Paleolithic diet or Paleo-“mythic” diet?
SWETAK PRADHAN If you or someone you know has recently tried to lose some extra pounds, you’ve probably heard about several “fad diets.” A fad diet is a weight loss plan that general promises dramatic results through unconventional means. However, these diets generally don’t actually result in long term weight loss and are more often than not detrimental or dangerous to one’s health. Some notorious examples of fad diets include the baby food diet, the lemonade diet, and many others that may sound equally outlandish.
A new, local fad diet that has grown very popular among young adults in Austin involves selectively eating foods that our ancestors ate — the term ancestors not referring to our grandparents, but instead to our cavemen ancestors. Coined as the Paleolithic diet, or more colloquially as “going paleo,” this fad diet involves restricting food intake to specific high-quality meats, fish, specific vegetables, some nuts, and excluding any artificial/processed sugars. Essentially, one would eat as if they were a human living in the Paleolithic period.
This eccentric diet has grown from a hipster trend into a mainstream dietary regimen followed by thousands. Paleo even has its own magazines, restaurants, bloggers and an official festival — located in none other than Austin, TX. The event, known as Paleo f(x), is held annually at the end of April.
Proponents of the diet rationalize that, because evolution has had a minimal effect on human digestion since the Paleolithic period, the enzymes and digestive physiology of modern day humans and cavemen are essentially the same. Under this rationale, the foods eaten by modern humans are "unnatural" for our bodies, and so by reverting to the diets of our ancestors, our bodies would be working with the food we were evolutionarily designed to utilize. While this diet may seem far-fetched, a 2015 review saw that the diet led to significant improvements in a human sample’s waist circumference and blood pressure.
“I’ve been trying Paleo for about 2 weeks now,” says 2nd year neuroscience major Amrita Yellepeddy. “I’ve just started the diet, so I haven’t seen result yet, but I guess only time will tell.”
While there are many hopefuls like Amrita, the Paleolithic diet has its fair share of critics. Studies of nomadic human populations show that humans can live healthily with a broad variety of food that our ancestors did not have. Opponents of going paleo claim that humans have actually evolved to be adaptive, flexible eaters, so restricting foods accomplishes nothing.
In the end, opponents and proponents can agree that further formal research needs to be conducted to really see the legitimacy of this diet, but until then, it’s at least created a supportive community.