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The caveman diet is a diet that is intended to mimic, as closely as possible, the way that the ancestors of humans ate more than 10,000 years ago.
The caveman diet is also sometimes referred to as the Paleolithic diet. The Paleolithic period is the period occurring before 10,000 years ago. During the Paleolithic period the ancestors of humans were hunters and gatherers. They ate the foods that they could find in the wild, including game that could be killed and fruits and vegetables that grew locally. Everything during this time was consumed raw. Milk and other dairy products were not available because animals had not yet been domesticated.
It is not clear when the interest in going back to the diet of Paleolithic humans began. There are many different people who recommend different versions of the diet. There are many commonalities between the various versions of the caveman diet, but in general there is one main difference. Some proponents of the diet suggest eating a variety of very lean meats raised as most like animals in the wild as possible, and some proponents who encourage eating a large quantity of red meats with high fat contents.
The two most popular versions of the diet come from Ray Audette and Loren Cordain. Audette wrote the book “Neaderthin” and Cordain is the author of the book “The Paleo Diet” These diets have many similarities and differ mainly on what types of meats and how much fat should be eaten. They also differ in the way that they suggest beginning the diet and on the strictness with which they require the diet to be followed.
The caveman diet is intended to include only foods that were available to humans that existed more than 10,000 years ago. The most basic meaning of this is that only foods that can be eaten raw can be included, as fire was not discovered until after this time period. On the diet however, the food does not actually have to be eaten plain and raw, it can be moderately prepared. Food can be cooked but should be eaten very close to its raw state, without complex preparation methods being used. Because the food has to be able to be eaten raw this excludes some foods like many members of the legume family (such as beans, peas, and peanuts) because they have to be cooked.
The other basic premise is that nothing that requires technology can be eaten. Technology in this case encompasses things as diverse as agricultural methods to complex processing and canning. This means that any kind of food that has been processed in any way is forbidden. This excludes all forms of refined sugars, and large amounts of the foods normally eaten by average consumers today.
No dairy products are allowed while on this diet. This means no milk, cheese, butter, or anything else that comes from milking animals. This is because milking did not occur until animals were domesticated, sometime after the Paleolithic age. Eggs are
allowed however, because Paleolithic man would probably have found eggs in bird’s nests during foraging and hunting.
Because agriculture did not exist during the Paleolithic era this means that no grains of any kind can be eaten while on the caveman diet. Although wild grains did exist during the Paleolithic period, many of them were very different than the grains that exist today. They were unlikely to have been as robust and would have provided little nutrition. Additionally grains could not be collected in any significant way until pottery (another invention of the Neolithic age) was invented so that there was an available method to collect and store it. So on the caveman diet grains in all forms are forbidden. This includes rice, wheat, and even corn.
Root vegetables that are starchy are also forbidden on the diet. These include potatoes and sweet potatoes. Yams and Cassava are also not allowed, and some people believe beets are acceptable on the diet and some do not. These foods are not allowed because they generally have to be cooked and are not believed to have been eaten during Paleolithic times.
Different versions of the caveman diet differ in their recommendations about exercise. Some versions do not make recommendations, while others suggest significant amounts of exercise, especially outdoor exercise. The premise is that Paleolithic humans spent most of their time hunting and gathering food, which would have required a significant amount more physical activity than average humans engage in today.
Cordain believes that when beginning the caveman diet it is often advisable to begin slowly, and slowly include more meals that follow the diet’s guidelines as time goes on. He also believes that having what he calls “open meals,” during which the guidelines are relaxed, can be a good way to help the dieter stick to the diet in the long run. Cordain also believes that even just following some of the recommendations of the caveman diet can be beneficial, and encourages people to do as much as they are comfortable with. Audette generally takes a more hard line approach and does not allow for any bending of the rules with certain meals. He reports that not only do he and his wife follow this diet strictly, but that their son has been on the diet since birth, as well.
The caveman diet is intended to promote weight loss and overall better health by mimicking a diet similar to the diet of the humans who lived during the Paleolithic age. It is believed that the human body is not designed to be able to process foods that were not consumed during the Paleolithic age. It is also thought that eliminating these foods will allow the body to function more in the manner for which it was designed, leading to better health and a decreased risk of many of the diseases that are prevalent in the industrialized world such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
There are many benefits to losing weight if it is done at a moderate pace through healthy eating and increased exercise. Obesity causes an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and many other diseases and conditions. The greater the obesity the greater the risk of these diseases, and the greater the severity of the symptoms associated with them. Losing weight can reduce the risks of these and other obesity-related diseases as well as reduce the severity of the symptoms if the diseases have already occurred.
