Yesterday, a client of mine proudly exclaimed “I have decided to go on the ‘paleo’, or cave man diet. I’ve heard from a guru on TV that that’s the way we’re meant to eat, for better health and to lose weight.” I told him to “slow down, let’s look at the science of the ‘paleo diet.” Few studies have actually examined how effective a “caveman diet” can be for optimal health now. One review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2005) suggests that the new foods introduced in the Industrial Era, beginning in the late 1800’s, including fatty meats, refined cereals and sugars, and products high in sodium, made big changes in the nutritional quality of our eating patterns. These early cultivated (processed) foods took the place of minimally processed foods from the wild plant and animal foods in our original diet, resulting in a poorer quality diet. As our food supply has become more industrialized, the diversity of our crops and foods declined and, according to some experts, negatively impacted the health and well-being of the western world and contributed to the obesity crisis. “Evolutionarily, our bodies were designed to eat a variety of foods. Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers and ate a wide variety of foods. Even though it seems like we do too, in reality, our diets are primarily composed of foods high in corn products and refined sugars,” says anthropologist and Emory University professor George Armelagos, Ph.D. He and others believe that our bodies are not designed to process sugary beverages, refined flours, and processed snack foods, resulting a dramatic rise in metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and obesity. In addition, instead of hunting for food, one can find food just about everywhere, with little caloric expenditure needed. So, do we really need to eat like the caveman? Although everyone agrees we should eat more whole foods, consider that thousands of years ago the flesh of animals eaten by our ancestors was quite lean and the fat was far more unsaturated than today. Cattle fed on grass, pigs rooted and roamed; the animals had much higher muscle content than fat. Today, cattle are grain-fed, pigs are fed slop, with very little demands on their muscles. Think about it; if you eat something full of saturated fat, you will get fat. The past seems romantic, but consider that the during the stone age, the average lifespan was about 20 years, with 40 being the oldest life span. Today it’s 78 years of age. “While it makes sense that our native diet is apt to be good for us, considering our current life expectancy, we cannot conclude that a diet best suited to a two-to four decade life is just as good for an eight-decade life,” says David Katz, M.D. M.P.H., the founding director of Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center. Bottom line: It is impossible today for us to take on a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, dependent on large amounts of meat; plus the animals are conventionally raised. However, as I told my client, “eating more whole foods and increasing the plant-based portion your diet is the healthier way to go-look at the Mediterranean and Asian diets. There are also several studies that support the health advantages of following a vegetarian diet.” Until there is more evidence supporting a switch to the “caveman” diet, I recommend to my clients that they move plant foods to the center of their plate, use more herbs and spices for flavoring, eat more nuts and seeds, buy grass-fed meats whenever possible (and your pocketbook allows), chose whole foods over processed foods, use plant-based fats, and, move around more. This is a condensed version from an article written by Kaley Todd, M.S., R.D., in Environmental Nutrition (July 2013).

One of the things I’ve noticed as I gotten older (one of the good things), is that I seem more sensitive to salt. I don’t use nearly as much and I have a difficult time eating salty foods, and it’s a good thing. More evidence is in for consuming less sodium and increasing potassium intake. In a recent Cochrane review, reducing salt intake was linked with lowering blood pressure. In two reviews performed the World Health Organization, reduced salt intake was linked with lowered blood pressure and a decreased risk of stroke and mortality from stroke and coronary heart disease. I’ve serviced several stroke patients over the years and it is a disease that I do not want. I realize that I’ve blogged about this in the past, so this is just a little reminder.

Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.