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Diet Review: The Paleolithic Diet (AKA The Caveman Diet)

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The Caveman diet goes by a number of different names, including the Paleolithic diet, Paleo diet, Stone Age diet and hunter-gather diet.  The idea is largely credited to gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin, who in a 1975 book argued humans would benefit from a Paleolithic era diet.  Since then, a number of authors and researchers have modified and clarified the idea in numerous books, academic journals, and websites.

The Paleolithic era ended 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture, and lasted a total of 2.5 million years.   People living in the Paleolithic era had a diet consisting of foods that were hunted, fished, and gathered and included wild game, sea food, insects, fruit, eggs, nuts, vegetables, and seeds.

Though there are many variations on the diet, the intent is to mimic a Paleolithic diet based on commonly available modern foods.  Most modern versions of the diet include lean meats, fish, vegetables, fruit, roots, and nuts, and exclude agriculture-related foods like grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugar, and processed oils.  Alcoholic and other fermented beverages are also usually excluded, and water dominates as the accepted drink.

Most of the arguments for the Paleolithic diet are based on evolutionary biology.  Many proponents of the diet advance human physiology and genetics, including metabolism, are tuned to life before the introduction of agriculture, which was only a relatively short 10,000 years ago (when compared to the nearly 2.5 million years of a hunting and gathering based diet).  As such, this shift to agriculture such a short time ago presented a major change to the human diet, and as a result is responsible for diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, obesity and many others.  Often sited as proof, some estimates reveal that more than two thirds of the modern agricultural dietary calories come from foods that our Paleolithic ancestors rarely, if ever, ate.