Where it All Began
Many point to nutritionists like Loren Cardain or Mark Disson as the founders of the Paleo Diet, but they would be the first tell you that it wasn’t “invented” at all, but rather taking us back to the diet of our progenitors. The real “inventors” of the Paleo Diet were our ancient ancestors: cavemen who lived off meat and greens.
According to Paleo experts, agriculture wasn’t a staple of prehistoric man’s diet, and neither are the highly processed foods of today’s world, including all grains, flours, and oils. They claim that these modern-day alterations to food have done nothing but interfere with our genetic coding, which is tuned to an environment that was much more rudimentary than today’s. As such, the mantra for most Paleo-lovers is, “If a caveman wouldn’t have eaten it, neither should you.” Thus, the Paleo Diet (short for “Paleolithic”), was born.
The first person that is known to have experimented with this “back-to-the-earth” approach was a man named Joseph Knowles, who spent a few months in the backcountry of Maine in the early 1900’s, living off of what he caught, hunted, and found in his surroundings. He recorded his adventures on tree bark – and, sometimes, even ate said tree bark – and afterward, declared that he had been able to actually improve his diet with his time in the wilderness. The data seemed to back up his claims: he lost ten pounds, gained more muscle mass, and even grew by 1/10 of an inch.
How it Works
The main problem with modern-day diets is that most of them are packed with additives that our bodies simply don’t need. The primary culprit for this is grains, which are made up of simple carbs and are converted sugar which is, in turn, stored as fat. This is why so many leading Paleo experts to increase obesity rates: it’s not necessarily how much we’re eating, but the quality of the food itself.
Grain also has a high amount of gluten and lectins, both of which can cause their own host of medical problems. While gluten has received some bad publicity over the last few years its harmful effects, lectins are worse in that they contain toxins as a defense measure to prevent being consumed. These toxins wreak havoc on your gastrointestinal tract, causing many ill effects, such as nausea, vomiting, and indigestion.
Although the Paleo Diet wasn’t officially introduced until the late 20th century, studies have been around for ages to show that high protein diets are one of the best ways to improve your blood chemistry and stimulate weight loss. Moreover, the components of the Paleo diet have also been individually touted long before being collected into the system known as Paleo. A diet that’s rich in omega 3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats, fiber, and low in salt, grains, refined sugars, vegetable oils, and processed foods is the backbone of several other individual diets, so it might be helpful to see Paleo as a collection of the best research on diets available, as opposed to a groundbreaking new study.
There is a host of evidence to back up these claims, however. A study in 2007, for instance, put 29 patients that had type 2 diabetes and heart disease into two groups that ate either a Paleo and Mediterranean diet and tracked their progress. After 12 weeks, the blood glucose tolerance went up for both, but significantly more so for the Paleo group. A 2008 study placed fourteen healthy individuals and found that they lost weight and reduced blood pressure and plasminogen activator inhibitor (a substance that promotes blood clots).
20th-Century Paleo Renaissance
The attractiveness of a Paleo Diet can be seen in its simplicity. In a sea of weight loss programs, calorie counting, and point systems, the Paleo Diet stands out as being remarkably simple.
The resurgence of certain types of exercise has also contributed to its acceptance. Crossfit and High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts jumped to the forefront of the exercise world in the late-20th and early-21st centuries, and with it came a new dedication to a diet that screamed raw power. Indeed, many of these athletes claim that a Paleo Diet not only contributes to getting them in the best shape of their life, but is just as important as the workouts they perform.
Heather Lomax is a contributing writer and media relations specialist for Orangetheory Fitness. She writes for a variety of health blogs, and in her spare time, takes special interest in researching methods for achieving optimal fitness goals.