Is It Healthier To Eat Like A Caveman?

by | Mar 7, 2012

Photo by Lord Jim

“What do you think of the Paleo diet which advocates zero grain consumption?”

The Paleolithic diet is one of the most rapidly growing diet trends of the past several years. Followers of the Paleo diet argue that humans have not evolved to eat agriculture-based foods and can only achieve optimal health by consuming a hunter-gatherer style diet. Thus the Paleo diet is completely devoid of grains and legumes, and also shuns dairy, salt, refined sugar and processed oils. The diet is composed primarily of meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, roots, nuts and seeds.

(The Wikipedia article on the Paleo diet is actually pretty good if you’d like to read up on the details. I particularly like the Opposing views section.)

Like most diets the Paleo diet has a little bit of good science behind it, but also a lot of logical leaps and baseless assumptions. The evolutionary argument that humans are somehow maladapted to agriculture-based diets is particularly unconvincing (resting on many unproven assumptions), yet is the fundamental premise on which the Paleo diet bases its recommendations.

The reasoning behind the Paleo diet is less interesting to me, however, than the impact of the diet itself. Will “eating like a caveman” really help you be healthier?

Possibly, but not necessarily.

The most obvious advantage of the Paleo diet is the lack of processed foods. There is ample evidence that societies on traditional diets boast far better health than those on modern, Western diets–and the hallmark of modern diets is food processing. Paleo diets therefore are low in sugar, refined carbohydrates, trans fats, excess salt and pretty much everything else that leads to “diseases of civilization.”

Paleo diets are also abundant in healthy, nutrient-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish and meats. I have no doubt that anyone willing to stick to a Paleo eating plan will have a healthy weight and remain virtually free of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and may even have lower rates of cancer.

But the question still remains, is it necessary to eat Paleo to be healthy?

This is where I take issue with the Paleo philosophy. While a diet completely free of processed foods is undeniably healthy, the Paleo diet goes beyond this and demands considerable sacrifice.

Paleo diets do not allow for any grains or legumes. This pretty much eliminates every traditional cuisine on earth including Japanese, Italian, Indian and Greek. Not only is this a culinary tragedy, it ignores the fact that these cuisines feed some of the world’s healthiest and longest-lived individuals.

Traditional, global diets that exclude highly processed foods but also include grains and legumes have been some of the most successful for health. Diseases of civilization are only problematic in Western cultures where processed foods make up a large proportion of the calories and few whole food are consumed.

Proponents of the Paleo diet argue that it is necessary to eliminate grains and legumes because they contain “antinutrients,” substances that can interfere with the body’s absorption of other important vitamins, minerals and proteins. However, well-nourished individuals who eat a varied diet of unprocessed foods (including grains and legumes) are not nutrient deficient and are generally healthy.

Given that it is possible to thrive on a diet that includes some grains, legumes and even small amounts of processed foods, one must question if giving up the culinary joys of travel and global cuisine are really worth the sacrifice.

In my experience, food substitutions and modified recipes designed to mimic traditional meals can sometimes be tasty but can never replace true authenticity.

Another contention I have with the Paleo diet is the assumption that the same eating patterns will work for everyone. People’s lives differ in countless ways. We each have different levels of daily activity, demands on our time and food preferences. We also have different genetic backgrounds, which can result in significant differences in metabolism and hormone levels. These individual variations make dietary needs different for each of us.

Because of our individual differences, there is undoubtedly a percentage of the population that thrives on the Paleo diet and finds it easy to stick to and achieve results. Hooray! However there may also be a segment of the population (myself included) that finds living without grains and legumes to be chronically unsatisfying and unsustainable.

Try telling a foodie they can never eat cheese or drink wine again and see how far you get pitching a Paleo diet.

If you currently eat a typical Western diet with little variety and many processed foods, tend to have better success following rigid diet plans, and have no qualms about giving up or modifying traditional meals to meet your dietary demands, then you might have luck following the Paleo diet. However there is no reason to believe it is the only path to good health.

The best diet is the one that works for you. Finding a healthstyle you can embrace and enjoy is essential if you want to build a lifetime of healthy habits.

Do you follow a Paleo diet? What do you think?

Originally published February 22, 2010.

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147 Responses to “Is It Healthier To Eat Like A Caveman?”

  1. I’ve got two general rules for diet, one that came to me while reading Michael Pollan, the other I can’t remember the source.

    From Pollan — no, it’s not the “eat food” one — is the idea that a healthy diet is defined more by what you add to it than by what you take away. If you add enough fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet, you’ll eat less processed junk as a matter of course. But it’s easier for most people to think about what they will eat than to focus on what they can’t eat.

    Second is a bit of advice on starting a new diet. Before you even try it just look at what a month’s worth of meals on that diet will be like. If you can’t imagine having to live on that, don’t bother starting.

  2. mike mallory says:

    I’m a DEFINITE foodie out here in Boulder CO, and I’ve had no problem ditching grains for good.

    It’s been entirely sustainable, and I feel about a thousand times better too. When you rehab backs for a living, you quickly find out what does and doesn’t work as far as food goes! bad food in–>abdominal wall shuts down

    I think they’re milk dairy info is a bit off, but I generally eat pretty damn well off a paleo-esque diet, and feel in no way restricted.

    cheers-

  3. Hester says:

    This is so trippy to be reading about this because we learned about the Ancestral Diet in my Biology of Integrative Medicine class this past Fall quarter. And in it we compared the Ancestral Diet to ours of today and looked at four main factors- % wholeness, ORAC score, glycemic index, and Omega 6:3 ratio.

    The numbers of today are ASTOUNDING compared to the Ancestral Diet. And it makes sense because of the lives and culture that we have compared to way back then. Thanks for writing this, Darya! It sure does make one think… which is a good thing 🙂

  4. Brandon W says:

    As you know, I personally eat a semi-paleo diet. My differences are that I eat dairy, use a little sea salt, and occasionally eat small amounts of whole grain rice. In addition to the evidence I saw in “Good Calories/Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes, I also learned quite a bit investigating gluten and symptoms of gluten-intolerance. As an experiment, I eliminatied all grains from my diet, eliminated all legumes (except peanuts), and reduced my fruit consumption. I focused my meals on fatty meats – for example, buying chicken thighs instead of lean breasts – and vegetables, along with eggs and a variety of cheese and other dairy. By the end of the first week the bloating and mild gastrointestinal pain that I’d lived with and assumed were normal went away. My blood sugar stabilized. I never got hungry until it was genuinely time to eat a meal. Since then, I’ve re-introduced an occasional helping of whole brown rice to meals that are enhanced by it (rarely more than once every two weeks).

    Now, maybe not everyone has some form of gluten or wheat intolerance. But I can tell you that the effects on my blood sugar, appetite, and overall feeling of health have been worth the changes, on their own.

    I think it’s important that if someone wants to attempt a paleo (or similar) diet that they realize it’s not about eating all-protein, all the time. Extreme excesses of protein can be bad for you, too. The key is to have dietary fats and a variety of vegetables. This will include fats from meat, dairy (if you choose to include it), nuts, oils, etc. Buy the dark, fatty cuts of meat (which are cheaper, anyway). Get the whole milk or 2% milk; just remember that milk is a food, part of the meal, not a drink. Find a collection of vegetables you like and enjoy cooking and keep them on-hand. This way meals can be delicious and easy to make.

  5. thomas says:

    What do you count as traditional? Italians had bread for at least a few thousand years (although in a different form of what we have nowadays)

    and one thing that bugs me is the new trend of reducing gluten and milk. sure, 50% of white people don’t seem to be able to process lactose properly but shouldn’t you get a doctor on that before you remove gluten/lactose from your diet :/

    • djinn says:

      Hi, Thomas –
      What is the point of leaving them in? Esthetics?

