Tiffin Project

The Paleolithic Diet

by Todd Caldecott on October 25, 2011

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When we consider our 2-3 million year evolution it stands to reason that our bodies are best adapted to the hunter-gatherer diet of our Paleolithic ancestors. Although the assumption is often made that agriculture was in every respect an improvement upon the human condition, anthropological research shows that if our Paleolithic ancestors were able to survive accidents, infection and childbirth, their longevity was similar to that of the modern human, but without many of the chronic degenerative diseases that affect us now. These conclusions are bolstered by contemporary research on the last few remaining Paleolithic groups such as the !Kung peoples of the Kalahari and Aché peoples of Paraguay, who are remarkably free of the chronic degenerative disease that plagues the industrialized world. The accounts of the first European explorers in North America are replete with references to the robust health and vitality of the Native Americans, who displayed little indication of the disease and pestilence the explorers left behind across the Atlantic. In the few hundred years since colonization and the adoption of the European diet however, Native Americans now suffer from the highest rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer in North America. From “robust” health to chronically infirm in just a few centuries, the Native American experience is only the most recent tale in the 10,000 year saga of our collective experiment with agriculture.

Cultivating a Paleolithic diet
The hallmark of the Paleolithic diet is an avoidance of agricultural staples including cereal grains, legumes, some types of nuts and seeds, dairy, refined vegetable oils and sweeteners. Although this apparently limits the diversity of the diet, many people are remarkably unaware of just how few types of foods we eat nowadays. Take a look in the shopping cart of your average shopper at the grocery store, and you will likely find the same five products such as milk, potatoes, wheat, corn and sugar. So while avoiding such foods may seem initially restrictive, it does out of necessity open up entirely new vistas in food previously unimagined.

• Protein-based foods on the Paleolithic diet include all pasture-raised, forage-fed or wild animal products, including meat, eggs, poultry, and fish. Plant sources for proteins include nuts and seeds but as these contain allergens and anti-nutrient factors people with sensitive immune systems should approach them with caution.

• Fat-based foods include all fats naturally found in animal products, as well as the fat rendered from them including tallow, grease and lard, and fatty vegetable foods such as coconut and avocado. Clarified butter (ghee) is not a Paleolithic food, but as it is rendered from sugars and immunoreactive proteins it is an acceptable food that rarely provokes a negative response.

• Carbohydrate-based foods include glycogen-rich animal tissues such as liver, as well as wild roots and tubers, wild fruits, and inner tree bark. In the Paleolithic diet I also include most root vegetables such as beets, rutabaga and Jerusalem artichoke as well as winter squashes and non-gluten grains such as quinoa, amaranth, rice and buckwheat, although very sensitive individuals may need to avoid cereals and legumes entirely. All non-starchy vegetables are acceptable in the Paleolithic diet with the possible exception of nightshades, including tomato, eggplant and bell peppers, which can provoke inflammation in sensitive individuals.

• Restricted foods include gluten-containing cereal grains, legumes, dairy, sweet fruits, sweeteners, tea, coffee, chocolate, alcohol, and very starchy vegetables such as sweet potato, yam, potato, cassava, taro, dasheen and tapioca.

The dietary ratio of proteins, carbohydrates and fats among Paleolithic peoples varied considerably depending on culture and geography, anywhere from 19-35% for proteins, 22-40% for carbohydrates, and 28-58% for fats. One major factor missing from this equation however is the abundance of low-calorie non-starchy vegetation such as leafy greens, which are otherwise rich in trace minerals, vitamins and accessory nutrients. In my practice I suggest that when possible these foods comprise upwards of 50% of the total volume of foods eaten each to help to promote good digestion and moderate the appetite.

While the Paleolithic diet may seem restrictive when compared to the typical Western diet, many people find that the immediate health benefits out-weigh the inconvenience. It is a diet that has low immunogenicity or allergy-causing potential, and thus people with food sensitivities and allergies often experience a lessening of symptoms when they have been on this diet for as little as a 1-2 weeks. Even environmental allergies such as animal dander or pollen lessen to the point of tolerance, and sometimes cease all together. With appropriate support this kind of diet can be very helpful in modulating the activity of autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. In the treatment of chronic digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease, the Paleolithic diet can be very helpful to lessen the reactivity of the gastric mucosa and normalize digestion. With its absence of refined carbohydrates the Paleolithic diet effectively inhibits fungal growth and development, and is useful to control chronic candidiasis (yeast) and related chronic fungal infections (e.g. rhinosinusitis). In the same way, the Paleolithic diet helps to normalize blood sugar and insulin levels, which in turn reduces the risk of diseases associated with insulin resistance including truncal obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Although it is no miracle, the changes many people experience on this diet do indeed seem miraculous. In my clinical experience however some symptoms can actually worsen during the first few weeks of treatment, only to resolve some 4-6 weeks later. In traditional medicine this is described as a “healing crisis”, and happens when the immune response shifts from a state of relative tolerance to an aggressive response that redirects the body back to homeostatic balance.

~ Todd Caldecott

For more info, visit: ToddCaldecott.com

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

James October 28, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Going Paleo has been one of the best things I have done for my body (besides taking up CrossFit). Most noticeably, my skin feels and looks much better, I sleep well at night as blood sugar levels are much more stable.

K October 31, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Like James, going Paleo and taking up Crossfit has easily been the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Love it.

paulkamon October 31, 2011 at 12:50 pm

And the best part is real food tastes good. I’ve never been happier cooking with animal fats and eating garden fresh vegetables and fruits. Only thing I really miss eating everyday is bread.

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