter L. Voegtlin, self-published a book called The Stone Age Diet: Based on In-depth Studies of Human Ecology and the Diet of Man. The book mainly focuses on Walter’s dietary prescriptions for various digestive problems; namely colitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and indigestion.

Being that this book is what many have used as a backbone for other Paleo dieting materials I’d like to point out two widely ignored facts: 1. good ol’ Walter was not an archeologist/anthropologist or 2. a doctor of nutrition.

Cool Fun Fact: Many of our modern day ‘fad’ diets are invented by men who have zero background in dietetics or nutrition.

dr quack

He’s legit.

That being said, for the most part, I love much of the Paleo Diet philosophy and I believe it provides a decent nutritional framework for most people. (Caveat coming soon.)

Here’s The Good Stuff

No processed food. (a.k.a. refined or convenience foods)

…Don’t eat anything that comes out of a box.
Don’t eat anything with more than 3 ingredients.
Don’t eat anything your great great great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food…


Double Stuffed Oreo?

In a nutshell, all of these metaphors are telling you the same thing – cut out processed foods. Basically, on a Paleo diet, anything that is not a whole food has to go. Adios Doritos, Eggos, Cheerios and all of the other exotic foil wrapped junk foods found in the snack and cereal aisles.

Easy right? But you already kind of knew this one. Most sound diets do not allow fun technologically enhanced, chem-lab flavored foodstuffs like Cheetos so let’s get more specific.

On a Paleo diet the processed food rule also extends to pasta and breads… i.e. anything that uses flour.

At this stage in nutritional knowledge this is pretty much a no-brainer. For the majority of the human population eating fewer processed grains and less refined foods is obviously a healthy choice.

But wait! There’s plenty more stuff you’re not allowed to eat on the Paleo Diet. You also have to toss out anything with chemical additives like high fructose corn syrup and other refined sugars and sugar substitutes. Bye bye coffee with Splenda or Stevia.


But that’s not all…

The Not So Good Stuff

No dairy, legumes, root vegetables, or salt.

On a strict Paleo Diet you must also cut out other ‘processed’ foods such as dairy, legumes, starchy unprocessed root vegetables, and salt.

If we were to be told there were no more ‘dairy’ cows and we had to forgo cheese, yogurt, milk, etc. I think we would all survive just fine.

Lactose Intolerace

An increasing number of people are finding they are mildly to majorly (you know who you are) lactose intolerant anyway so reducing these foods in the average diet, in the long run, is probably a good thing for most people. (See what I keep doing there?)

However, the recommendation to eliminate intact whole grains, minimally processed grains (including stuff like rice and oatmeal), legumes, unrefined unprocessed starchy vegetables, and salt seems to be wildly misguided.

These foods provide key nutrients, are lower in calorie density and may help decrease chances of common chronic diseases (like cancer, heart disease, diabetes).

And no one anywhere should ever cut out salt. I do not have time to address this here but Eric has a salt article coming soon that will explain why this is so important.

Enter Caveat

If you are an athlete elimination of these particular foods will most likely affect your performance over time. Also, if you’re body type is ectomorph, you may wind up feeling pretty shitty the majority of your day if you cut back on total carbohydrate intake too virulently.

These two types of people will often have a really hard time eating enough total calories on a Paleo diet for it to be sustainable long term (and nearly impossible if you are an ectomorphic male athlete trying to GAIN muscle on a Paleo diet). If you are an athlete who is training/working more than 4 hours per day or you are an ectomorph, you will most likely need to adapt the Paleo Diet to include unrefined carbohydrates as your total daily energy demands are most likely far too high to be so restrictive.

The Hilarious Stuff

The Paleolithic Era began nearly 2 million years ago, yet most people, who can’t even remember what they ate over the weekend, are way too obsessed with what our distant relatives were eating oh so long ago.

Cool Fun Fact: Humans have terrible recall when it comes to assessing their food intake if they do not write it down in real time.

Here is my biggest gripe with Paleo. What existed in the Paleolithic era doesn’t really exist today. Think woolly mammoths, dodo birds, saber tooth tigers, giant armadillos and a host of other beasts that would induce pants peeing terror if you were to see them roaming free in your neighborhood.


“For the last time Hank, keep your f*cking horse-rhino out of my yard.”

I would also like to point out one glaring omission in every Paleo Diet… the Paleolithic man definitely consumed insects. That’s right, bugs. So why aren’t all the Paleo dieters running outside and doing a little hunting of their own? Ants for lunch? Grasshopper for dinner? Well, it’s because on average people think eating bugs is fucking gross. So they left that out.


Totally just threw up in my mouth.

But the people of the Paleolithic era didn’t get the types of diseases we have today…?

Well, on average, they didn’t live as long either, which kept them from ever reaching the age of common onset for those types of illnesses.


“Shit. Shit… shit shit shit shit.”

But the Paleolithic man was a sexy, albeit hairy, lean muscular god-like creature?


You can leave your pelt on

Er… not so much. Turns out they were as diverse a people as we are today. Tall, short, lean, fat, smelly to moderately less smelly and so on. Our genetic relationship to the Paleolithic man isn’t the best reason to try and emulate what we (poorly) think they did way back when. We are also 97% genetically similar to rats, but no one is ever going to get on board with my Wild Rat-Man Diet based on our genetic similarity alone.


“I eat garbage”

All right let’s wrap this shiz up.

The important thing to remember here is that our ancient relatives ate out of necessity, not choice, meaning they ate what was available. (Remember the bugs?)

And, as it turns out, more and more archeological evidence is reinforcing newer theories that unrefined wild grains and tubers were actually a part of the Paleolithic diet. There’s even some evidence that winemaking also began in the early Upper Paleolithic era, but most of the Paleo diet books tend to leave that out too.

caveman martini

Everything was bigger back then.

Here’s the skinny on diets. Every diet out there is going to cherry-pick the facts. It is up to you to determine whether or not those facts are truth or rubbish and whether or not they are applicable to your body and total lifestyle.

Most popular diets share the same common principals – which in theory is why they all work, at least for a period of time. Reduce total food intake, eat less junk, eat more whole foods, reduce refined carbohydrates, eat more vegetables, and stick to leaner meats.

After that, it’s just placing an enticing patina over the basics to try and get you to purchase books, supplements, and whatever else they can successfully market to you.


Dead sexy.

To illustrate how this is done I’ve come up with something I think you will all enjoy called:

Somewhat inspired by History and Science
(but actually based on Eric’s and my recent Game of Thrones bender)

To be continued…