      • thomas says:

        taste? feta with olive oil is damn tasty 😉

      • djinn says:

        You bet! Paleo eating is not a religion – I eat cheese too.
        But I don’t eat wheat at all. No point, and though people vary a lot in their gluten tolerance, why use a little poison when you can avoid it? Don’t confuse the SAD (standard american diet) with a good diet just because that’s what (almost) everybody eats and it’s handy.
        Scroll down to my comment for details and results.

      • Darya Pino says:

        Funny you should use the word “religion” since I was just thinking some people were starting to sound that way. 3 cheers for cheese!

    • Ann says:

      ‘Traditional’ in this sense means pre-agricultural (>10,000 yrs) ago.

    • George G. says:

      It’s funny how everyone points to the Mediterranean diets as healthy and think it means breads and pastas. The longest amount of such cultivation in that region lasted from about 11,000 years ago. The REAL Mediterranean diet was extremely high in fish and “low carb” by today’s standards

    • George G. says:

      And, by the way ,gluten is a known gut irritant. Even though many people react negatively to it (autoimmune issues, etc.) an extreme vast majority of people’s gut lining is negatively affected by gluten. The problem with milk isn’t necessarily lactose, either. IGF-1 and its growth “promoting” impacts can really screw up our body’s growth systems and androgen production.

      • Niki says:

        There is no scientific evidence of gluten being a “known gut irritant” to the vast majority of people of whom can digest it properly. It’s a natural protein found in many grains including wheat. I will quote Dr. Andrew Weil for the exception “One interesting exception is autism. Studies suggest that some cases of autistic behavior result from allergies or intolerances to the proteins in milk (casein) as well as gluten. Beyond that, the proliferation of gluten-free foods being promoted to help overcome the symptoms of an expanding array of disorders appears to be inspired more by marketing than science.”

      • Nicole says:

        My boyfriend developed Type 1 Diabetes due to a gluten intolerance at the age of 28. His pancreas was destroyed at the age of 28, I’m not talking about Type 2 diabetes.
        http://members.cox.net/harold.kraus/gluten/anno_symptoms_files/diabetes.htm
        I know more and more people everyday that are discovering all kinds of ailments that are caused by different levels of gluten intolerance. Is it just a coincidence that cutting gluten out has cured them of their issues? Maybe I am misunderstanding your comment?

      • James says:

        Better make that :”I am not aware of any…..” because by now the science is overwhelming.

    • js290 says:

      What do most MDs know about nutrition? Seems like most of them just diagnose you with a “statin deficiency.”

    • S Taylor says:

      For what it is worth, the following is a paragraph from the National Geographic article on the analysis of the 5000 year old man found frozen in the Alps in the late 1990s. “We also know that he was not in good health when he headed up into the mountains. The one surviving fingernail recovered from his remains suggests that he suffered three episodes of significant disease during the last six months of life, the last bout only two months prior to his death. Doctors inspecting the contents of his intestines have found eggs of the whipworm parasite, so he may well have suffered from stomach distress. But he was not too sick to eat. In 2002, Franco Rollo and colleagues at the University of Camerino in Italy analyzed tiny amounts of food residue from the mummy’s intestines. A day or two before his death, the Iceman had eaten a piece of wild goat and some plant food. The same analysis revealed that his very last meal was red deer and some cereals. The archaeobotanist Klaus Oeggl has concluded from bran-like food residues that the Iceman’s diet also included the primitive form of wheat known as einkorn as well as barley, found on his garments, indicating that the Neolithic settlements south of the Alps where he lived cultivated these grains. Oeggl has even found that the small size of the wheat fragments in the gut, along with tiny flecks of charcoal, suggest that the grains were ground and then baked as primitive bread in open fires.” They also found from DNA analysis that he was lactose intolerant.

  6. Rob Hueniken says:

    You make many good and balanced points, Darya. Thank you!

    Like most restrictive diets the positive aspects of the Paleo diet can be overshadowed and even discarded by trying to follow its rules to the letter.

    I am a proponent of the Paleo-Plus diet, which keeps to the spirit of the Paleo diet, but evolves to allow for small portions of additional natural foods, particularly those endemic to the region.

    You can read my thoughts on going Paleo-Plus at: http://robhueniken.com/2010/02/paleo-plus-the-caveman-diet-expands-its-hunting-grounds–making-more-of-today.html

    • Turk182 says:

      ::sigh:: Paleo is not a “diet”, it’s a lifestyle. There are those who cut out grains altogether, and some who run about 80% paleo, as evidenced by the replies “I eat cheese” and “I eat small amounts of rice”. Quit calling a diet (like Atkins or Zero)!! It’s no more a “diet” than “vegan”. It’s a way people choose to eat, to reboot back to the non-box-food lifestyle. What’s so wrong with that?

  7. Chandra says:

    I kept hearing about the Paleo diet and wanted to check it out and realized that it was very similar to how I ate already. I have a gluten intolerance so I eat no grains either (It is NOT possible for me to THRIVE on a diet that includes some grains and legumes and it is also true for many others, BTW) but I do enjoy some raw milk, butter, raw coconut oil, and natural grey sea salt. I also try to avoid processed sugars and use raw dehydrated cane juice, raw honey and stevia to sweeten things. Although I find the more closely I stick to eating well the less sweet I like things. I cannot even stomach milk chocolate if I have been eating clean. Its gotta be dark dark chocolate. I also find that I do not process legumes well and if the MS Recovery Diet is to be believed (which I have seen it work personally so I believe in its virtues!) the top foods that people have sensitivities, allergies, intolerances, or just plain problems with are dairy, grains containing gluten, legumes, eggs and yeast. I eliminated them from my diet allergy test style (along with a lot of other foods) and found which ones gave me immediate and delayed reactions and stopped eating them. (Thank goodness eggs were fine, I eat a lot of them now that I found a good local farmer who treats his chickens right with lots of greens and bugs!) I also find I cannot eat nightshade family foods (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers and paprika) in the winter or it makes me hurt more. (I have Fibromyalgia and Hypothyroidism.) Not that I eat potatoes anyway. Before going low carb I thought I could not live without potatoes but once I decided to go off the low carb diet and tried going back to them I found them absolutely disgusting and have not eaten them since. I also find a protein heavy diet to be useful for me. I feel substantially better when I have had enough protein (and fat). During my younger years I tried to be vegetarian and found that I was never satisfied or felt full unless I had eaten meat or fish proteins. I also find it hard to sleep on a grain heavy diet (even rice and non-gluten grains). I shy away from a few of the raw aspects of some who follow the Paleo diet because I cannot afford most of the meats that do not have to be cooked in some way and with the hypothyroidism some foods are goitrogenic and it is best for me to at least steam them most of the time.

    I also wonder if it is the phytic acid and other enzymes that cause so many problems with grains and legumes. Historically people used soaked, sprouted, or fermented grains and legumes which are easier to digest and are supposed to have more available nutrition. Nowadays far too few people take the time to do this and we seem to have more gastrointestinal and nutritional issues with people all over the world. The once longest lived and healthiest cultures are adopting a fast food lifestyle and are paying for it with declining health. I know some people who have gluten issues that can eat some surprising amounts of true sourdough breads simply because they have been properly fermented. But these foods take time and people are not willing or able to invest it so going Paleo or Low-Carb may be a convenient option for them to remain healthy without the work.

    Overall, I think each person has to find how they should eat through experimentation and elimination with a bit of common sense and unless they have a big problem (like me with gluten and soy) if they find themselves the guest of another culture they should consider whatever they are eating a treat and a learning experience and go back to “proper eating” as soon as they can. I do find however that just about every culture has traditional dishes that are suitable for my preferred diet especially if you eat from a place that does their food like their great-grandparents did and makes authentic recipes from scratch.