In addition to the general benefits of weight loss, the caveman diet may provide a variety of other health benefits. Fresh fruits and vegetables are high in many vitamins and minerals, which are important for overall good health. Some versions of the caveman diets that recommend free range, grass-fed lean meats may have additional benefits as these meats may be higher than regular meats in omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed have positive health benefits for the heart and cardiovascular system.
Varieties of the caveman diet that recommend large amounts of exercise may have additional health benefits. Regular exercise can help weight loss to occur more quickly by helping the body use more calories and creating muscle mass. Regular exercise also may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Anyone thinking of beginning a new diet should consult a medical practitioner. Requirements of calories, fat, and nutrients can differ significantly from person to person, depending on gender, age, weight, and many other factors such as the presence of any diseases or conditions. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should be especially cautious because deficiencies of vitamins or minerals can have a significant negative impact on a baby.
There are some risks with any diet. It is often difficult to get enough of some vitamins and minerals when eating a limited variety of foods. All varieties of the caveman diet exclude all milk and dairy products. Because these foods are excellent sources of calcium it is possible that people on the caveman diet may not get enough calcium in their diet. Lack of calcium can lead to many different disease and conditions such as osteoporosis and rickets. Anyone beginning this diet may want to consult their physician about whether taking a vitamin or supplement might help them reduce this risk. Also such a low starchy carbohydrate intake could cause health problems such as lethargy and fatigue due to low energy.
Versions of the caveman diet that allow and encourage large quantities of high fat red meat being eaten have their own risks. High-fat diets, especially diets high in animal fats, have been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Versions of the diet.
that encourage the consumption mainly of lean meats probably do not have this increased risk.
There have been various scholarly studies aimed at determining what the likely diet of Paleolithic humans ate. However, there is not a significant body of research examining how this kind of diet would affect modern humans. There is however research indicating that a healthy, varied diet including many different fruits and vegetables is important for good overall health.
Some experts find concern in the fact that the diet completely eliminates dairy products, which are generally considered to be part of a healthy diet. The United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPyramid, the updated version of the Food Guide Pyramid, recommends the equivalent of 3 cups of low-fat or non-fat dairy products per day for healthy adults. The caveman diet also does not allow grains, although whole grains are also generally considered an important part of a healthy diet. MyPyramid recommends the equivalent of 3 to 4 ounces of grains each day, of which at least half should be whole grains, for healthy adults.
The Center for Disease Control recommended in 2007 that healthy adults get at least 30 minutes of light to moderate exercise everyday. The versions of the caveman diet that recommend large amounts of regular exercise would exceed this minimum recommendation. Regular exercise is generally accepted as an excellent way of improving health, reducing the risk of disease, and managing weight.
The caveman diets that recommend large amounts of red meat and eggs, and encourage the consumption of fattier meats, are extremely controversial. Although many diets that are low in carbohydrates and high in meat, such as the very popular Atkins diet, have gained many followers, especially in the mid 2000s, physicians, nutritionists, and other health and science professionals continue to debate their various health benefits and risks. It is generally accepted, however, that regularly eating a diet high in saturated fats, which are often found in high quantities in red meat, has a detrimental effect on the health in the long run and studies have shown that it can lead to increased incidence of cardiovascular disease.
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Cordain, Loren. The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Food You Were Designed to Eat New York: J. Wiley, 2002.
Shannon, Joyce Brennfleck ed. Diet and Nutrition Source-book Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 2006.
Willis, Alicia P. ed. Diet Therapy Research Trends New York: Nova Science, 2007.
“Caveman Diet.”Psychology Today (May/June 1997): V30 I3 18-21.
American Dietetic Association. 120 South Riverside Plaza, Suite 2000, Chicago, Illinois 60606-6995. Telephone: (800) 877-1600. Website: <http://www.eatright.org>
The Paleo Diet 2002. <http://www.thepaleodiet.com> (April 10, 2007).
Helen M. Davidson