The Paleo Diet: A Twist on the Raw Food Diet

Copyright 2010

Foods included in the raw food diet are meant to provide the benefits of nutrients in their natural form.Recently the Western (American) world has seen the concept of a raw food diet gaining traction in popular culture. The idea behind such a diet is that our modern methods of processing foods – farming with pesticides, genetically engineering crops to provide higher yields, stuffing animals into small cages and processing meats so that they’ll last longer – are tampering with the nutritional value and ultimately the healthiness of the food that we eat on a daily basis.

Proponents of the raw food diet argue that our ancestors didn’t have modern technology like refrigeration and pesticides, yet they survived just fine – so what’s stopping us from eating a more natural diet, composed of fresh fruits and vegetables, non-processed grains, and locally-raised meat and dairy?

It’s no secret that our modern diet is a factor in the rising rates of obesity and heart disease. So eating a raw food diet could help in our efforts to have healthier bodies, as long as our food is produced safely and is properly prepared.

One variation of the raw food diet is called the Paleolithic (paleo) diet, and it’s been growing in popularity since its creation in the 1970s.

The Paleo Diet’s beginnings can be traced to Walter L. Voegtlin, a gastroenterologist who published a book titled “The Stone Age Diet” in 1975. In it, he suggested that following a diet similar to that of a Paleolithic hunter-gatherer – essentially a caveman – would be beneficial to our health. Paleolithic humans, he argued, were mostly carnivorous, consuming large amounts of animal fats and protein along with smaller amounts of fruits and vegetables.

As the Paleolithic period predates the beginning of agriculture, most strains of the Paleo Diet also reject grain-based foods such as wheat and rice. While some versions of the Paleo Diet allow for healthy starches such as whole-grain bread, they all agree that processed grains, such as white bread, are part of the problem with the modern Western diet. They also reject dairy and processed meats. They argue that the human digestive tract has evolved over millions of years, yet has remained in its current form since Paleolithic times, which is optimized for the diet that they present.

A healthy well-balanced diet that includes raw fruits and vegetables is a great basis for losing weight.The Paleo Diet diverges from the typical raw food diet in that it allows for food to be cooked, whereas the most popular raw food diets such as the vegan and vegetarian versions are based almost entirely on uncooked food. This is in line with the lifestyle of our Paleolithic ancestors, who did have access to fire and understood that cooking food can make it more palatable. It is widely believed among anthropologists that humans were cooking 250,000 years ago and possibly as long as 500,000 years ago, while the agriculture that has allowed for processed foods and additives has only appeared within the last 10,000 years.

While the Paleo Diet is certainly colorful in its treatment of our modern Western diet, the question remains: how effective is it? In truth, the diet will likely provide a healthy alternative to the typical Western diet, though its suitability as a weight loss program is questionable.

The Paleo Diet relies heavily on a study of the Kitava tribe of Papua New Guinea, who were found to live on a hunter-gatherer diet similar to that of Paleolithic humans. They suffered from much lower rates of obesity, diabetes, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. This seems to suggest that the diet has long-term benefits to health, but may be expensive to follow as well as somewhat difficult and inflexible. The rejection of many modern foods means that the dieter will be quite limited in his or her food choices. Thus, this offshoot of the raw food diet can be considered more a lifestyle choice as opposed to a solution for losing weight.

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