  8. Hi Darya:

    Nicely evenhanded piece. I’m a paleo eater (and intermittent faster) who does intermittent dairy and my story is that three years ago I was 235 on a 5’10 frame and today am 175. In the process I got of prescriptions for sinus allergies and GERD. And I reversed gum disease to a point far beyond where I was when I has two surgeries.

    Here’s the dramatic picture:

    http://freetheanimal.com/2009/09/interim-progress-update.html

    I’m not celiac, either. So it is the avoidance of grains, legumes, sugar or vegetable oils — of a combo? Dunno.

    At any rate, it has worked for me and for lots of others who report in at my blog (Real Results category). As to missing out, well, I’ll still have some beans now and then, a slice or two of good pizza, or an In-N-Out burger.

    I have found that most ethnic foods have recipes that are pretty paleo compliant. Sashimi, Coconut milk Thai curries (eat with veggies instead of rice), Greek moussaka (and I use eggplant to make Lasagna). Plus, there’s just plan getting creative. My specialty is the many different sauces I make for meat, fowl & fish.

    http://freetheanimal.com/food-porn

    Good job with your post and thanks for helping to inform people about their options.

  9. Michael says:

    Nice post Darya,

    Very balanced and well done. I echo the words of Richard Nikoley, one of the more even-handed paleos in the blogosphere.

    The best diet is the one that works for you. Finding a healthstyle you can embrace and enjoy is essential if you want to build a lifetime of healthy habits.

    Indeed, it is the bottom line.

    If you or your readers have yet to see it you might want to check out this video clip of Dr. Weston Price (yes, Dr. Price on video!) laying down the foundation of health no matter what diet option you choose.

    take care

  10. Rick says:

    I’ve come to accept that a lot of the gals (and some of the fellas) don’t really want to give up on grains and legumes. Seems to be that perhaps there is a sort of battle of the sexes going on with the paleo diet in some cases (I’ve heard the paleo diet referred to as having a hint of “Paternal Libertarianism”) and it is understandable given the history of our society. I had a friend comment on this very thing…she wasn’t really feeling Mark Sisson’s “Grok.”

    That said, as Dr. Kurt Harris would say, “tolerated is not optimal.” Some may do OK with grains and legumes as a significant part of their diet, but they likely don’t do as well as they would if they left that stuff out and replaced it with some good old animal fat. If one has never done this themselves (correctly, not by replacing pasta with skinless chicken breast and steamed broccoli), I can tell you, it is an amazing experience. You’ll really start to wonder about that food pyramid.

    I noticed that you argued in your diet history that some of the thinnest people in the world eat whole grains. I would say this: It’s not all about weight. I know plenty of people who shovel down carbs all day and are rail thin. Doesn’t mean they are healthy. Obesity is just one of the ways that the problems with excess carbohydrate intake (especially gluten grains) are expressed.

    • Jessica says:

      Rick, I strongly disagree with you that “eating Paleo” is a choice that more men are capable of making than women. My personal experience, and the experience of other female commentators, shows that women can be “paleo/primal” in their food choices. You should not “accept” any generalizations about gender. Nor should anyone make these generalizations. Men and women in American society today are obsessed with their bodies and weight to a degree that has become part our American experience to talk about weight, muscle fiber, and food choices. Weight is a sign of health for many people who choose not to work out. That is unfortunate. The fact is women need to be treated with respect and equality in our food culture. I don’t mean to chastise you here or belittle you, and I understood why you might have this impression about women.

      I also want to defend Darya a little by saying that she has many posts on exercising that are important to her healthstyle. She has mentioned weight as a small part of her decision-making processes along this path towards finding optimal health, but so has Mark Sisson. He has a blog history on “how to gain more muscle-mass” that doesn’t even consider health while he places too much emphasis on weight and looks. I also think that his body fat levels are too low.

      I have been a little put off by the exclusive tone of the “grok” lifestyle. I have come to accept that this is the way it is being marketed (to dudes). Perhaps there is a market design out there that wants to counter Jenny Craig and Skinny Bitch (both are huge diet campaigns advocating for processed food under female names, unfortunately). I wonder why these companies couldn’t just call these diets “eat dirt” diets, instead of calling these diets “bitch” and “evil woman” diets haha (my poor attempt to make a joke)

      • Darya Pino says:

        Thanks for chiming in Jessica. Nice to have a voice from someone who actually knows my healthstyle philosophy 😉

      • Rick says:

        Jessica,

        I had a feeling my comments might hit someone the wrong way…but I think that’s a good thing in a way. I wanted to stir the pot a little bit, because I see a problem. Just for clarification, I certainly don’t feel like women are incapable of eating paleo. I’ve seen plenty of girls out there do it too, with great results.

        You mentioned that you have been put off by Grok. This is an example of the phenomenon I am referring to, and this is what I would like to see change. What did Darya title this blog entry? “Is it healthier to eat like a caveMAN?”

        I’m not talking about being PC here. I just don’t understand why attempting to eat a healthier diet by mimicking the fine results obtained by our ancestors has to take on a masculine personality. Instead I think eating “paleo” could be an opportunity to forge not only better health, but better relationships between men and women. You might be able to see through the masculine emphasis of paleo, but lots of other women are put off just enough to discard the good info, and its too bad.

        Darya,

        You say:

        “Remarkably, what I learned is that the healthiest diet is based on a foundation of fresh, locally grown, organic vegetables.”

        This just isn’t true. There is no evidence that we need a single vegetable to live, let alone grains and legumes. What do we need? Animal fat and protein. This should be the foundation of a healthy diet, and if one wants to add some veggies or fruits or potatoes or whatever here and there, more power to them. I certainly do this.

        I don’t mean to pick, but holding vegetables up to these lofty standards just doesn’t make any sense IMHO.

      • There is no evidence that we need to write comments on the Internet to live, but for some reason you’re doing that. Interesting. Maybe it’s that some people like vegetables. And we certainly are adapted to eat them. And there is plenty of evidence that there are vitamins and minerals that are more available in plants than in animals.

        Clearly some people are completely unable to eat grains. For other people grains may be the nutritional equivalent of “filler”, not doing them any good, but not really harming them.

        Vegetables are clearly healthy for many people. Is any specific vegetable more nutritionally dense than any specific cut of meat? Probably not, but one thing humans definitely do need is variety. Cutting out all vegetables just because they aren’t “needed” is restricting your variety.

        I’m glad it works for you. That doesn’t make it a good recommendation for most people.

      • Rick says:

        Drew,

        I didn’t say that I don’t eat vegetables. Actually I said the opposite, that I “certainly” eat them. My point of contention is with the notion that vegetables need to be the “foundation” of a healthy diet. Anyone on earth could go their entire lives without eating a single vegetable and survive. No person on earth could go their entire lives without consuming animal fat and protein in some form or fashion. Saturated fat is so bad for us that our bodies store fat as saturated fat. So it is quite literally impossible for one to eliminate this substance from their diet. And which vegetables to go to for B12? How much B12 is in a slice of beef liver?

        This is the essence of “paleo” thinking. Begin with what is necessary, eliminate what is harmful, and focus on what is best. By doing this, we can thrive instead of just survive. Tinkering and variety are certainly welcome.

        Darya wrote a nice, even handed piece. But I think what was left off is the fact that grains are addictive, and growing them the way we grow them is perhaps the most destructive thing we has human beings do. I think it is a disservice to ignore this, and to instead tout them as essential.

      • Niki says:

        Rick, Where do you get your evidence from? “Good calories/Bad Calories”? You need to re-read that book and maybe look into the scientific studies he draws his opinions from. A wide varied, plant-based diet (not necessarily vegetarian/vegan) IS the most healthy way to eat. Lots and lots of studies support that fact. Where are the studies that show we can live healthfully off of animal protein alone? Rick, I shared your point of view, briefly, after I read that book but common sense took hold shortly thereafter.

