This is understandable. The Palaeolithic style diet attempts to imitate what our ancient ancestors of 10,000+ years would chow down on. Therefore hypothetically, we should not only tolerate this way of eating physiologically, but also thrive with it!
If only it were that simple.
However, recently a group of researchers set about assessing whether a prescribed idea of a Paleo diet1 would have positive effects on human health, with positive results.
Paleo vs AGHE
Researchers at Western Australia’s Edith Cowan University set about comparing a Palaeolithic style diet with the Australian Guide to Health Eating (AGHE) diet. They assessed dietary composition, and cardiovascular and metabolic effects.2
The two diets looked like this:
|Permitted||Lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, fruits and vegetables.
Small amounts of olive or coconut oils.
Unsweetened almond milk.
Black coffee and tea.
1 TBSP dried fruit.
|Increased fruit, vegetable and whole grain intake.
Low fat dairy.
|Not permitted||Grains, cereals and dairy.
Corns, white potato and legumes.
|High fat consumption.|
Both groups were required to limit intake of discretionary items such as cakes, sugar sweetened beverages, biscuits and candy.
39 women with an average age of 47 and BMI of 27 completed the small intervention trial. Over 4 weeks:
- Palaeolithic dieters lost more weight (nearly 2kg)
- Palaeolithic dieters lost more fat mass (4.6% compared with 1.6%)
- There was no major difference in metabolic risk factors
- There was no major difference in cardiovascular risk factors
- Total cholesterol and LDL where reduced in both groups.
As expected, the Palaeolithic dieters had higher intake of fat and lower intake of carbohydrates overall. However there was no major difference in energy intake – interesting!
They also consumed less vitamin B1 and B2, sodium, calcium and iodine, but maintained fibre intake.
Short term-vs long-term
Despite positive short-term results, it is early days – perhaps too early – to be recommending a Paleo diet for all, as we have little evidence of long-term ramifications of consuming higher amounts of animal protein, and impact of removing entire food groups.
Perhaps a more moderate approach is to include legumes, and small amounts of grain and dairy, but in wholefood forms?
It is important to note that the advice given on health benefits around dairy and grain consumption is based on a lot of research. Whilst there is healthy skepticism around possible influence of industry funding for some research supporting high consumption of these food groups, that is a discussion for another day!
The key takeaway here is the consumption of real, whole foods has a hugely positive impact on human health. So, the big question remains if either of the interventions are sustainable by the average Joe long-term.
We must also consider that many things have changed since the cave man days.
Then vs now
In our modern world, we don’t eat the same way. We don’t move the same way. We live in a very different environment. And in many ways, we have adapted.
So what can we take from ancestral, pre-agricultural eating practices?
Unprocessed vs processed
What and how our ancestors hunted, foraged, wore and contended with varied greatly across the planet. Some had high seal-fat diets; some lived largely on fruit, nuts and seeds; some may have even consumed dairy amongst their meat and fish heavy supper times.
Therefore, to establish a singular dietary framework to encompass this mish-mash of race, cultural and ethnic needs is difficult!
The currently popularised Paleo style diet in the Western world is misconceived as including a super high meat intake.
Speaking generally, it is not cost effective, sustainable, or even particularly healthy to mung down on steak and bacon 3 times a day. It has been found that a low carbohydrate diet high in meat is associated with higher all-cause mortality when compared with a low carbohydrate plant-based diet.3
Instead, perhaps consider a small amount of good quality animal product several times a week. And enjoy all parts of the animal.
So if eating ‘Paleo’ is something that interests you, simply consider these two points:
Just eat real food, mostly vegetables.
Accompany an abundance of fibre rich humble veg with some lean, grass fed, pasture raised, free-range or wild meat, poultry and fish, and include nuts, seeds, fruit, and fermented foods. It is up to you if legumes, dairy and grains (or pseudo grains) fit into your dietary and wellbeing regime.
Just eat real food, limiting the heavily processed stuff
There is no one size fits all approach, except to include foods that are as close to their original form as possible. Some processing is fine! But limit (or avoid) highly refined and heavily processed versions of foods (especially meats, oils and grains), and you will only do yourself a favour.
Get back to your ancient roots, and #justeatrealfood.
By Angela Jonson (BHSc Nut. Med)
- Cordain, L. 2011, The Paleo Diet, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ, USA.
- Genoni, A, Lyons-Wall, P, Lo, J, & Devine, A 2016, ‘Cardiovascular, Metabolic Effects and Dietary Composition of Ad-Libitum Paleolithic vs. Australian Guide to Healthy Eating Diets: A 4-Week Randomised Trial’, Nutrients, vol. 8, no. 5
- Fung, TT, van Dam, RM, Hankinson, SE, Stampfer, M, Willett, WC, & Hu, FB 2010, ‘Low-carbohydrate diets and all-cause and cause-specific mortality: two cohort studies’, Annals Of Internal Medicine, vol. 153, no. 5, pp. 289-298.