News Advisor If you eat like a caveman, do it properly

If you eat like a caveman, do it properly

The Paleo diet focuses on unprocessed food and lean meat.
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Until now, if someone told you to eat like a caveman, chances are they wanted you to go full carnivore.

Scientists have long thought that ancient Neanderthals ate an almost exclusively meat diet.

But a recent archeological dig in southern Spain has made a rather unpleasant, but very interesting, discovery.

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Researchers unearthed 50,000-year-old fossilised Neanderthal faeces, which show that these ancient sub-humans (with whom we share a common ancestor) probably ate way more veggies than previously thought.

“[T]he role of plants is underestimated and Neanderthals continue to be pictured as top-level carnivores,” the study says, whereas in fact this race “exploited and cooked a wide range of plant species.”

The caveman diet is a hot topic because it forms the basis for the increasingly popular Paleo diet.

Neanderthals vs Sapiens. Lots of meat or very little? Dairy or no dairy? Confused yet? If even Paleo advocates are getting it wrong, then you’ve got a good excuse for being perplexed.

The diet (which is actually based on Homo sapiens and not, as some think, on Neanderthals) often suffers from the same Neanderlithic misconception – that meat trumps vegetables.


Leading Australian nutritionist Claire Yates, author of ‘Optimum Health the Paleo Way’, is frustrated by the meat myth.

“Unless you’re eating more vegetables than a vegetarian, you’re not doing Paleo right.”

Ms Yates says even some of her own clients get the diet wrong.

Nutritionist Claire Yates.

“Yes, there would be a portion of people [on the Paleo diet] who do [eat too much meat], and even as clients I’ve seen some people who, primarily, one of the first things I’ve done to change the way that they’re eating is introduce more vegetables into their diet,” she says.

The Paleo diet was popularised by a book of the same name published in 2002 by Dr Loren Cordain. In its true form, it consists of meat, seafood, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, and cuts out dairy, grains and legumes.

Neanderthals vs Sapiens. Lots of meat or very little? Dairy or no dairy? Confused yet? If even Paleo advocates are getting it wrong, then you’ve got a good excuse for being perplexed.

If you really want to eat like a cave man without going extinct, then here are The New Daily‘s tips for getting it right.

Should you go Paleo?

Contested history

Nutritionist Ravinder Lilly, who works for global health supplements company USANA Health Sciences, says it is illogical to take dietary cues from our prehistoric ancestors.

Stone Age hunter-gatherers would simply have gobbled up whatever was easiest to find, Ms Lilly says.

“A lot of the time if you can’t catch something to kill it and eat it, you are going to be digging up roots and eating leaves.”

But Paleo enthusiasts like Claire Yates argue that the human body has not evolved to properly digest foods such as milk and gluten, which were introduced to our diet in more modern times.

Act natural

Accredited Practicing Dietitian Jessica Bailes, who is based in Sydney, says the Paleo diet is spot on for promoting natural foods.

Dietitian Jessica Bailes.
Dietitian Jessica Bailes.

“The good part of the paleo diet is that it really focuses on unprocessed food, lots of fruit and vegetables, lean meat, and that’s something that I would really encourage people to have.”

So, take your cue from the Neanderthals, and munch those greens!

Too restrictive?

But Ms Bailes is concerned by the fact that Paleo cuts out whole food groups.

“It does cut out some really important food groups, one being dairy, which is a very good source of protein and calcium,” she says

Nutritionist and Accredited Practising Dietitian Sarah Leung is similarly concerned by this restrictiveness.

Dietitian Sarah Leung

“Cutting out dairy and whole grains potentially means your diet will be lower in nutrients like carbohydrates, calcium, magnesium and dietary fibre,” Ms Leung says.

The final word

Ms Leung says the Paleo diet remains a very controversial topic in health circles.

She says it probably works best for those wanting to lose weight and those with food allergies (such as to gluten or dairy), but is probably not a good idea for those who have high energy expenditure, such as athletes.

“If the Paleo diet is followed properly by using fresh fruits and vegetables, unprocessed and lean animal meats with adequate physical activity, there are certainly health benefits. However, studies on the Paleo diet and its long term implications are still limited and current data is only based on short term research,” Ms Leung says.

If you do choose to go Paleolithic, get expert advice, make sure your diet is nutritionally balanced – and eat more veggies than meat.

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