      • js290 says:

        I think both of you are missing the point. The body can burn fat or sugar for fuel. Burning fat is healthy, burning sugar is not. It’s all regulated by hormones. Each of us has to figure out for ourselves what we should be eating so that our hormones allow us to burning fat for fuel, and not sugar. If you can achieve that with an all veggie diet, more power to you. If you can do it eating all meat, good for you. The key is to be burning fat for fuel.

  11. silverbenz says:

    Hi Darya,

    I’ll agree with the others and say ‘nicely done’ in terms of the even-handedness of your post. I suppose your post is targeted at the food element specifically, but, at least in my view, the food is only one element of the Paleo lifestyle (healthstyle?). I was never an overweight person, but like many others I put on a fair bit around the middle in my 30’s (40 now). Just before last Christmas I started reading about Paleo/Primal/whatever-you-want-to-call-it and immediately felt a sense of having discovered something exciting. The excitement included the exercise concepts as proposed by (or adopted by) people like Mark Sisson (www.marksdailyapple.com) and Richard Nikoley (freetheanimal.com), and to a degree Art De Vany after I read his Evolutionary Fitness essay.

    I’ve lost about 8 kilos since Christmas and I feel better than I have in years. I was active before discovering Paleo, but still suffered from things like knee and back pain, which I no longer suffer from. Admittedly, I’m also pretty happy with the way I’m looking as a result of the completely do-able fitness element – I was a HUGE gym-hater before 🙂

    I loved pasta. Pizza was a twice-a-month treat. I ate HEAPS of bread, mostly through laziness than any particular love of bread. I’ve found my food choices have actually broadened since giving up grain, and, miraculously, I quite enjoy cooking which is something nobody would expect to hear from me!

    I’m no scientist, but I read a lot of testimonials from different sources before taking this on, and the overwhelming message was one of success and health-improvement. Add to that the MDs who are also regularly advocating the low-carb, good fats, etc message and I was pretty well sold. The icing on the cake were the results achieved by myself and my partner in a relatively short time. Really, that’s enough for me.

    Cheers,
    Ben.

    • Darya Pino says:

      Hey Ben,

      Thanks for your comment. I agree you were exactly the right candidate to benefit from switching to a Paleo diet, since you basically ate junk food before that. I’m not surprised you feel better.

      Like I mention above I agree Paleo can be healthy, and I agree that processed carbs are pretty much the worst thing you could eat. And I think people should eat more fat. But although some people can tolerate a 100% Paleo diet I know many people who have struggled to eliminate grains and legumes (not the same as eliminating breads and pasta). I wanted to explain that there are still whole food, unprocessed alternatives that are very healthy.

  12. Scott Miller says:

    I’ve been a Paleo-plus eater for years. I do eat dairy, but only high-fat dairy, such as heavy cream (not that watered down half-n-half stuff) in my decaf coffee.

    I do not eat grains, including rice, and I do not miss this in the least. I look at grains as cheap, nutritionally lack, filler food. I’d much rather eat vegetables and meats/fish. I occasionally eat potatoes, loaded with bacon, cheese, and butter. I eat an omelet daily, filled with meat and cheese. Basically, my diet is high-fat (~70%), low-carb (~10%). I’m a life extensionist and have over 100 blood tests down yearly, and everything is spectacular, at 48 years old, including:

    HDL: 99
    Lp(a): 2
    trigs: 47
    C-RP: 0.2 (as low as can be measured)

    I maintain 10% bodyfat without ever counting calories. Hunger is a non issue on the paleo diet, because the lack of frivolous carbs (primarily grains) means I don’t have blood glucose spikes and crashes.

    The three foods I totally avoid as much as possible: grains, fructose (except in berries), and processed oils. This is really what the paleo diet means to me, as well as eating animal meats without irrational fear of negative health effects.

    I’ve been practicing a life extension lifestyle for nearly 10 years, have studied health from every angle for this entire time, and at 48, I am as healthy as any fit 25-yr-old, without any sign of slowing down due to aging. Everyone can live the way I do. It’s a choice. And most people don’t make this choice.

    Scott Miller
    Director, Immortality Institute

    • Darya Pino says:

      Thanks for chiming in Scott, your story is interesting. Though I do think you are missing out on fresh rice noodles in Thailand 😉

      Funny, our blood #s are almost identical (my trigs & HDL are slightly lower, but not much) and I do eat small amounts of yogurt and oats almost daily, and kind of a lot of legumes.

      I also don’t diet or count calories, though I think hunger is more complicated that simple blood sugar peaks and valleys. I am ravenous if I go too many days without my grains (especially if I hit the gym). I really do think we are all different and just need to find what works for ourselves.

      • Madhu Ganesh says:

        May be you avoided sat fat when you are not eating grains which makes you ravenous when you hit the gym. Or may be you run too low on carbs/glycogen may be more fruits and veggies than regular would help?

        Just asking.

      • js290 says:

        Hmm… ravenous after a gym session. Gary Taubes talks about exercising only making one hungry. I wonder if this is because your body’s preferred fuel is still sugar as opposed to fat?

        I think it’s a strong statement that the woman who discovered the genes that control ageing has been eating a low glycemic carb diet.

        No desserts. No sweets. No potatoes. No rice. No bread. No pasta. “When I say ‘no,’ I mean ‘no, or not much,’” she notes. “Instead, eat green vegetables. Eat the fruits that aren’t the sweet fruits, like melon.” Bananas? “Bananas are a little sweet.” Meat? “Meat, yes, of course. Avocados. All vegetables. Nuts. Fish. Chicken. That’s what I eat. Cheese. Eggs. And one glass of red wine a day… Plus, I feel better. Plus, I’m thin—I weigh what I weighed when I was in college. I feel great —you feel like you’re a kid again. It’s amazing.”

        Why?

        “I did it because we fed our worms glucose and it shortened their lifespan.”

  13. epistemocrat says:

    Nice essay, Darya.

    Searching our ancestral histories for conjectures to test on our own bodies through n=1 clinical trials in nutritional bricolage is ultimately what dietary wisdom boils down to. Ancestral diets seem like logical defaults to start from; iterate, test, and tinker from there, trusting your body to provide appropriate feedback that allows you to deduce rules to eat by. For instance, a meta-rule might be: “Don’t eat anything that causes excessive mucous production.” That’s a short-term feedback loop system/process to key in on that, we hope, approximates whether or not the foods/drinks we just consumed are healthy for our individualized biochemistries. We trust our bodies; we just have to listen to them perceptively.

    Cheers,

    Brent

  14. celtia says:

    @thomas,
    “and one thing that bugs me is the new trend of reducing gluten and milk. sure, 50% of white people don’t seem to be able to process lactose properly but shouldn’t you get a doctor on that before you remove gluten/lactose from your diet :/”

    Why on earth would you want to get a doctor involved? It’s really simple: Give up gluten for 2-4 weeks. If you see positive changes, don’t go back to it. Then do the same for dairy.

    I got rid of joint pain, gas, and other issues when I got rid of gluten. If I fall off the wagon, the issues come back. What purpose would a doctor serve, other than to lighten my wallet and waste my time?

    • thomas says:

      @celtia:
      i am in europe, so figuring that out is free of cost for me.
      waste of time? it takes a few minutes to figure out

      “joint pain, gas, and other issues” … so what do people do who don’t have such problems? they are automatically not gluten intolerant? i just find the self-measuring difficult unless you have obvious problems.

