Whole Living (October 2012)
We bet you know someone who's on the Paleo diet.
It goes by other names -- caveman, primal, hunter-gatherer. It's a fad diet that first started in the 1970s, but has exploded in popularity in the past few years. The idea behind the Paleo diet is this: For millions of years, our cavemen ancestors ate a diet of lean meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts, roots and fungi. Then, relatively recently, our ancestors began farming grains, potatoes and other refined starches. Evolutionarily speaking, our bodies haven't adapted to that change in diet. So we'd all be better off trying replicate the diet of Paleolithic man.
In other words, lean proteins and veggies are in. Carbohydrates, refined sugars, legumes and dairy are out.
Simple enough. And who can argue that modern-day humans couldn't stand to cut down their carb intake? Paleo is, at its most basic, high in protein and low in carbs. (In a lot of ways, Paleo seems like Atkins 2.0.)
We're a little torn on Paleo, to be honest. For one thing, it's always struck us as questionable to talk about "a Paleo diet" as if there was one single set of foods being consumed by cavemen the world over. We're no experts, but we're pretty sure the guys sitting around painting caves in Lascaux weren't slugging coconut water (a major part of the modern Paleo diet). And the guys who were sipping on coconut water probably didn't have access to, say, buffalo.
And we're not sure about the argument that "this is what cavemen ate so this is what's best for you." Cavemen ate whatever cavemen could find. That doesn't mean their diet is necessarily the healthiest mix of foods for human consumption.
Also, their lifestyles were so vastly different from our own that we wonder how much we should be comparing our diet to theirs. For instance, our ancestors needed as much protein as they could find. But modern humans don't "need" meat at all. In fact, a lot of nutritionists smarter than we are say we'd all be much better off eating no meat whatsoever.
We have a lot of friends who are going Paleo these days. We're not among them (as the croissants we ate in San Francisco will attest). But this is all a very, very long-winded way of saying that we're intrigued by the Paleo diet, but unconvinced about its merits.
But one night recently we hosted a Paleo dinner to see what all the fuss is about.