Do you remember Conan the Barbarian? He was the huge, well-defined warrior with an appetite for revenge and bison meat. Loren Cordain, Ph.D, a professor at Colorado State University in health and exercise science, developed a diet that can help us look just like him: the Paleolithic, or paleo, diet.
The paleo diet foregoes modern processed foods and focuses instead on the diets of our distant ancestors. The diet consists mostly of meat, fresh vegetables and fruits, with no grains or dairy. There has been much debate over the validity of this diet, and there remains no conclusive evidence that this diet is worthwhile.
In 1985, there was a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that argued our genome, which has had plenty of time to evolve, is ready neither for grains, dairy and beans, nor processed candies and sweets.
As with most exclusion diets, many claim that it is easy to shed pounds, and it is worth noting that even though the theory behind the paleo diet may not be sound, the eating strategy may be. Cutting out refined carbohydrates like bread and pasta eliminates empty calories in your diet while replacing them with high protein and fibre whole foods.
Other scientists argue that, over the course of the thousands of years that humans have been on the earth, our digestives systems have evolved and also adapted to the changes in our diets.
Another factor contributing to the skepticism surrounding the diet is the amount of meat that is required. One serving of meat is about 65 to 100 grams, and most of us eat more than that in one sitting.
The Cancer Council of New South Wales concludes that red meat consumption strongly correlates with the risk of bowel cancer.
Other studies have shown that women who eat more red meat have higher chances of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Red meat is also high in saturated fats, which can clog blood vessels and increase insulin resistance.
Alexandra Palma, a second-year student at U of T, says, “I noticed than when I eat paleo, I feel my best. I don’t feel sluggish or bloated, I have lots of energy, and I’m never still hungry after a paleo meal or snack. Eating things a caveman would have access to means a diet rich in protein and healthy fats and lots of fibre. The problem with grains is that grains today aren’t what they used to be 50 years ago. Everything now is GMO.”
“Cattle raised nowadays are given lots of hormones and antibacterial agents so the cattle will live longer and produce milk quicker. Adult humans are not able to break down lactose, so when we drink milk we get gassy, bloated, phlegmy, and break out,” adds Palma.
First-year student Sophia Shim holds a different opinion. “I have tried the diet — it was when I was training for a competition and [needed] to drop some weight. As to whether I would do it again, only for a small length of time, but I wouldn’t recommend it as carbs are important for energy,” she says.
There is much to be learned from the paleo diet, in that cutting out empty carbohydrates and dairy may be a good thing, as is increasing the number of fruits and vegetables that we consume — but eating almost exclusively meat is not necessarily a good replacement.