  15. djinn says:

    I don’t eat like a caveman, I eat like a modern human who chooses to avoid grain, vegetable oil, and legumes, and get most of my nutrition from meat, eggs and fish. I eat all I want and havn’t felt deprived yet. Here are the results:
    A year ago I was an overweight, (195 lbs) sickly, ugly old man with pronounced metabolic syndrome. My doctor had a big handful of drugs to offer me.
    Now I am a slender, muscular, (170lbs) healthy, ugly old man with blood tests and other markers (bp 110/65, pulse rate 55) almost identical to those on my army induction physical more than 50 years ago. I was eating ad libitum – I wasn’t “dieting” -or exercising. I’ve done a lot of research into the science and have stacks of scientific papers, but I don’t need them to know it works. My own N=1 experiment convinced me, big time. By the way, the idea that low-carbohydrate eating is “high protein” is an old doctor’s tale – it’s nonsense. It’s a high fat diet. For a quick overview of what that is about, check out Barry Groves’ “should all animals eat a high fat diet?”
    All mammals do – including herbevores and primates. Feel free to stop by PaNu website and chat – it’s not my site, but they let me play there.

  16. Interesting post, and great comments. I’m always interested to hear about people who don’t thrive without grains – what does that mean? How long did they stay away from grains? How were they replacing the calories? Were they sugar-free as well? Always intrigued, considering the logistics of grain-gathering before the industrial age.

    I’m a big believer in doing what works for you, and I’ve found that works best for me is a high-fat, meat-only diet. I’m a big time foodie though, so even when I go meat-only I cooked more varied primal meals for my partner to indulge that creative urge.

    Whilst I am very interested in the nutritive value (or lack thereof) of grains and legumes, etc, I exclude them from my diet due to their effect on blood sugar. From what I can tell, I’m insulin resistant, and in order to healthfully and comfortably lose weight, I’m best off sticking to foods the have minimal impact on insulin production. When I’m ready to experiment with insulinogenic foods again, I’ll go for those with greater nutritional value – starchy vegetables and berries, for instance. For now, I’m happiest and healthiest eating (in priority order) fatty grass-fed meats, seafood, healthy fats (coconut & macadamia nut oil, etc), eggs, leafy veg, nuts & seeds, some dairy, occasional berries.

    Looking at my past, I really don’t think it is possible for me to THRIVE on grains, legumes, and even small amounts of processed food – I really don’t. I think I could SURVIVE perhaps, albeit fatter than optimal, with the potential lifestyle diseases that seem ubiquitous in modern Western culture. I’ve found what works for me, so I’ll be sticking with it – but I’m not so aggrandized that I’d expect everyone else to respond the same way I do, even if the logic would suggest that since we’re all the same species, we should thrive on the same basic diet. Ah, evolution and mutation…

    • Darya Pino says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Since you asked, for me personally I gave up grains for at least a year, and had only small amounts for many years. I’m not sure why it makes me so miserable, but it does. That being said, processed grains make me miserable as well except in very small quantities. My guess is that my activity levels (I train regularly) are what enable me to tolerate grains, but that is just a guess.

    • Kristin says:

      I was an Atkins dieter for about 3 months a few years ago. I ate high-fat, no-carb. I cut out sugar and stayed away from processed foods. I successfully lost weight quite rapidly, but I felt awful. Not just for the first few weeks, or during a period of adjustment, but constantly and consistently throughout the three months before I gave up. I had no energy, was frequently nauseous, and often had a headache. It reminded me strongly of intense caffeine withdrawal, except I was not at the time cutting caffiene – I drank a lot of tea and coffee to try to combat the general feeling of listlessness. I was living with two other people on the same diet at that time, and they thrived eating largely the same meals.

      Interestingly, when I’d gone entirely vegan for several months the year before, I felt no such drop in energy or well-being. In fact, I felt wonderul, but had difficulty maintaining the diet due to limited food availability.

      I had, at that time and continue to have, entirely normal bloodwork, and no food allergies or intolerances.

      I think, looking back, that it may have as much to do with the lack of sugar as the lack of carbs, but I’m not entirely convinced, as I try to stay away from sugar even now. I don’t cut it out entirely, but still feel okay.

      I truly do believe, though, that eliminating carbs from my diet entirely wouldn’t work for me.

  17. ToddBS says:

    I tried paleo-style eating for a while thinking I’d give it a try as another low-carb thing. What I found was that cutting out grains (wheat in particular as I still can’t resist a good fire-roasted ear of corn) made me feel better. Whether it is true Celiac or just a gluten allergy I can’t say, but within a week of no wheat I had lost my heartburn (that kept me awake every night) and had stopped breaking out in dermatographic hives. I’m not very strict beyond that. I’ve always been more of a meat and vegetable person to begin with growing up in a house with a type 1 diabetic.

    I think if you take any diet too strictly, you will fall off sooner rather than later.

  18. GIGI says:

    I loosely follow this diet but I sort of think my lifestyle is almost more strict! I don’t eat fruits, nuts, gluten, grains, dairy, sugar, soy, alcohol… The only foods I eat are healthy fats (fish, olive oil, flaxseed oil, egg yolks, olives), lean high quality proteins (fish, grass-fed red meats, poultry breast, eggs) and non starchy vegetables (well including winter squash)… I love my diet and the way I eat, and I feel extremely healthy and happy!! 🙂

  19. Melissa says:

    Indeed, this is a very interesting discussion. Despite being in the paleo camp, I am still interested in grains and legumes. Why? Well, most people aren’t interested in giving them up and most people includes the guys I’ve dated. Yes, I do end up cooking for them sometimes 🙂 And they are the ones clamoring for carbs, contrary to Rick’s experience.

    So I’ve learned about soaking, sprouting, and fermenting. I can make dosas, fermented oatmeal, masa, tempeh, and amazake. The great thing is while I feel great on paleo, I can have things like these without suffering the stomach problems that propelled me into paleo. While eating grains and legumes might have been going on for quite some time, our ancestors almost always did extra steps that we seem to have forgotten. Yeah X traditional people are skinny eating grains, like the Tarahumara in Mexico, but they don’t eat Wheaties…they soak and lime their corn, for example.

    Paleo cleared me of some pretty painful stuff and I’ll probably always eat mostly paleo, but it’s good to know I can enjoy things like dosas. I’ve been all over the world and enjoyed the cuisine of every country I visited, though it’s certainly much easier being mostly paleo than being 100%. Vegetarians certainly miss out on much much more.

    I think people who say that those of us who have problems with gluten and lactose should JUST go to the doctor underestimate how frigging hard it is to diagnose and treat many GI problems.

  20. Aaron Curl says:

    I dropped 60 pounds in five months eating paleo. However, just because it worked for me I believe it’s up to each individual to try it for themselves. I have not heard of one single person say cutting out grains didn’t make them feel better but, there are people who reintroduce small portions of grain and have no problems. I have never had any blood work done before or after eating paleo but, I’m sure everything is in perfect shape due to how amazing I feel. The one GREAT benefit I have experienced is I no longer have horrible allergies. I don’t know if it was grains or dairy that caused them but, I won’t eat either ever again because I don’t want to deal with allergies. The sad thing is most people are so hooked on processed grains that they will never cut them out of their diet completely to reap the benefits.

  21. Michael says:

    For me cutting out grains didn’t make me feel better or worse. So I include them albeit either very fresh (McCarrison) or fresh then properly prepared (Price). I eat none of the rancid crap that most folks are partaking of and very little in the way of gluten grains.

    All things coconut are dominant in my diet. I love tubers which make up the majority of the carbs in my diet (along with raw milk and some seasonal fruit). I don’t miss bread at all although it is great as a carrier for tasty fats/foods like butter and pate.

    If veggies are grown on great soil I enjoy them immensely. If not, then not so much. Legumes I like on occasion, especially lentils. Overall my diet is quite cyclical throughout the year, ranging from Kitava style (literally) to very low carb to meat/milk only and back again, with intermittent fasting throughout (though not primarily for physical reasons).

