The origins of the Paleo diet go back quite far. In addition to Dr. Loren Cordain (the recognized head of the Paleo movement), we have Dr. Boyd Eaton, who pioneered a lot of the Paleo concepts. This once-obscure concept is now a worldwide phenomenon.
Despite starting out as a fairly anti-commercial approach, the commercialization of the Paleo diet is now in full swing. We have Paleo processed food bars, thousands of books – all the trappings of every other “big” diet. Is this congruent with the original Paleo diet concept? Maybe this kind of thing just happens to all good ideas?
What Did the Paleo Diet Look Like Millions of Years Ago?
Before we find out where we may be going, we need to cover where we have been. Before anyone was thinking about “eating like a caveman,” we ate a “Paleo” diet for 2.5 million years. This period ended about 10,000 years ago, when agriculture first came around. The Paleo diet, besides being the diet of our ancestors, really began to take form as a concept with Dr. Boyd Eaton.
However, the simplistic “if a caveman didn’t do it, you shouldn’t do it” argument for a Paleo approach has some flawed scientific ideas. One of the main flaws in the caveman argument is that there is no way to determine exactly what our ancestors ate – though the idea is certainly tempting (and many have tried). In all likelihood, they ate whatever they could – as survival was very difficult in those days. But one thing is for sure: agricultural-based foods certainly were not consumed. However, the real effectiveness of a Paleo diet cannot be debated.
What Does it Mean to “Go Paleo?”
In our modern approach, getting rid of grains in one’s diet has the two-prong effect of avoiding problematic proteins and compounds like gluten, while allowing one to fill up on better nutritional choices, like wild-caught seafood and grass-fed beef. The avoidance of dairy also allows Paleo dieters to focus on vegetables, instead – which have better ‘bang for their buck’ (in terms of nutrient density).
In addition to avoiding grains and dairy, as well as processed food and legumes, “going Paleo” can mean a variety of things. For example. our ancestors may also have eaten bone marrow and brains – helping to cause our enlarged brains and enhanced intellectual and cognitive developments. We still see this, today, in the popular consumption of organ meats, since modern science has proven them to be very high in nutrients.
If one were to believe the mainstream media, they would be fooled into thinking that going Paleo is all about eating bacon and saturated fat. And that – furthermore – we will all die from the massive amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol consumed. As we in the Paleo community know – this is far from the truth.
A better, more accurate phrase to use, instead of “going Paleo” may be to say “live more naturally,” since the Paleo concept really involves getting rid of a lot of modern day vices. While things can be done in moderation, spending less time on screens and sleeping in a more relaxing environment will help to improve one’s health. Processed foods are also usually unhealthy by their very nature, so we would be “living more naturally” to consume less of them. These are the concepts which are core to “going Paleo,” and are usually what one is referring to when discussing the topic.
What Does the Paleo Diet and Lifestyle Look Like Today?
Paleo used to mean an anti-commercial, anti-mainstream stance – on basically everything. But concurrently with CrossFit, we have seen a rise in the Paleo diet concept. These once fringe concepts are now mainstream – whether we like it or not. Since this development, many have grown confused, or have stopped using the word “Paleo” altogether. What does it mean to be Paleo in 2015? Well, for some, they have kept the original diet, while avoiding the commercial aspects. Others have forgotten the science, and embraced every commercial avenue available. But where are we going as a community?
There are no easy or direct answers, but we must explore the possibilities. As Dr. Eaton writes “refinements of the model have changed it in some respects, but anthropological evidence continues to indicate that ancestral human diets prevalent during our evolution were characterized by much lower levels of refined carbohydrates and sodium, much higher levels of fiber and protein, and comparable levels of fat (primarily unsaturated fat) and cholesterol.” The diet itself still works great – and by direct comparison also shows just how poor the modern Western diet is.
What about the other concepts – avoiding modern technology before bed, exercising wisely, and forgetting about flashy gimmicks and sticking closer to science? Those tenets are not nearly as focused on, but I would argue are just as important. Many fall in love with the Paleo concept for these reasons, and also love the fact that their health improves. I hope we are not losing this vital piece of the community, as we all become bamboozled with flashy new technology, books that repeat the same things, and the potential monetization of our own health.
Stick To The Basics
Remember to stick to the simple aspects of healthy living, all of which are included in a Paleo approach: smart exercise to help you de-stress, grain- and dairy-free nutrition (for your brain and body!) and plenty of quality sleep. The tenets of the Paleo concept haven’t changed, and this core is what is ultimately important.
One of the other important ideas behind the Paleo approach is community. This means helping a friend to learn more if they are struggling with their own health. Show them the importance of buying organic vegetables, or why wild-caught seafood is much healthier than farm-raised. The Paleo community is what we make of it, so make sure it’s still a fun place to be!
What Will Paleo Look Like In 10 Years?
It is a fun exercise to think about how widespread and potentially different the Paleo approach will be in 10 years. We can expect a hybrid of technology and organic living. There is no doubt that we are not moving away from technology in our lives, but we are definitely moving towards technological omnipresence. However, I have faith that the Paleo community will find an interesting way to deal with this new influx of technology, while still staying healthy.
The future of Paleo is uncertain, but I sincerely hope we don’t lose the real and vital concepts. You can’t put a price tag on good health. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean all commercialization is bad either. We all need to make a living. We just need to remember that we do not want this to turn into a joke – like the Zone diet or the low-fat craze.
What Are Some Good, Modern Solutions?
For many, the common sense approach of Whole9 is a happy marriage of the traditional Paleo ideas and concepts, married to our modern world. Melissa and Dallas Hartwig are careful as to what products they endorse, focus on nine different health factors, and always remind their readers that the Paleo concept is not a cult or religion. In 2015, this may be the farthest we can hope to take the Paleo idea, without completely sticking to a “Paleo orthodox” approach. Because that orthodox idea of giving up our shoes, as well as all other modern comforts, isn’t realistic, either.
We must find a way to stick to the core concepts of Paleo, without missing out on the myriad of opportunities a more mainstream acceptance also brings. This is the common fight that we all embark on, on a daily basis. Advertisers of all kinds fight for our eyeballs, our dollars and our time.
But health – true health – doesn’t involve spending money. It involves smart exercise, sleep and eating foods that are nutrient-dense. Remember, none of that costs anything! One other solution that I currently see being practiced in the Paleo community is helping extend the Paleo approach to those who are in lower economic brackets. Affordable Paleo is a great and necessary concept.
The Bottom Line
The Paleo concept attracts those who question things – those who do not take things at face value. It also attracts those who like and appreciate science. Since it has become more mainstream, it is now attracting a different audience.
However, one of the core Paleo ideas is that modern man has it wrong. This means we do need to make sure that things do not become too far off from the original science and approach that Dr. Eaton and Dr. Cordain outlined – but it doesn’t mean we need to shun every mainstream opportunity.
One last concept that many need to understand is that being successful and making money isn’t inherently bad – it only becomes problematic if we disregard our values. We are currently experiencing the growing pains of any movement – as it grows, things change. I’m not sure anyone expected the massive growth that the Paleo movement has undergone, but it sure has happened. And like Darwin and evolution have taught us – we must adapt and evolve.
It has been exciting to see the Paleo diet take off. This mainstream acceptance has brought many great opportunities. We are heading towards an exciting marriage of organic living and technology, a world none of us have experienced! The possibilities are vast, and I hope we still stick to the core values of helping others, living healthy and eating well. The Paleo diet has come a long way from where it started, and yet at heart, we may not have changed that much at all. Here’s to the future of the Paleo movement, whatever it may be!