Paleo diet explainer: What did the caveman have against potatoes?

Paleo. It’s one of those words that are getting thrown around a lot these days, along with “gluten-free” and “clean eating”. And until now, you’ve probably thrown it straight into the too-hard basket that resides within your brain, where information about Random Diets tends to live.

But it’s good to keep up with these things. After all, knowledge is power, and this is good knowledge to have for the next time you sit down for lunch with your most health-obsessed of friends. So I bring to you – the ultimate paleo cheatsheet.

What is paleo?

Paelo is short for “Paleolithic”, which pretty much translates to “Old Stone Age”. You know – that period of history when we were still sleeping in caves, hunting woolly mammoths and carving tools out of stone.

The entire concept behind the paleo diet is that you stick with the type of food people ate during the Paleolithic era – anything over 10,000 years ago. So… obviously no pizza and no bread. Definitely no Nutella. Or gummy bears.

Okay, so why is everybody doing it?

It’s not just your gym buddies that are jumping on the bandwagon. Celebrities such as Uma Thurman, Jessica Biel, Megan Fox and Matthew McConaughey have all shared their love for the high-veggie, low-carb diet.

Matthew is a big fan of the Paelo diet

So why do it? Well, it varies. Some do it to lose weight and others believe that it will help them get to peak physical performance.

It’s argued that the paleo diet worked for humans for a really long time, and that all the processed, sugary, carby stuff we’re eating now is doing us irreparable damage. After all, our ancestors ate for fuel – and we often don’t.

Those who are interested in muscle building often take up a Paleo-esque diet, largely because it means more protein for building said muscles. And those who want to lose weight find that it helps with cutting out a whole lot of processed foods and getting more vegetables into the diet.

Esther Blum, author of the book Cave Women Don’t Get Fat, claims that going on the paleo diet will “boost your energy, balance your hormones naturally, burn fat, stabilise your brain biochemistry, promote digestive health, build lean muscle mass, manage and reduce stress and detoxify your body”.

But wait, didn’t cave people die young? Why do we want to eat like them?

Researchers have pointed out that cave people weren’t lucky enough to have access to all the medical creature comforts that we’re used to now. Infant mortality, as well as respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases, brought down the average age of the cave people. While there isn’t direct medical evidence to prove that they were much healthier than we were, they certainly didn’t have any of the processed foods that would have contributed to illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.


So what exactly is allowed if I go paleo?

Meat. Fish. Fruit. Vegetables. Nuts. Seeds. Eggs. Natural oils (such as avocado and coconut oil).

Calorie counting is discouraged – it doesn’t matter how much you eat, as long as you stick to those foods. After all, some calories are better than others.

Don’t eat the potatoes!!!

What isn’t allowed?

If you’re being strict about it – dairy, legumes, grains (including wheat), sugar, alcohol.

White potatoes (because they’re dense in carbohydrates and affect blood sugar), rice, corn and quinoa are all banned. Even peanuts are banned (apparently they’re classified as a legume? Who knew?). Salt and refined vegetable oils are also on the banned list.

Generally, paleo eaters are discouraged from eating anything processed or packaged, as it probably won’t follow their healthy eating rules. This includes drinks – you can have water, herbal tea or fresh juices.

What are the experts saying about it?

“The Paleo diet has its advantages and disadvantages,” Amy Vero, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, told Mamamia.

The Paleo Food pyramid.

“The main disadvantage is that it excludes nutritious core foods such as breads and cereals, legumes and dairy foods, which increase the risk of not meeting requirements for important nutrients such as calcium and fibre. However, it also has the advantage of encouraging people to move away from a high fat, high salt, processed food diet by promoting an increased intake of fruit and vegetables, lean, nutrient-dense protein and fat sources such as red meat, poultry, fish, eggs and nuts. Therefore, we could all benefit from going a little bit paleo, just without excluding whole food groups.”

What else do you need to think about?

If you’re undertaking a diet like this, be prepared – you have to be ORGANISED. Often, eating out isn’t particularly paleo-friendly, and unless you pack your lunch for work every day, you might struggle to find the perfect meat-and-veg combo at your local café.

The other thing? Paleo can be pricey. It’s encouraged that you buy organic and free-range where possible, and this isn’t exactly easy on the wallet.

Can I be a paleo if I’m vegetarian?

Look, you could try, but you’re in for a lot of veggies and eggs… and really not much else.

Would you ever go paleo?