    It works, and for me that is all that matters.

  22. Ann says:

    My husband and I have both had tremendous success with this diet. I’ve lost about 20lbs and he’s lost 40-50lbs. I feel like a little kid again, I have so much more energy. I was vegetarian for about 5yrs and stopped after my teeth came loose in my mouth & I had zero energy, I figured something wasn’t right and found Weston A Price and moved onto to Paleo from there. We still will eat the occasional bread product when we travel but that is only maybe 1x/month (like we’re going to France next week and I plan to eat the bread 🙂 ). No beans (don’t like them much), will eat raw milk & full fat cheese pretty regularly.
    I also find it a lot easier to cook, especially with little kids, meat + veg they love and I know they are getting the nutrition they need.

  23. Organic Gabe says:

    I use a modified paleo diet – eat lots of cheese because I like it – everyone should experiment to see what works best for them, and I lost 7 lbs in 2 months, halved my blood pressure medication (soon possibly getting off them altogether), plus got rid of my heartburn.

    I would say that is very successful.

  24. Well this stole my thunder, as I was just making a blog post about what paleos could learn from the “Blue Zones.” Basically, grains, legumes, and dairy won’t kill you…how it makes you feel is another story entirely. Great post!

    Best,
    Skyler

  25. Karen G. says:

    I don’t think anyone has mentioned the Eat Right For Your Type book by Dr Peter D’Adamo. I read this book several years ago and it was very helpful to me. The diet you talk about here would be for a blood type O. According to the book the other blood types have their own diets for different ancestral reasons.

    • Nicole says:

      I get fat and sick on the Type A diet, and as a result I feel that the book is a load of nonsense. In fact, some of the best foods for me, (according to D’Adamo), are gluten grains…which I can’t digest.

  26. John Durant says:

    When I first started doing paleo three and half years ago, I had a set of rules to make sure that I didn’t isolate myself from other people — since there’s more to food than bodily health.

    1. If I’m a guest at dinner or someone puts a lot of effort into making something, I’ll try it (and enjoy it)
    2. Business settings where it would be distracting or weird
    3. Social situations (i.e., alcohol) where there isn’t a great alternative
    4. Trying a totally new cuisine at a top locale

    But I don’t use these rules of thumb as an excuse to try anything in any situation.

    On the issue of missing out on all sorts of traditional cuisines…well, we’re in the process of re-discovering even more ancient human cuisines and cultural traditions. So I actually think it’s a more dynamic place to be culturally — more innovation in meal preparation while at the same time being inspired by super-traditional (pre agricultural revolution) principles. Innovative and traditional.

    • Darya Pino says:

      That’s a great point. I guess being in SF I already do the innovative and traditional thing, but that is a great area to explore for novices. Thanks for your comment 🙂

  27. Hi Darya,

    This is the most well-written, fair and balanced critique of the “Paleo” diet that I’ve seen. I appreciate that you took an objective look at the diet while bringing some things to my attention that I hadn’t thought about. I poked around your site a bit and, though we don’t agree on everything, you clearly have a healthy relationship with food. I’ll read around some more for sure.

    Cheers,

    Michael Miller

  28. Ray Dixon says:

    Hey Darya, I’m coming from Richard’s Free the Animal site. I’ve been eating “primal” ala Mark Sisson for about just over a month now. I feel great and the only thing I really miss about grain is the convenience of a sandwich. I certain I still like the taste of corn, rice, pasta, bread, etc. but I don’t miss it at all, plus I like the way I feel better now. I’m not a strict paleo person though. I still eat dairy, salt, alcohol, dark chocolate, a few other variances but I’m about 90% paleo. I agree with you that “can” survive eating neolithic foods but I feel so much better when I don’t. I also agree that everyone is different. Like Frank Sinatra’s quote ” I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up, that is as good as they will feel all day.” I feel sorry for people who don’t cut out grains and legumes because they want know how good they can feel not getting stuffed by pasta and bread. Thanks I enjoyed the article and will check out some more of your posts

    Ray

    • Darya Pino says:

      Hi Ray, thanks for your thoughts. Not to belabor the point, but grains and legumes are not the same as “bread and pasta,” which are processed grains. I advocate intact grains for people who struggle with 100% grain free. Otherwise I think we agree.

      And I still don’t understand what Paleos have against legumes 😉 Beans are amazing and make me feel awesome!

      • But isn’t a paleo proponent doing exactly what you’re doing save to a different degree? You’re (rightly of course) suggesting that people avoid processed grains for health reasons. That’s why paleo folks suggest avoiding all grains and legumes.

        The argument is not just that Grok didn’t eat them, it’s that they contain anti-nutrients (chiefly lectins and phytic acid) that we’re not equipped to digest and in fact can cause problems.

        Like I said in my other comment, I’m not hard core about it myself (for example, I think Cordain may be overstating the risk of saponins in quinoa). But that is the argument for not including them.

      • Hi, Darya,
        This is the first time I’ve commented on your site, which I love. I totally agree with your statement about legumes. Beans which are well-cooked are a super-food and can contribute protein, fiber, and low-glycemic-index carbs to the diet, particularly of vegetarians. I realize some people have trouble digesting beans, but most people could benefit from letting legumes substitute for much of the meat in their diets. Organically grown beans are easier to obtain and less expensive than free-range meats, at least for us, so they make tons of sense in our diet. When combined with grains they offer complete protein that’s accessible to those who can’t afford meats, especially expensive grass-fed ones.

        Keep up the good work, Darya! I’ll follow your posts in future.
        Sincerely, Barbara

  29. “The evolutionary argument that humans are somehow maladapted to agriculture-based diets is particularly unconvincing”

    “We also have slightly different genetic backgrounds, which can result in significant differences in metabolism and hormone levels. These individual variations can make dietary needs different for each of us.”

    From these two statements I worry that you are missing the point about Paleo eating. I don’t think any serious proponent of Paleo eating would be so black and white about it by denying that some (many, even) have adapted to a greater or lesser extent to dairy and grains. The point about Paleo is that it’s the baseline diet – the fundamental set of foods we’ve been eating for the longest time. Thus, it gives your body what it’s had the longest time to adapt to.

    Sure, I might be one of those people who is adapted to dairy and wheat and can eat them without any short or long term problems; but I might not be, too. How can I be sure? Are there always overt symptoms of intolerance? I think there’s some reasonable evidence out there that some of the effects for those who are not lucky enough to be adapted can be insidious.

    So if you can’t let go of bread or dairy, sure, go ahead and roll the dice. Life’s too short etc etc. Me, I have learned to find plenty of pleasure in the rich array of foods we ate before agriculture, so I see no point in risking problems later on by eating anything else.

    • Darya Pino says:

      Methuselah, good points. I do get it, which is why I didn’t belabor the point about Paleo ideology. I do think Paleo is healthy, I just wanted to help people understand their options since I know many people who have struggled with the sincerest attempts to go pure Paleo (check out Steve Parker’s Advanced Mediterranean Diet Blog for his story). And sadly I do think some Paleo proponents take it very literally. Either way, I think we agree that the best thing to do is try different things until you find what works for you.

      As I tried to explain above, I don’t “tolerate” grains (I eat intact grains, btw, not bread) I suffer without them.

  30. “So if you can’t let go of bread or dairy, sure, go ahead and roll the dice. Life’s too short etc etc. Me, I have learned to find plenty of pleasure in the rich array of foods we ate before agriculture, so I see no point in risking problems later on by eating anything else.”

    Good point Methuselah. It’s a precautionary principle at work. And, for me, it’s recognition that the real underlying cause of heart disease, atherosclerosis, etc., is likely more to do with chronic systemic inflammation that persists below the pain threshold and is what things like oxidized small LDL act upon.

