The lowdown on the dinosaur diet

The caveman diet may be old news (literally), but it’s back in a big way. With a major celeb following and tons of books written on it, it’s no wonder people are asking about the Paleo diet. SheKnows finds out what all the fuss is about.

What is the “caveman diet”, exactly?

Also known as the Paleo, dinosaur and Stone Age diet, the caveman diet is all about going back to the way our ancestors ate around 10,000 years ago. It involves only eating foods that the cavemen could hunt and gather themselves, such as meat, fish and vegies, and eliminating anything processed.

What’s on the menu?

The Paleo diet is all about going back to our roots and only eating foods that come from the ground, or have to be killed. In other words, it’s au naturel. Suprisingly, there are plenty of delicious options and if you adopt this diet, your tastebuds won’t be too deprived. The foods that are allowed include:

  • Unlimited fresh fruits and vegetables (organic is best)
  • All meats, the redder the better
  • Fish and seafood
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Spices e.g. cinnamon and chilli
  • Herbal teas
  • Plant-based oils like olive and coconut

Since the diet is based around eating things that were once “wild”, there is a laundry list of forbidden foods. These include:

  • All processed food. Think of how many aisles there are in the middle of a supermarket. Yeah, this diet rules out a lot.
  • Sugar and sweeteners e.g. honey
  • All grains, including gluten-free ones. That means everything like bread, rice, cereal, pasta, corn and quinoa is out.
  • Legumes such as lentils and beans
  • Dairy
  • Alcohol or caffeine
  • Starchy vegetables e.g. white potato

As for cooking methods, the Paleo diet is fairly flexible. You can steam, stir fry, sautee, grill and pan-fry, but the only requirement is that you do it with good, rich fats such as coconut oil or butter. Nothing “low fat” here — after all, that phrase didn’t exist until a couple of centuries ago!

Check out how to remove processed foods from your everyday diet >>

What are the pros and cons?

Like any diet, the caveman one has its benefits and drawbacks. The Paleo diet has been praised by top nutritionists and celebrities (like Victoria Beckham and Gwyneth Paltrow) and absolutely slammed by others — and both sides have a point.

Pros

  • This diet advocates cutting out processed foods, which is one of the best things you can do for your body.
  • All that protein helps build lean muscle.
  • So many vegies deliver plenty of fibre and nutrients, which your body needs to thrive.
  • All fruit is allowed, which not only satisfies a sweet tooth but it also provides a boost of energy.
  • Healthy fats like avocado and olive oil promote good heart health, increase brainpower and reduce inflammation.
  • It’s simple to understand. If it didn’t come from nature, don’t eat it.
  • No kilojoule counting or food weighing required.

Cons

  • The caveman diet is incredibly restrictive and cuts out two major food groups: dairy and grains. Most dietitians agree that eliminating whole food groups is a bad move as every “group” has a role in our health.
  • Most women will find it hard to eat meat at a third of their meals. It’s just not how we’re wired. (No wonder it’s called the caveMAN diet…)
  • Consuming so much meat can affect digestion as well as heart health.
  • Not suitable for vegetarians.
  • Without dairy and legumes, the diet does not contain enough calcium or fibre.
  • Requires immense willpower. As you can imagine, this eating plan would be very hard to follow if you a) shop at a supermarket b) have a social life and c) crave coffee or a treat every now and again.

What’s the verdict?

With the Paleo diet, the trick is to take some of its tips on board and leave others. The fact is, most of us eat way too many processed foods, so we should view things like sugar as “treats” to be enjoyed once in a while. Eating more fruit, vegies and protein will do amazing things for your health, but there’s no real need to go through life with such an extreme diet. If you want a glass of wine or a bowl of lentil soup every now and then, go for it!

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