Eat like a caveman? No thanks!

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“Paleo” diets are all the rage. The premise is that humans evolved in the Paleolithic age, between 2.5 million and 10,000 years ago. Agriculture and animal husbandry were unknown.

By eating only foods available to hunter-gatherers of that era, the theory goes, we’ll be feeding our bodies the way they evolved to be fed.

To which I say “rubbish.” I think the actual caveman diet was much more along the lines of the one advocated by my friend Marshall, who liked to say he’d eat anything that wouldn’t eat him first.

“Cave Women Don’t Get Fat”

One of the latest paleo pushers is Esther Blum, a self-described holistic nutritionist, who wrote a book called Cavewomen Don’t Get Fat: The Paleo Chic Diet for Rapid Results.

It may be the first gal-centered paleo diet book, because, as Blum points out, most of the others are very male dominated. Kudos to her for that.

The paleo diet is similar to the Adkins and South Beach diets–no grains, but lots of protein, fruits and vegetables.

The disdain for grain is what grinds me the most. Anyone who has read the Clan of the Cave Bear books knows that among the things the hunter-gatherers gathered were wild grains, though they were undoubtedly a much smaller part of their diet than of ours.

Which is not to say these paleo diets have no merit. Eschewing sugar, additives and highly processed foods can only be a good thing.

Blum, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nutrition, developed her approach in the early 1990s, after hearing Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet. She decided to give up grain herself. While she follows the paleo diet, her husband does not.

Respect what your body wants

Probably the most sensible thing Blum says on the subject is this: “Understanding what works for you is very important. You have to respect what your body wants.”

I can’t disagree, but that advice works both ways. The latest diet trends may not be what your body wants and needs.

A few years ago, my daughter was convinced that the aches and pains in my aging body resulted from the aspartame in the diet sodas I drank and the low-cal yogurt I ate. Partly to humor her and partly because it was worth a try, I gave up all artificial sweeteners for several weeks. My aching joints didn’t notice at all.

Several years ago my husband and I followed the South Beach Diet for a few weeks. We scrupulously avoided all carbs: no sugar, no bread, not even any fruit or starchy veggies at the beginning. We lost a little weight but it didn’t seem worth the effort of obsessing about every morsel we ingested–not to mention the time we had to spend making carb-free everything.

One advantage of weaning yourself away from sugars and starches is that you’ll crave them less.

Can anything be “too sweet”?

As a child, I could never understand adults who said, “That’s too sweet for me.” How could anything possibly be too sweet?

Well, once you cut out sweeteners for a few weeks and then start eating them again, you’ll find you need much less to be satisfied–and that indeed, some foods can be too sweet!

As for eating like a caveman, check out this excellent article from Scientific American that does a good job of analyzing paleo diets.

For one thing, says author Ferris Jabr, no one knows exactly what cavemen ate, and the foods they hunted and gathered would have varied significantly according to where they lived. Moreover, nearly everything we eat today, from meat to vegetables, is very different from what would have been available in the Paleolithic era.

The idea that humans have not evolved since caveman days is nonsense too, he says. One notable change is the relatively recent mutation of a gene that gives most humans the ability to digest the lactose in dairy products.

Some of the recipes in The Paleo Chic Diet sound worth trying, like this one for blueberry pancakes. Just don’t try to tell me the cavemen had almond flour!

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