The Caveman Diet: To Go or Not to Go Paleo?
Andreea Macoveiciuc | On 14, Jan 2014
45 million Americans diet annually and $33 billion are spent on weight loss products each year in the U.S. The average woman starts dieting at age 16 and spends 31 years on a diet, while men spend 28 years trying to get slimmer. On average, 45-year adults try 61 diets throughout their lifetime.
What do these number tell us? That dieting is a national pastime in the U.S., as someone said?
Maybe, but what I see in these statistics is that people are inconsistent when it comes to their eating habits and weight goals. One does not go on a diet to lose 1 or 2 pounds, most people who decide trying a new diet do so because they want to drop a higher amount of body fat, and this means that their eating habits and lifestyles are usually unhealthy.
The key in maintaining a normal body weight is not trying diet after diet, but finding that eating regimen that suits your lifestyle and provides your body with all the needed nutrients for proper functioning. In other words, you shouldn’t think of your eating regimen as a “diet”, but see it as part of your lifestyle.
The more balanced an eating strategy is, the more likely it is for you to follow it for a longer time interval. So today we’ll discuss the most searched diet of 2013: the Caveman diet.
What is the Caveman regimen?
Also referred to as the Paleo Diet or Stonge Age Diet, this regimen is an eating strategy that promotes the consumption of foods high in proteins and fibers and low in carbs, the principle behind this diet being that if you eat like a caveman, you’ll be healthier, in better shape and able to manage your weight easier.
As its name implies, the regimen is based on the eating habits of our prehistoric ancestors, who were fitter, leaner and healthier than the average individuals of modern times. It promotes the idea that you can shed off the extra pounds without needing to cut on calories, by simply watching the foods you eat and avoiding anything that’s processed and loaded with “fake” ingredients.
If a caveman didn’t have the possibility to eat a certain product, you shouldn’t be eating it either, as it means it’s not real food. To a paleo follower, real foods are meat, fish, veggies and fruits, nuts, seeds and roots.
Lots of people who embrace this lifestyle do so due to health issues, or because they want to drop weight fast, but without having to starve themselves or to exercise. However, there are also followers who switch to this eating regimen because it’s a trend, it doesn’t care about calories, or because they want to gain mass. You can find a funny classification of paleo followers here.
Now, if you love dairy, grains, legumes, processed oils, salt and sugary products, this diet may not the best choice for you, unless you’re willing to do some significant changes in your lifestyle. Still, if you feel you need some additional information before making this decision, here are a few facts on the caveman diet and its advantages and drawbacks.
Advantages of the Caveman diet
This diet is not geared only toward people who hit the gym daily and need lots of proteins to maintain their gains and put on more mass. The caveman eating plan is recommended to anyone who wants to stay at a healthy weight and avoid the common health issues caused by a high consumption of processed foods and high carb products.
The great part about the paleo regimen is that you get to eat a lot of meat – chicken, turkey, pork, beef, fish, and as you know, foods with a higher content of proteins are digested slower, so it’s quite unlikely to experience hunger pangs after a real paleo meal. Moreover, your stomach will be busy digesting foods for a longer interval, so it’ll burn more calories for destroying the eaten products, even if you practice no exercise at all.
Then, you are allowed to eat huge amounts of nuts. Ok, maybe not huge, but the paleo diet encourages the consumption of nuts and seeds, which provide proteins and lots of good fatty acids. As you probably know, it’s a lot easier to drop the excess weight if you incorporate good fats in your diet, and these products make great replacements for the commercial, sugary or salt-filled snacks.
However, if you’re not into this type of snacks, you can always pick a bowl of berries, a banana, oranges, or whatever fruits you prefer. Veggies can also be consumed in high amounts in this diet, as long as they’re not deep-fried, and tubers like yams and sweet potatoes are recommended as well. Plus, you can start your mornings with delicious omelets, prepared with olive oil, avocado or coconut oil.
As you can see, no processed foods are mentioned here. This is excellent for your health, as it means faster and easier weight loss, lower risk of heart disease or diabetes, smoother skin, lower risk of acne, lower risk of cancer and a leaner body. These are the main health benefits linked with the paleo diet, plus an increased athletic performance in people who exercise (paleo workouts, here).
