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Caveman or Palaeolithic Diet

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Palaeolithic or the caveman diet is also called the Stone Age diet, and hunter–gatherer diet. The basic premise of this diet is inclusion and consumption of foods that have been assumed to have been available to humans before agriculture was established.

The Palaeolithic period and its food

The Palaeolithic period existed nearly 2.5 million years ago. This was the age when humans first started to use stone tools. The period ended with the advent of agriculture approximately 10,000 years ago.

The foods that are thought to have been available during this period included wild-animal source foods and uncultivated-plant source foods. These included:-

  • lean meat
  • fish
  • eggs
  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • roots and tubers
  • nuts

There was no use of agriculture produce like:-

  • grains
  • legumes and pulses
  • dairy products like milk, butter, cheese etc.
  • salt
  • sugar
  • processed oils

These agents were included in foods after humans began to cultivate and grow crops and started domesticating animals.

Evolution and food changes

Studies have shown that as humans evolved the metabolic rates remained the same for larger body sizes compared to earlier apes. To compensate for this change in body size the gut in humans shrank as the brains became larger.

Unlike plant foods consumed by the great apes, the energy dense flesh foods consumed by the cavemen did not need long guts anymore. Thus with evolution the human gut shortened. Larger brains meant more hunting and foraging.

Palaeolithic diet and obesity

The caveman diet has been studied in its efficacy to prevent obesity and metabolic syndrome. There are several advocates of this diet who believe that humans are adapted to a Palaeolithic diet and not to the current civilized diet.

This diet is believed to prevent chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease that have been associated with advent western influence in diet and lifestyle.

Advocates of this diet believe that this diet is not only a weight loss diet but can optimize health. Studies have shown that it may benefit patients with:-

  • diabetes type 2
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • allergies and asthma
  • acne
  • arthritis and joint pains
  • systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
  • binge eating
  • mood disorders

Eating plan

Protein

  • Fish fatty deep sea fish such as salmon, herring, and mackerel. Shellfish such as crab, shrimp, scallops, oysters, clams, and lobster should be part of diet.
  • Lean, grass-fed buffalo meat with fat trimmed. Cuts include flank steak, chuck steak, or top sirloin steak. Lean pork with fat trimmed and cuts including pork loin or chops. Other animal meats include rabbits, goat, game meat (including pheasant, quail, wild turkey etc.)
  • White meat from poultry with skin removed. Cuts include chicken breasts, turkey breasts, or hen breasts.
  • Egg whites

Carbohydrates and fibres

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fresh fruits including apples, apricots, bananas, berries, cantaloupe, cherries, grapefruit, grapes, citrus fruits like limes, oranges and lemons, mangoes, nectarines, papaya, passion fruit, pomegranate, tangerines, pineapple, plums, watermelons and tomatoes.
  • Fresh vegetables except root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, or yams. Preferred vegetables are bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, green onions, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, parsley, pumpkin, radish, spinach, turnips, eggplants, etc.

Fats

  • Avocado oil
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Olive oil
  • Walnut oil

The caveman diet and calcium

The Caveman diet however lacks in calcium, which must be supplemented to prevent bone mineral loss.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further reading

Last Updated: Apr 10, 2013

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