Paleo diet is a modification of the food consumed during the Paleolithic era. Other names for the Paleo diet include the Hunter-Gatherer diet, Stone Age diet, and Caveman diet. The diet was composed of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean meats, especially grass-fed animals or wild game, fish, especially those rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, mackerel, and albacore tuna, oils from fruits and nuts, such as olive oil or walnut oil.

The Paleozoic period diet focused on ancient grains. These are dryland cultivated grains, which in Paleozoic times grew in nature. The four major grains used worldwide – wheat, rice, corn, and sorghum came from a common ancestor that grew 65 million years ago. The first recorded discovery of wild cereal grains is at the Ohalo II site in Israel. These date back to c 23500 years ago. (Nature 2004, 430: 670-73).

Cultivation probably began in the dying years of the Ice Age c 11700 years ago. The Levant is the place where the use of sickles to harvest wild barley took place. (Encyclopedia Britannica).

The earliest popular grains were modern wheat precursors – spelt, emmer, Kamut (Khorasan wheat), and einkorn and barley, rye, and sorghum. Dryland cultivation was conventional during this period. Crops were dependent on rain. Irrigated farming is said to have begun in Mesopotamia and China only after c 5000 BC.

The Whole Grains Council has defined ancient grains as those “whose roots go back to the beginnings of time.” Genetically speaking, ancient grains haven’t changed much over hundreds of years. Modern wheat, corn, or rice are not ancient grains. They are an outcome of constant breeding. In the process, their genetic composition has changed.

Barley, black and red rice, blue corn, oats, sorghum, teff, wild rice, and millets are prominent ancient grains. All ancient grains come from the same family – Poaceae. Amaranth, quinoa, and buckwheat are popular but wrongly called ancient grains. Amaranth and quinoa belong to Amaranthaceae, while buckwheat is from the Polygonaceae family. The nutritional profile and their use are like the modern in-use grains belonging to the Poaceae family.

Let us now look at some related nutritional facts. There is near unanimity in the scientific community that food containing higher fiber content is suitable for gut health. Fiber builds the gut environment in which good bacteria can proliferate.

This diet recommends avoiding grains such as wheat, oats, and barley, legumes such as beans, lentils, peanuts, peas, dairy products, refined sugar, salt, potatoes, and highly processed foods.

Such a diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, omega-rich fish, etc. These are excellent sources of protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and antioxidants. Critics state that the exclusion of grains, legumes, and dairy makes the diet deficient in calcium and vegetable protein. This criticism may not stand scrutiny as proteins in the paleo diet are obtained from lean meat and fish.

Studies supporting the effectiveness of the Paleo diet:

Short-term consumption of this diet improves blood pressure and glucose tolerance, decreases insulin secretion, increases insulin sensitivity, and improves lipid profiles without weight loss in healthy sedentary humans. (Frassetto et al., 2009; Masharani et al., 2015)

The Paleo diet remains controversial because of exaggerated claims by wellness bloggers and others. Several small trials provide evidence of this diet’s effectiveness for weight loss. Further research is required to validate these findings. This diet needs Calcium supplements to reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis. (Pitt, 2016)

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