Primal or Caveman Diet--Hoax or Healthy?
Would you look back in time two million years to find a diet that promises weight loss and health benefits? That's exactly what a growing number of people in the United States are doing - eating like our ancestors in the quest for optimum health. According to Loren Cordain of Colorado State University, author of two books on the subject, millions of people are eating like cavemen and following the caveman diet. Is the caveman diet the latest fad or does it deliver genuine results? Is eating like our ancestors the missing link in the quest for a healthy lifestyle?
What is the Caveman Diet?
The Caveman Diet, also known as the Primal Diet or the Paleo Diet, is based on the idea that what our ancestors ate around two million years ago is the healthiest diet we can consume today. The caveman was a hunter-gatherer, hunting animals for food and existing on wild seeds, nuts, seasonal vegetables, berries and fruits as well as bear, bison, deer, rabbit, squirrel and mammoth when he could get his hands on it. Some experts believe our bodies have evolved to exist eating a hunter-gatherer diet.
While the average caveman didn't live past the age of 30, his health risks came from herds of mammoth, cold, heat, and hungry bears - not from his bad diet. The caveman had low blood sugar levels, healthy cholesterol, lower incidence of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, low levels of bad fats and a complete lack of chemicals from processed foods, followers claim. When the animal was caught, everything that could be eaten, was eaten. Followers of the caveman diet believe the processed, cooked and modern foods we are accustomed to picking up in the stores today are harming our health and causing disease.
How To Eat Like a Caveman
Firstly, did a caveman ever call up and order pizza or pick up a ready-made pasta sauce? Not likely. The caveman diet bans all packaged, processed and junk food. Instead, if you follow the caveman diet you'll enjoy the foods that were available in the Paleolithic era, prior to agriculture and the keeping of animals for food. Broadly speaking, permitted foods are meat and fish, nuts, vegetables, roots, fruits and berries, mushrooms, and shellfish.
Out are grains, dairy products, potatoes, sugar, and bread. When you delve further into it, following the caveman or primal diet becomes a little more complicated. For example, fruits were confined to whatever grew in the local area and were smaller and more bitter than we are used to today.
Cavemen would not have eaten processed oils from seeds and would only have consumed wild game, not processed meat. Fish needs to be caught in the wild to be truly paleo, and salt is prohibited. Water is the only truly authentic drink on the caveman diet. Discussion exists around all aspects of the diet - should alcohol be included because cavemen sometimes drank fermented fruit juices? Is dairy ever acceptable? What about supplements? Would cavemen have eaten tomatoes? Many people who follow the caveman diet don't stop at increasing their intake of fruit and vegetables, avoiding processed foods and eating meat - there are more extreme ways to eat like a caveman.
Going To Extremes: Raw Meat and Rotten Flesh
Are you following the cabbage soup diet or the grapefruit diet? Too tame. Variations of the caveman or primal diet advocate raw meat and eggs - preferably past their use-by date. Followers believe raw fats bind more effectively to toxins, which are more easily expelled from the body. The majority of foods you eat on this diet consists of raw meat, chicken, sushi and sashimi, plus a small amount of vegetables and low-carb fruits. Sides include unpasteurized yoghurt and an appetizing taste of fermented vegetables.
Medical Evidence Against the Caveman Diet
"Advocating a diet that relies on eating raw meat is simply irresponsible and could be downright dangerous," says Dr Andrew Wadge at the UK's Food Standards Agency.
"It is a simple fact that raw meat may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness and even death. There are still around 500 deaths a year in the UK from food poisoning." But what about a caveman diet that doesn't rely on raw meat? Can it be healthy?
Experts say no - the diet is hard to follow and relies on foods that are not readily available in the US today. A diet high in meat and animal fat is not as healthy as a vegetable-based diet, according to a 2009 study from the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics which found the prevalence of heart disease and cancer decreased with declining meat consumption.
(New research has found that marinating meat in certain juices makes it less harmful to your heart.)
Medical Opinion in Favor of the Caveman Diet
Numerous studies have advocated that the 'Western diet' --- high in sugars, fats, processed meals and convenience foods --- is bad for us, increasing the risk of health horrors such as diabetes and heart disease. So the caveman diet with its reliance on lean meat, fruit and vegetables should be good for us, right? Many followers claim that the caveman diet cures various diseases and clears up long-term conditions.
A 2007 study from the University of Lund, Sweden tested the caveman diet against a Mediterranean diet - which includes grains and low-fat diary - in individuals suffering from heart disease or diabetes.
Those eating the caveman diet for 12 weeks saw a drop in blood sugar levels by 26 percent, which didn't happen on the Mediterranean diet. The group on the caveman diet lost 5.6cm from their waist.
Another study from the University of Lund, Sweden in 2006 found those following the paleo diet had lower blood pressure and higher insulin sensitivity plus lower C-reactive protein.
However, this study only looked at pigs. A study from the same university in 2009 found the Paleolithic diet improved glycemic control and reduced several cardiovascular risk factors compared to a diabetes diet, in 13 patients.
A 2008 study from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden led by Dr Magnus O-sterdahl looked at 20 healthy volunteers who followed a version of the caveman diet where they were allowed to eat unlimited fresh or frozen fruit, berries, vegetables, lean meat, fish, canned tomatoes, lemon and lime juice, spices and coffee or tea without milk or sugar, for three weeks.
Dairy was banned, along with salt, peanuts, pasta and rice, alcohol, sausages, sugar and fruit juice. The volunteers that completed the study reduced their daily calorie intake by around 900 calories to 1,500 calories a day, lost 5lbs, and reduced their waist measurement by an average of 1.5cm. Antioxidant rose and fat levels fell, while systolic blood pressure fell by 3 mm Hg.
However, on the negative side, calcium levels dropped by around 50 percent. Out of the 20 people studied, 30 percent dropped out and the study only had completed data on six people.
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