The Paleolithic - or Paleo diet as it is commonly referred to, is a buzz word at the moment. But is it the latest in a long line of dietary fads, or a stroke of nutritional genius?
The diet which is supposed to resemble that of our ancestors living during the Paleolithic era, is based on the premise that our genes haven't changed a great deal since then, and therefore our diet shouldn't either. The theory is that our body is genetically designed to be at optimal health while following the Paleo diet.
The foods allowed in the diet are all those considered pre-agricultural (before the development of agriculture), and include fresh fish, grass-fed meats, eggs, fruit, vegetables and nuts - all of which are as close to their natural state as possible (with the exception of the animals of course), and can be hunted or gathered. There is no room in the diet for refined and processed foods, trans fats, or dairy, processed oils, legumes, grains or starchy vegetables like potato.
No potatoes or trans fats
Fresh fruit and vegetables acceptable
What proponents of the Paleo regimen can't seem to agree on is the diet's animal to plant ratio, with some advocating a whopping 55 - 65% of the diet be comprised of animal foods.
The diet is not without credible support with a number of reputable doctors, scientists and nutritionists backing the philosophy through research, books and the media. And clearly people are listening - there are Paleo cafes popping up all over Australia, four in little old Brisbane alone. So could there actually be something to this diet, or is it an excuse to eat whole herds of meat, perhaps a sublimal anti-vegetarian stance?
For every supporter of the Paleo diet there is a doubter or two attempting to debunk the philosophy. There are suggestions that the genetic information the diet is based on is in fact incorrect, and great debate on the actual diet that was consumed by our Paleolithic ancestors.
As for potential health hazards or benefits there are convincing arguments for each side. There are obvious and well documented benefits to cutting out highly refined and processed foods from the diet, particularly refined sugars and fats like those found in cakes, biscuits, breads and takeaway foods for example. On the other hand there are also well documented studies on the hazards of a diet high in animal foods. And there are concerns that a diet so high in fish and meat poses dangers due to contaminants such as mercury in fish, and preservatives, antibiotic residue, lead and arsenic in meat - the domestic meat and farmed fish eaten today is a far cry from the wild game hunted in Paleo times. So who is right?
The issue is the same issue that plagues every nutritional argument - nobody knows, or everybody knows and nobody can agree. It can be really confusing for the public who look to the so-called professionals and experts for dietary advice. What do you think of the Paleo diet? Have you had any experience with it? Or eaten at any of the Paleo cafes? Please share your experiences or insights with our readers by leaving a message in the Comments Box.