The caveman diet is high in soluble fibers, antioxidants, phytochemicals, omega-3 fatty acids, low glycemic index carbs and monounsaturated fats, so it’s a great source of nutrients for the organism. Also, it’s effective in curbing cravings for unhealthy foods, as the denser (real) foods keep the stomach full for longer.
Quick summary of the advantages, before jumping to disadvantages:
- A better nourished body
- Better digestion, fewer hunger pangs
- Better control over sugar cravings
- Lower risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer
- Better looking skin, lower risk of acne
- No calorie counting
- Higher energy levels
- No exercise plan needed
- Suitable for any age
- Easier weight loss
- Higher amounts of alkaline foods, meaning healthier bones and muscles, healthier blood pressure levels, lower risk of kidney stones, lower risk of asthma
- Less likely to experience spikes in blood sugar levels
- Lower sodium intake, lower risk of edema and unhealthy fluid retention
- No gluten, so a lower risk of acid reflux, joint problems or dermatitis
Drawbacks of the Paleo diet
A caveman didn’t consume candies, pastries, pasta, noodles, bread, cheeses, and surely didn’t have access to all the junk products we eat today, so these are forbidden in the Paleo diet. Consumption of potatoes and sweet potatoes is also forbidden by some Paleo theoreticians, and beans – including kidney beans, lentils, peanuts, peas and snow peas – should be avoided as well.
Refined vegetable oils, such as canola oil, are forbidden. Peanuts and cashews should also be removed from your menu if you decide giving this regimen a try (adieu peanut butter sandwiches). As for milk, opinions are different: some say raw milk is ok, others believe milk was only consumed by kids in ancient times, so no adult should drink it.
At this point you may not be convinced the Paleo diet works, and it you only want to try it for a week or two, I’d suggest to forget about it, as in order to get results with this eating regimen, you need to turn it into your lifestyle for a couple of months, not days.
If your current diet consists of lots of carbs and junk or processed foods, it’s very likely to experience some unpleasant symptoms at the beginning, mostly due to the sudden decrease of daily sugar intake. The caveman diet doesn’t allow for typical desserts, so once you switch to this eating plan, your main snacks and treats will be made of fruits, nuts and seeds.
Let me translate this: no more chocolate bars, unless they’re paleo. No more doughnuts, muffins and candies, birthday cake, buttery pancakes, cheesecake, no more of these. Unless they’re paleo. As you ca see, the caveman regimen is a tough one for those with a sweet tooth, but sounds like a good choice for meat lovers.
It’s excellent for those who don’t like scheduled meals, as it allows one to have a more consistent breakfast, then skip lunch and eat a larger dinner. Also, it’s a good pick for those who want to try intermittent fasting for a couple of weeks or months (we’ll discuss this strategy in a future article as well).
To conclude, the main disadvantages of this eating regimen are:
- Highly restrictive, may not be suitable for grain lovers
- Difficult to eat if living with someone else and / or at social occasions
- Requires some planning, especially when on a budget
- Based somehow on speculation, see the peanut and cashew comment
- Unpleasant side effects in the first weeks, due to sugar and carbs withdrawal
- Not suitable for vegetarians / vegans
- No packed foods, might be difficult to follow by those with office jobs
- No peanut butter
Verdict time: to paleo or not to paleo?
I’m a peanut butter addict so I don’t follow the Paleo trend, but I do believe it promotes some valuable ideas with regard to one’s eating habits, and these are:
- Dairy products are inflammatory in lots of people, thus it’s a smart idea to consume them in lower amounts, or avoid them completely. You can get the nutrients they provide from paleo foods as well, and these come with no lactose included.
- A higher protein and fiber intake is great for one’s health.
- Veggies and fruits provide minerals and vitamins, so they’re a great source of nutrients for a well fed body.
- Lots of people are intolerant or sensitive to gluten, so removing grains from their diet might be a good idea.
- The caveman diet discourages the consumption of junk foods and sugar.
The caveman diet is definitely healthier than the SAD (Standard American Diet) one. It’s easier to follow than the vegetarian or vegan regimens, and less complicated than all those diets out there than require one to count calories and nutrients all day long.
Contrary to popular belief, the caveman diet is not designed for bodybuilders or crossfitters, and can be followed by men and women alike, regardless of their age.