Meal Plans

Eat Like a Caveman: The Paleo Diet

Can a paleolithic, grain-free diet help you lose fat and gain lean muscle? We break it down.

Shawn Perine thumbnail by Editor in Chief

It's 50,000 B.C. and you're jonesing for some grub. Since it's about 520 centuries before the first 7-Eleven opens, you have two options--head to the nearest forest and scrounge up some berries, seeds, and edible plants, or grab your trusty spear and go hunting. Either way, one thing's for sure: You won't be chowing down on anything containing wheat, corn, or other grains, since it's still a good 40,000 years until someone gets the idea to plant a seed.

For more than two and a half million years, this was the way humans of the Paleolithic Era (between 2.6 million and 10,000 B.C.) got by. And according to some, like Dr. Loren Cordain, a professor of health and exercise science at Colorado State University, this is the way it should still be.

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THE HUNTER-GATHERER DIET

"It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective," says Cordain, whose 2002 book, The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Food You Were Designed to Eat, makes the case for eating like a hunter-gatherer. "It's a system of eating that we've already adapted to." Cordain is among the more prominent advocates of a growing number of nutritionists and trainers who advocate following the dietary protocol of our prehistoric ancestors. Endorsed early on as a worthy idea by gastroen-terologist Walter L. Voegtlin in his 1975 book The Stone Age Diet, primitive-style eating has since caught the attention of scores of athletes and dieters over the past decade. In fact, so popular is paleo eating that it's been the subject of more than a dozen books--with titles like Neanderthin (by Ray Audette) and The Evolution Diet (by Joseph SB Morse)--and numerous websites and blogs, such as MarksDailyApple.com.

The foundational pillars of these primitive diets are all the same: meat, seafood, nonstarchy vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds--essentially anything that can be hunted and gathered. (These can be grilled, roasted, sauteed, or cooked in any other simple, healthful manner.) Absent are cereal grains, rice, legumes, potatoes, refined sugar, vegetable oils, salt, processed foods, and even milk. "Wild animals cannot be milked," says Cordain.

The foundational pillars of these primitive diets are all the same: meat, seafood, nonstarchy vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds--essentially anything that can be hunted and gathered. (These can be grilled, roasted, sauteed, or cooked in any other simple, healthful manner.) Absent are cereal grains, rice, legumes, potatoes, refined sugar, vegetable oils, salt, processed foods, and even milk. "Wild animals cannot be milked," says Cordain.

For hardcore paleo purists, even alcohol is verboten, while among its less ascetic followers, exceptions are made. The basic rule of thumb for paleo devotees: If hunter-gatherers (that is to say pre-10,000 B.C., the approximate date of the oldest discovered farm) didn't eat it, you shouldn't either.

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