Followers of the paleo (aka “caveman”) diet are all about getting back to basics — about 10,000 years back.
They believe the human digestive system was designed for the hunter-gatherer diet and has not evolved yet to meet the massive changes in the kinds of food available once farming began and especially once food processing became ubiquitous.
Several versions of paleo have arisen from people trying to adapt our diets back to what our ancient ancestors most likely lived on. But in general, paleo diets are built on fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, fish and lean and grass-fed meats, eggs, healthy oils from nuts or seeds including olive and coconut oil, herbs and spices.
Water is the ideal beverage for all occasions, but many adherents include coffee and tea, and the very occasional glass of wine is fine for an indulgence. No soft drinks or juices with added sugar.
Foods on the “avoid” list include grains, dairy, legumes (including peanuts and beans), trans fats, refined sugars, low-fat or diet products, and all highly processed food.
Paleo proponents say the low-carb, high-protein and fat diet resulting from this way of eating promotes weight loss, regulates blood sugar and reduces inflammation, which can especially benefit people with diabetes, heart disease and other conditions.
Some limited studies provide evidence for these claims, though there hasn’t been much research addressing paleo’s effects for children, pregnant women or older adults. When in doubt, ask your doctor before starting a new diet.
Physical activity is the other key ingredient for paleo diets, as people try to get as much exercise as our hunting and gathering forebears. There’s no set regimen, though most suggest choosing “natural” exercise done throughout the day versus going to a gym, and short bursts of high-intensity cardio over longer sessions of moderate cardio.