Dave Shaw

Performance nutritionist, clinical dietitian and health expert, Dave does his best to make sense of what we eat.

Dave Shaw: Paleo - That's not really what Cavemen ate

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Paleo is based on a skewed understanding of what our caveman ancestors actually ate.
Photo / Thinkstock
Paleo is based on a skewed understanding of what our caveman ancestors actually ate. Photo / Thinkstock

Paleo eating has become the diet de jure in many health circles. I can't get away from it. It's a meat heavy eating plan, essentially allowing you to chow down on as much bacon as you want.

But it's based on a skewed understanding of what our caveman ancestors actually ate.

Bondi trainers, Luke and Scott, are pro-Paleo.
Bondi trainers, Luke and Scott, are pro-Paleo.

Read more: Paleo isn't just a fad according to these guys.

Now, I'm not against this way of eating. I'm just a sceptic, counting on real science to determine what's healthy. I actually quite like Paleo and how it's teamed up with the CrossFit craze (learn more about that here). It's also got a great strong emphasis on wholefoods, heaps of veg, healthy fats and avoidance of refined grains.

However, what some people claim to be Paleolithic, I claim to be pathetic. And here's why.

Cavemen didn't eat meat everyday

To be primal, you ought to eat meat whenever you can. Cavemen would have only come across meat sporadically in the thrill of the hunt, not by simply finding the chilled section of the supermarket. Also, don't confuse Paleo with "high fat/low carb" because the two aren't interchangeable - the later doesn't support a ridiculous emphasis on consuming high amounts protein. Cavemen were closer to being vegetarians, rather than omnivores.

Cavemen didn't eat modern Paleolithic foods

My biggest gripe is the inclusion of bacon and sausages on the primal menu. They are products of the modern day food industry, which kills the Paleo lifestyle right there. Wouldn't it be more Caveman-like to munch on some insects and rodents?

Cavemen ate everything available

Paleo advocates seem to think our ancestors evolved to eat one type of diet and our bodies are designed to process only certain types of food. The environment affected the availability of different foods, especially if you were living on the coast rather than inland and you were forced to make the most of any local grub to survive. Evidence of traditional contrasting diets - African tribes eat heaps of carbs, while Inuits have a high fat diet. This culture and tradition is a better guidance of how to eat for good health, rather than relying on primal schools of thought.

Cavemen weren't afraid of fruits

Yet, these sweet sensations have no place in the Paleo plan. What happened when our primal ancestors came across a tree bursting with these nutritionally dense gifts? I doubt they walked past mindlessly. Fruit and berries are nature's dessert, not poison.

Cavemen ate carbs

However, Paleo fans have demonised all carbohydrates. There is some evidence to show the Caveman consumed grains from carbon-dated tools most likely used from grinding grains and from traces of grains found in archaeological remains. The focus should be on the amount, timing and type of grain, rather than a blanket ban.

Cavemen weren't training for specific sports

But some personal trainers and athletes advocate Paleo to boost performance. Show me the proof to support this because I can't find any. It neglects fundamental sports nutrition concepts (which you learn more about here).

Cavemen lived shorter lives

So why try to eat like them? There is no convincing evidence to say eating a primal diet is any better than eating like anyone else. Why not eat more like the French or the Greeks - these European diets would be just as beneficial, if not, more.

Cavemen ate organic and free-range

Modern primal eaters appear to be the opposite. Factory farmed chickens, light deprived pigs and farmed salmon swimming in their own excrements is not organic or free-range. The very foods many Paleo diet lovers continue to load up on.

I'm not attempting to tear down the Paleo name because numerous health benefits can come from eating a diet based on wholefoods, fruit and veg, nuts, seeds, meat and fish. But I do challenge the notion of eating like a caveman and what this even equates to in our modern day society.


* Dave Shaw is a NZ registered dietitian and nutritionist. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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