    And, so , the name of the game for me is to practice avoidance behavior rather than seeing behavior in dietary selection.

    http://freetheanimal.com/2010/02/the-paleo-primal-evolutionary-distinction-avoidance-behavior.html

    80% of the effort is directed towards avoiding grains, sugar, processed foods, and industrial vegetable seed oils. Because of known issues with fructose and omega 6 PUFA, I limit fruit consumption to some berries a few times per week and eat nuts only in extreme moderation, with the exception of macadamias that have a FA profile similar to olive oil.

  31. arcturian says:

    I do the Warrior Diet and this goes along with many of the principles! Thank you! Cheers!

  32. Anatolie says:

    What about the ‘usually low in fat, high in fibre, high in protein and minerals, low in glycemic index’ content of legumes and grains? No, I definitely don’t think we need to eat like a caveman to be healthy, although it seems like a healthy diet overall.. we do need to eat the grains and legumes as well.

  33. A new word for trendy “dieters” comes to mind and that would be self-indulgent. I was stopped in my food tracks with the “no beans.” I’m equally turned off by veganism, vegetarianism and locavores. Pure self-indulgence. If they knew what hunger really was, they might rethink their religion. The sophistication of man is not always pretty. Prosperity and technology helped to create mass produced food that we know is harmful, and it has also created the ability for us to be horribly self-indulgent. I’ve had some bad experiences with friends who have jumped from one trend to the next and they are horrible to go out to restaurants with and even worse as home dinner guests, questioning everything, which is uncalled for, as I am a fresh food cook.

    I can’t imagine serving a delicious pasta and bean dish and someone telling me that not only do they not eat either, but, that it’s bad for you. What is bad is that kids think food grows in boxes and the meat that we are getting could really kill us. But to shun grains and beans and put them in the “bad food” category is a crime and just more distortion.

  34. Michael says:

    I’ve had some bad experiences with friends who have jumped from one trend to the next and they are horrible to go out to restaurants with and even worse as home dinner guests, questioning everything, which is uncalled for, as I am a fresh food cook.

    John Durant upthread has a good comment about this, and I have also addressed the issue of how not to behave badly when eating out of your element in my winning the war on good food series.

  35. Shawn says:

    My wife and I are currently in the process of switching to a paleo diet. Since we are from Wisconsin, we decided its just plain crazy to try and cut out cheese, but otherwise we are sticking to paleo diet, perhaps aside from the very occasional chocolate cake (some things are just too good to never eat again, no matter how bad they are for you)

    I think many of the same points have been made throughout the comments and 99% of them are written by seemingly very knowledgeable people, so no need for me to rehash those points, however something stuck me about the comments; A large percentage of the people have become so knowledgeable as a result of research they began due to some condition that developed (lactose intolerance, Celiacs, etc).

    Couple things about that, first, it’s hard to take those comments as unbiased, no matter how unbiased the writer attempts to be, as a he/she has a condition that dictates certain foods he/she cannot eat. Second, and I’m not saying this to take anything away from people’s success in learning how to control their condition, it’s a sad state of affairs in this country, when it takes a developing health condition to get someone interested in how to be healthy!

  36. CherylK says:

    Good article. I’m attempting to learn all I can about healthier eating. I don’t know if I could eat like a caveman…I’d be willing to give it a go. But it occurs to me that “all things in moderation” is a proverb that

  37. Alex says:

    My dad have cut out most grain and legumes out of his diet a few years ago and feels great. I’ve tried it for a while just to see how it feels, but just couldn’t do it. I can’t live without complex carbs; after a meal of veggies and a moderate amount of meat I feel hungry in an hour, and resort to compulsive snaking which never happens to me when I eat a healthy amount of carbs with a meal. I also tried vegetarian, vegan and low-fat diets (out of plain curiosity) and realized that all things are good in moderation.

  38. I tend to agree with Kurt Harris on the concept of neolithic agents of disease — and that the likelihood that these are wheat, excess fructose and excess linoleic acid from veggie oils. Regardless of what we might want to eat from a foodie perspective, some/many/all of us may well benefit from putting some foods — like pasta or bread — into a category of foods to avoid, or at least treats rather than staples.

    That said, I (surprisingly?) also tilt Weston Price and figure that thousands of years of traditional preparation of grains suggest that going completely grain-free is not necessarily a requirement. But as you suggest in your great post on intact vs whole grains, it’s important to make the distinction between the two. And ref the above, it may make sense to treat wheat differently.

    Me, I’m with Paul Jaminet of Perfect Health Diet in hoping the paleo and traditional foods communities actually work together more to help identify what is optimal for health and what is just plain pedantic ;).

  39. Jack says:

    Great article. Great writing.

  40. Jennifer says:

    I find that cutting out/ back on grains is an easy way to cut back on processed foods. I used to be diligent about whole grain everything (pasta, bread, etc) and then I realized that the whole grain stuff wasn’t all th at different from the white stuff. It’s all pretty heavily processed. I am not convinced that gluten tolerances are an issue for most adults, but I really fail to see the nutritional value in most grains offerred for consumption in American supermarkets. Eat it if you want, but don’t kid yourself that it is anyting other than a treat.

  41. Michelle says:

    I eat Paleo about 80% of the time and have to say that I feel great and do not typically “miss” complex carbs and when done correctly, eating Paleo leaves you feeling full, not hungry.

    The other 20% of the time I have fun meals that include wine, quality cheese, ice cream, high quality dark chocolate and occasionally a starch/sugar treat like brownines, cake, creme brulee, etc. The premise behind Paleo is pretty valid, although I do have to admit that when I do a very long WoD (workout of the day, I also CrossFit which is where Paleo is extremely popular) or go for an extra run I do indulge in steel cut oats or regular organic oats cooked in water, cinnamon, with apples and nuts OR some wild rice, NOT white, not processed, real, chewy, dark brown rice. I do the latter because for me I find that long bouts of cardio tend to make me sleepy mid afternoon w/o some complex carbs. But that is me. I know plenty of people who are Paleo except for “cheats” and they do just fine.

    I agree that some people would not do well on Paleo. As there are people who eat raw food most of the time and say they feel great and love it. Me, I would fall over. But, I also don’t think that daily ingestion of pasta, bread, white potatoes, etc. is needed or necessary to enjoy cultural foods. They are all pretty recent inventions, minus unleavened or sprouted breads. I do feed my children Ezechial brand breads as they are gluten free and are from sprouted wheat, not highly processed. We don’t eat peanuts and beans are a rarity as I find it just doesn’t taste good to me anymore.

    As for milk, humans are not made to digest the large amounts of cow milk we are told to consume on a daily basis. It is a scientific fact that as we approach adolescence, we have about (this is not an exact quote but pretty close) 11% – 20% of the needed enzymes in our digestive tract that we had as children needed to break down lactose. Hence people being “lactose intolerant”. Its not a problem. Its a genetic fact. We all are at some level lactose intolerant. Milk never bothered me but when I took it out of my diet (and this was organic milk) my skin cleared up. Hmmmmm. Interesting. And you get calcium from many other food sources. Milk is not needed and quite honestly does more harm than good, especially because it is processed to death anyway.

    All in all, I feel amazing on Paleo and when I go off I see it in my body, my skin, and my mood. As a student soon to be a certified Health Counselor, I would highly recommend Paleo to anyone wanting to “clean house” for a few weeks to get their bodies adjusted to life without toxic food; and then gradually reintroduce high quality, complex carbs if it is something their body really needed.

  42. Nicole says:

    Ezekiel breads are made from sprouted wheat and barley and are IN NO WAY gluten-free.

    The cereal is also sprouted barley and is therefore full of gluten.

    Just FYI.

