There is a  clear connection between what we eat, how we feel and how well our bodies, brains and minds function. Nutritious whole foods including grass fed beef, free range organic poultry, clean fish (without metal contamination), a variety of organic fruits and vegetables devoid of additives and preservatives is the gold standard. Yet, even within these parameters, many diet variations exist. Recently, a fad diet called the Paleo diet has resurfaced and garnered much attention. The diet was originated by a physician named Walter Voegtlin who published the diet in 1972 and was more recently popularized by Loren Cordain Ph.D., a health and exercise scientist who has written several books on the Paleo diet and accompanying cookbooks.

The Paleo diet is based on the presumption that humans will have greater health if we eat foods that were available during the Paleolithic period. The rationale is that humans should eat foods that were available during the time in which we evolved because we are genetically adapted to them physiologically and metabolically.  The Paleolithic era lasted from about 2.6 million years ago until approximately 10,000 years ago and proponents of the diet argue that human physiology and metabolism have changed very little since that time. As such, our bodies are not adapted to properly digest grains and dairy which were added to the human diet as the result of the subsequent agricultural revolution. By eating Paleo foods, supporters posit that we can avoid or reduce the occurrence of diseases that emerged after the agricultural revolution, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, hypertension and gout.  There is some variation about what constituted foods available to human during the Paleolithic period. In general, foods that are allowed on the Paleo diet include unprocessed foods: meat, eggs, seafood, non-starch vegetables, fruit nuts, seeds and specific fats. Organic is preferred. Legumes, dairy and grains are not allowed. Many Paleo followers report greater energy and a feeling of well-being, weight loss and symptom reduction.

There are some critics of the Paleo diet. Some scientists argue that humans have continued to evolve since the Paleolithic era enough to digest contemporary foods. Most modern plants and animals are very unlike the ones prominent during the Paleolithic era making it unnecessary to limit the human diet to those food types. Further, it is likely that Paleolithic humans ate wild grains and legumes. Other critics note that the Paleo diet may not provide enough calcium.

In short, there are many good aspects of the Paleo diet including avoidance of processed foods and eating cleaner sources of protein and plant based foods. While some people can tolerate dairy a legumes without gastrointestinal difficulty, others can’t.  Still others may have low level sensitivity, hard to detect sensitivity to dairy and grains that puts them at risk for underlying an underlying disease process, including mental and emotional imbalances.  Perhaps the best dietary approach is to test potential diets, under consultation with a health professional if necessary, to determine individual needs and best fit.

Submitted By: Holly O. Houston, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist