5 Steps for Eating a Paleo Diet

paleo dietModern agriculture started in the Middle East. Can people here switch to the Paleo Lifestyle and eat like Cave Men?

What should humans eat for optimal health? The key word here is optimal. Our bodies are remarkable machines, and we can manage, more or less, on a wide variety of foods. But what foods work with our natural physiology, rather than against it? While many look to the future and modern food technology for guidance, it may be wise to take a historical approach. Homo sapiens (that’s us humans) have been evolving for a couple million years. Agriculture is believed to have originated just 10,000 years ago – a mere blip in evolutionary terms – in the fertile crescent: present day Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan. So what did people eat before modern agriculture? Let’s take a look.

Cultivating grains, such as wheat, along with the domestication of animals made it possible for humans to settle down in one location for extended periods of time. This assured food supply led to the development of civilization.

However, the change from hunter-gatherer to farmer came at a price. The average height and lifespan in Paleolithic times was actually greater than it was after the transition to a plant-food diet based mostly on grain, according to beyondveg.

This is a clear indication that our bodies were designed for a diet similar to that of Paleolithic man and woman, not that of their Neolithic, wheat-eating cousins. After all, genetically we’re not really different from our Paleo brothers and sisters.

So what does a modern Paleo diet look like?

1. No Industrial Processed Foods: This is a dietary recommendation that almost everyone – vegetarians, conventional eaters, and Paleo eaters alike – can agree on, (if not actually stick to).

2. Eat fresh fish, eggs, meat, and poultry, especially offal: Organ meat packs more nutrients per gram than just about anything else does. Eat the whole animal. Yes, lamb’s testicles too.

3. Eat plenty of vegetables, plus some fruit and nuts: Paleolithic man didn’t cultivate foods, but made use of what was available. Organic, is of course, best. Until recently, all food was organic.

4. No grains: Especially not wheat. Today’s wheat, after years of hybridization, isn’t the wheat that was first cultivated in the Middle East. White flour has very few nutrients, but whole grain flour, and wheat in particular, is loaded with anti-nutrients like phytic acid. It isn’t a coincidence that many people feel better when they ditch the grains.

5. No dairy… well maybe just a little: On dairy, there is less consensus. Many people living the Paleo lifestyle are happy with at least butter, ghee, (or Moroccan smen), and cream.

For Paleo eaters, how food is produced is as important as what you choose to eat. Try to find eggs laid by pastured hens; organic fruit and veggies; meat, fish, and poultry that is humanely raised and not pumped up on chemicals and antibiotics, and so on.

Watch a video on the Paleo Diet:

With our long history of wheat production, North Africa and the Middle East have the world’s highest rates of per capita wheat consumption (links to PDF).

By eating lots of pita, pasta, and bread, and crackers, we may, in fact, be doing significant damage to our digestive systems. It is certainly worth investigating the Paleo lifestyle to see if it can improve your health.

Read more on Paleolithic-type eating:
Eat the Whole Animal: Lamb’s Testicles
Whole Animal Cooking
Making Smen the Old Fashioned Way

Ruth blogs at Ruth’s Real Food
Image via healthhabits.ca

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7 thoughts on “5 Steps for Eating a Paleo Diet”

  1. Roseline Woodruff says:

    Proponents of this diet argue that modern human populations subsisting on traditional diets allegedly similar to those of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers are largely free of diseases of affluence,and that multiple studies of the Paleolithic diet in humans have shown improved health outcomes relative to other widely recommended diets.”^*`

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  2. James says:

    I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2005, and told its an incurable chronic condition. I was taking approx $1000/month medications. I got laid off and lost my health insurance. I was morbidly obese nearly 400lbs when I lost my job, so I decided with time on my hands I should spend that time constructively on weight loss and healthy lifestyle. I gave up all processed foods and most grains, however I still eat oats, legumes and dairy. I could no longer afford my medications so I took a chance and stopped having my rx filled. amazingly none of the symptoms of the ulcerative colitis have returned even though I was told Id need those noxious medications for my entire life. Im now 215 lbs and Ive never felt healthier. in the past year I have run 2 half marathons and numerous other races, and have a full marathon planned for this fall, I attribute all of this to the clean diet Ive been eating. If i had continued eating all the trash I used to put in my body, Id probably have ended up in the hospital by now.

  3. jonathan says:

    Yes – there is wisdom to learn from the ancients: what not to eat – i.e. the real paleo diet, as pointed out by Norm. We have been gathering that intelligence over the ages as we domesticated plants and animals, learned what was safer to eat, how to vaccinate our children against diseases, how to engineer crops to make yet safer foods. What we now do is the cumulative gathering and utilization of knowledge from Paleolithic times to the present. Unfortunately there are amongst us neo-Neanderthals and Luddites who think that the bad old days were good old days. They use copper sulphate instead of modern safe fungicides, pollute the soil such that nothing can grow, but call their products organic wine. They use animal manure on vegetable crops and kill people in one episode after another after poisoning their victims minds that organic vegetables are healthier than vegetables cultivated with modern fertilizers that do not carry Salmonella and E coli. Lets be thinking greens – who do risk/benefit analyses on what balances best for the environment (including the human environment)- instead of being politically-correct knee jerk neo-Neanderthals.

  4. @Norm:

    And ate bugs and worms, possibly feces as well. Not to mention all the megafaunal species they drove to extinction.

    A true “caveman” diet would forage for meat among local wildlife — rats, mice, pigeons, cockroaches, ants, spiders, stray cats and dogs — not buy a piece of fancy domesticated cow flesh from Whole Foods.

    Come to think of it, the caveman diet lifestyle would be a good way to bring down that overpopulation of feral doggies and kitties…

  5. Norm says:

    And they only lived to age 30 and also practiced cannibalism. It wasn’t a very perfect world then either.

    1. I think there is wisdom to glean from looking back in history however.

  6. “This is a clear indication that our bodies were designed for a diet similar to that of Paleolithic man and woman, not that of their Neolithic, wheat-eating cousins. ”

    No, it isn’t. There could be any number of explanations for this “decline.” For instance, agriculture increased reproductive fitness and produced greater population density, which in turn promoted the spread of diseases. It would also have increased the net number of individual variations pulling the observed average down (that is, the pre-Neolithic fossil record may be biased by a smaller sample size).

    And you don’t think wheat- and grain-eating just fell from the sky, do you? We must have been practicing it in some form for quite a long time before the Neolithic.

    It’s possible that a dietary change is the causal factor, but it’s by no means “a clear indication.”

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