The Paleo Diet

Were our ancestors doing something right?

Lately, I have had several people ask me about the “Paleo Diet”.  After some investigating of my own, I realized this caveman-like diet is coming back into popularity.  This diet is based on the wild plants and animals that our ancestors ate during the Paleolithic Era, a period of 2.5 million years that ended about 10,000 years ago along with the human development of agriculture.  This diet was popularized in the 1970’s by gastroenterologist, Walter Voegtlin, who published the book, The Stone Age Diet: Based on In-Depth Studies of Human Ecology and the Diet of Man. The nutritional theory behind the Paleo Diet is that the human species has rarely changed genetically since the dawn of agriculture, and the best diet is that which was consumed by our ancient relatives.  Paleo supporters suggest that individuals who consume a hunter-gatherer type diet benefit from being generally free of modern diseases.  The Paleo diet is believed to possibly prevent “diseases of modern civilization” such as obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, depression, colon cancer, and acne.

The Paleo Diet is high protein (19-35% of energy) and low carbohydrate (22-40% of diet) with the majority of energy coming from animal products (56-65%) compared to plant products (36-45%).  Sounds a lot like the Atkins Diet, right?  The Paleo Diet consists of foods such as grass-fed meats, seafood, eggs, insects, fruit, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fungi/mushrooms, roots, herbs, and spices.  Compared to the modern American diet, the Paleo diet is much less energy-dense and is mostly free of grains, legumes, dairy, salt, refined sugar, processed oils, food additives, and chemicals.  The Paleo diet is NOT the Raw Food diet…fruits and veggies can be cookedWhat about beverages? Not surprisingly, water is the only drink of choice, although tea is sometimes allowed.  Coffee, alcohol, and sweetened beverages are totally out of the question as well.

The Paleo diet also promotes an active lifestyle.  It is believed that ancient hunter-gatherers used about 1/3 of their caloric energy on physical activity (that is equivalent to burning around 1000 calories on a 3000 calories/day diet).  This is similar to the recommendation proposed by the World Health Organization that individuals should average about 60 minutes/day of moderate-intensity physical activity.

What are some potential benefits of the Paleo Diet?

  • Chronic disease prevention – This topic is debated among researchers, but the results seem promising.
  • Weight loss – Due to a mere lack of calorie density.
  • High in fiber – Found in high quantities in fruits, veggies, and beans.
  • Absence of allergens – The Paleo diet is naturally casein-free and gluten-free. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye and is the proponent of Celiac Disease that causes inflammation of the lining of the small intestines (causing bloating, abdominal discomfort, and poor absorption of nutrients).
  • High in omega-3 fatty acids – Found in fatty fish (such as salmon) and nuts, omega-3’s have been shown to reduce the risk for heart disease.
  • Satisfying for meat-lovers

Want to try a 1 week Paleo Meal plan (with shopping list)?  Paleo Meal Plan and Shopping List

What’s the risk for people starting the Paleo Diet?  Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are the major concern.  With little dairy being consumed, calcium needs to come from green, leafy vegetables (a hard thing for some people to do).  A high fat diet can also also be detrimental.  Even though some argue that the high omega-3 content of the diet can help in the prevention of heart disease, the Paleo diet is also moderately high in saturated fat.  Thus, dieters should try to buy leaner cuts of meat to avoid the saturated type of fat.  One of the things that concerns me the most is that this diet is extremely difficult to follow and stick to over a long period of time.  In today’s modern age, it is simply unrealistic to cut out entire food groups from your diet…not to mention this diet just doesn’t sound that palateable or tasty (I mean come on, who doesn’t love carbs and cheese?!).  And being that I am in grad school, cost is always weighing on my mind.  Constantly having to buy lean cuts of meat, fish, fresh fruits, veggies, and nuts is going to burn a whole in your wallet and have you running to the grocery store a few times a week. Who has the cash or the time for that? In fact, in 2011 The U.S. News and World Report ranked the Paleo diet dead last in a ranking of Best Diets Overall.  A panel of experts ranked the diets based on health benefits, weight loss, and ease of following.

The Paleo Diet sounds like it could work if someone is able to stick to it religiously and willing to spend money. But personally, it is just not realistic for me. What do you think of the Paleo diet?

Want to try to make a Paleo-inspired recipe at home?  There are numerous Paleo recipes and cookbooks on the market.  I thought this one sounded pretty simple…and it looks delicious!

Salmon with Cherry Tomato Salsa and Asparagus. Compliments of

Salmon with Cherry Tomato Salsa and Asparagus Recipe

Serves: 4

Salmon Preparation 


  • 4 wild salmon fillets, skin-on
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  1. Set your oven to broil.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the garlic, salt, pepper, paprika, lemon zest, lemon juice and olive oil. Whisk well. Rub the salmon thoroughly with the mixture on both sides. Place in a covered dish to marinade in the refrigerator for about 35 minutes.
  3. Line a baking sheet with foil. Once the salmon has marinted, place on the baking sheet and place in the oven to broil for 8 to 10 minutes, or until pale pink and flaky.

Roasted Asparagus Preparation


  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 F.
  2. Remove the tough part off of the asparagus stalks. Spread the asparagus out on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Toss the asparagus to ensure it’s all evenly coated and cook for 10 minutes, flipping once after 5 minutes.

Cherry Tomato Salsa Preparation

  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh oregano, chopped
  1. In a small bowl, combine the garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Whisk well. Add the cherry tomatoes. Toss the mixture together.
  2. Serve over the salmon once it’s cooked.

Good luck! Let me know if you try the recipe 🙂