  43. Joseph says:

    I agree, our bodies are unique and each person needs to find their own path to health. I think the closer your food is to its natural state the better it is for you. The more processed your food the worse it is for your body. But can you eat it? Yes. Will it kill you? No, it might cause lots of problems, but many people have lived to a ripe old age by eating nothing but processed food. Find your own path.

  44. Kristina says:

    great post. very informational.

  45. Danielle says:

    I cannot possibly fathom not having legumes as a staple food group. It doesn’t seem logical evolutionarily either.

  46. [Disclosure: I’m an Archaeology student with a focus on Paleoindians in North America]

    Homo Sapiens Sapiens (and all of our ancestors) are omnivores – scavengers/foragers first, then hunters, then farmers.

    To assume that prehistoric human societies did not utilize legumes and grains is a an error, for in the pursuit of nourishment anything edible would have been ‘fair game’. Additionally, in order for us to have adopted agriculture (as we did) our ancestors must have known of and utilized the wild ancestors of contemporary wheat, barley, maize, etc. long before they were domesticated.

    Check out this from the Smithsonian Institute:
    http://anthropology.si.edu/archaeobio/Ohalo%20II%20Nature.pdf

    Despite this though, as most people seem to agree upon, a paleo-diet is a healthy option – even if you manipulate it a bit too work for you.

    I think to eat as well as we can, we must each individually explore these different diets/lifestyles and adapt aspects of them that works best for us. I’ve adopted the name ‘A Conscious Omnivore’ for my blog simply because, while I rarely eat meat, sometimes eating locally raised beef or chicken is a viable option that works for me (but I get most of my recipes/influences from vegan and vegetarian cook books).

    Joseph – You nailed it. There are plenty of food movements all saying the same thing – eat nature.

  47. zoebird says:

    it’s interesting to assert that if you go paleo, you are cutting out whole cuisines. this is simply not true.

    when i was vegetarian, i did not miss out on every cuisine that used meat. there are many vegetarian dishes that are greek, italian, japanese, etc. likewise, there are many grain- and legume-free recipes in these cultures that we can enjoy. i make regular recipes from all of these cuisines that are free of grains and legumes and do not use substitutes (gluten/grain free noodles or whatever. i don’t want to work that hard, and i don’t really bake anyway).

    for example, last night, we had meat balls in a home made italian sauce. you can make meat balls without bread crumbs, i promise. mine were equal parts venison, pork, and organ meats, plus egg and all of my favorite seasonings, and a bit of good parmesan cheese. i browned them in olive oil (low heat, of course), and then put them into my crock pot where i’d made my home-made sauce (btw, it’s summer in NZ, so the veggies are fresh!). I served this with a beautiful vegetable recipe from Lidia Bastianich’s cook book (a recipe using fennel bulbs among many flavorful ingredients), and we started with a delightful tomato-cucumber salad with fresh purple and green basil with sea salt and olive oil.

    For greek, i love arnaki vastro. for ethiopean, i make their chicken stew, doro wat. for indian, curries of all kinds! thai, curries and stews! on and on.

    Just because one ingredient is cut out doesn’t mean that the whole cuisine is cut out. you just remove that which you do not eat. i did this when vegetarian (cutting out meat, but still enjoying all of the wonderful veggie cuisine), and i do it now (cutting out grains and legumes while still enjoying all of the wonderful veggie and meat dishes).

  48. Monica says:

    Justin’s point that we are scavengers/foragers first is key. Humans can exist on all kinds of diets. Even people with horendous diets can live a long time (of course with a greater likelihood of illness and disease). While the paleo diet can be a healthy choice, I can’t get over the elitism and arrogance that comes with adopting specialized diets such as this one. Along with my other bugaboo, veganism, the fact that only affluent, Westerners really have the resources to do these kind of navel-gazing diets, just annoys me. Find me a significant traditional society that is vegan and paleo.
    I look around the world and see all kinds of healthy diets, that are time tested, full of vibrancy, history, cultural meaning, and connection to the place and land. And then people have to get all fussy about how their bodies are so finely tuned that every microgram of food must be perfectly calibrated to the precise nutrients that match their DNA. It is absurd.

    • Darya Pino says:

      You’re awesome. Great points.

      • Chuck says:

        She says “I can’t get over the elitism and arrogance that comes with adopting specialized diets such as this one.”

        Now she may be angry but that is not awesome. Where is the elitism and arrogance that she speaks of? I have not seen it demonstrated on this thread so far.

        She also says: “people have to get all fussy about how their bodies are so finely tuned that every microgram of food must be perfectly calibrated to the precise nutrients that match their DNA”

        What is she talking about? Finely tuned cavemen?

        No one in the Paleo world is saying they have weigh or measure anything.

        These are not good points. They are straw man arguments, not cave man arguments. Geez…

  49. Um says:

    I embarked on a “Paleo Diet” to shed a few lbs. I lost loads of weight and became one of those zealot types promoting all the claims as gospel.

    I got a little cocky, and started to restrict my diet even further. I ended up eating a diet which was mostly Chicken and Broccoli, a handful of berries and seeds… The result, I ended up with anal fissures. 2 years later I’m still waiting for them to heal.

    I met a girl – a Biochemist who read all the stuff I had about Paleo. She was annoyed by all the “bad science”. She argued that most of it was junk for the simple fact that we’re no longer caveman – she says that even at the cellular level we have slight differences from our ancestors which make many of the claims redundant.

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is… I’m not a Scientist.. I write software (badly). It’s easy for me to believe what I’m told just because someone appears to be an authority and has countless testimonials, before and after photo’s and a cult following. I feel like I’ve left a cult..

    She now has me eating what she calls a “healthy, balanced diet” – devoid of anything that’s been processed and I’m feeling much better.

    • Darya Pino says:

      Thanks for sharing your story. Paleo works for many people, but you’re a great example of how it doesn’t work for everyone and that being extreme is no way to live. Glad you’ve found a healthstyle that works for you 🙂

  50. “I ended up eating a diet which was mostly Chicken and Broccoli, a handful of berries and seeds.”

    And then blames it on cultish zealotry? How about blame it on his own crappy diet? I’ve been around and get around the Paleo scene and I’ve never seen anyone advocate anything so vapid of variety, whole nutrition and calorie deficient.

    • Alan M says:

      Please excuse me for the TMI…

      Before I started eating paleo/primal nearly a year ago I used to dose myself with lots of fiber. This so I wouldn’t suffer from constipation–a problem I suffered from since childhood, which grew worse as I approached middle age. I ate plenty of vegetables, beans, and whole grain rice. I ate my steel cut oats. Even so, I couldn’t take the chance of going to bed without a generous amount of whole husk psyllium powder in a tall glass of water. Pretty sad, huh?

      Anyway, since going paleo/primal things move like they’re supposed to. I no longer take any fiber supplement. Yet I have no problem making a daily deposit. Plus it looks like my food digests completely. My bowels have never been healthier.

      I still eat vegetables, but usually cooked with lots of butter from pasture fed cows and animal grease. They’re a great complement to any type of meat. But chicken? eh… I rarely ever eat it. I tend to stay away from everything that’s factory farmed. Though, I did have some bacon yesterday. I had it with sardines and mustard for breakfast. That combo was packed full of awesome. Broccoli? It goes great cooked with butter, onions and grass fed beef liver.

      I found the paleo diet through your blog, Richard. Your posts directed me to people like Mark Sisson, Dr. Kurt Harris, Robb Wolf and many others. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of them recommend chicken and broccoli as a staple of paleo/primal eating. If anything, I’ve been swayed away from chicken due to it’s overabundance of Omega 6 fatty acids. Everything the guy above said rings completely untrue. I don’t get it.

    • Annie says:

      Agreed. She wasn’t eating the Paleo way. She was eating ‘stupid.’

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