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paleo diet also paleolithic diet

noun [countable]

a diet based on food eaten in the Stone Age era, which consists of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, and does not include grains, dairy products or processed foods

'Proponents of the Paleo diet claim miraculous gains in energy, mental acuity, physical strength and general health. But naysayers point out the diet is expensive, difficult and probably not sustainable. (There are 7 billion people on Earth, and there's only so much meat to go around.)'

Time 3rd December 2014

Hedgehog burger anyone?

Even to the carnivores among us, this may seem like a pretty revolting prospect, but it's a culinary concept which could, in principle, feature within a strict interpretation of what's known as a paleo diet.

proponents of the diet believe that it has significant health as well as weight loss benefits, arguing that many of today's health problems are the result of a mismatch between our Stone Age genes and modern diets

A paleo diet, or paleolithic diet, is a modern diet designed to emulate the diet of wild animals and plants eaten by humans during the Paleolithic era, or as far as this is possible in relation to foods available today. It's also therefore sometimes called a Stone Age, hunter-gatherer, or caveman diet. The diet is based on what humans were forced to survive on during this era, so involves consuming large amounts of lean meat, fruit, eggs, and certain kinds of nuts, seeds and vegetables. Perhaps more interestingly, it excludes any foods which were not thought to be available during our cave-dwelling days, which means that peas/beans, dairy products, grains like wheat, rye and barley, refined sugar and processed foods are out. Coffee and alcohol are also a no-no as these weren't drinks our forebears were able to produce.

Proponents of the diet believe that it has significant health as well as weight loss benefits, arguing that many of today's health problems are the result of a mismatch between our Stone Age genes and modern diets. In other words, the 10,000 years since the adoption of new foods via the agricultural revolution simply isn't long enough for our bodies to have adapted to eating them. Though paleo diets are undeniably healthy in their omission of excessive carbs, refined sugars and processed foods, their precise benefits are hotly debated however, mainly because of differing opinions on what was in fact available in cave-dwelling times, and because pulses and dairy products have clinically-proven nutritional benefits.

The paleo diet is nevertheless growing in popularity, with predictable endorsement from a number of celebrities. In 2013 it was the most googled diet on the internet, and in late 2014 the UK's first paleo restaurant opened in London. No hedgehog burgers on the menu there it seems, but you can eat chips (made from carrots) and cheese (made entirely from nuts).

Background – paleo diet

The idea of a dietary regime based on what was eaten in the Stone Age dates back to the 1970s, but the term paleo diet was popularized by Loren Cordain, a dietary expert and former professor of Colorado State University who published a book on the subject in 2001. Cordain's work has spawned an entire paleo movement and a thriving market in cookery books, meal plans and DVDs. The diet's popular exposure has even led to the informal usage go paleo (= adopt a paleo diet, compare go vegetarian/vegan/teetotal, etc.)

The word paleolithic (also spelt palaeolithic in British English) dates back to the mid 1800s, and is based on the Greek forms palaio ('ancient') and lithos (stone). Paleolithic refers to the earlier Stone Age and contrasts with neolithic (describing the later Stone Age period, i.e. Greek neo- = 'new'). Both terms were coined by Sir John Lubbock, a 19th century pioneer in archaeology and evolutionary theory.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 3rd February 2015.

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