Looking back through history cavemen hardly lived in the golden era, yet their pre-historic diet has become the latest beacon of health hope.
Cairns based Paleo Café owners Marlies and Jai Hobbs are passionate believers in “eating the way mother nature intended” and are expanding their business to make sure their message gets through to as many people as possible.
To eat Paleo, flashback 12,000 years ago before the agricultural revolution when dairy, grains, legumes, sugar and preservatives and even potatoes weren’t on the dinner stone.
Thankfully the modern diet does not mean sharpening stones into hunting tools and then catching your local wildebeest.
It does mean a high protein diet including grass-fed meat, poultry, eggs and seafood, fruits and non-starchy vegetables.
The Hobbs started the Paleo diet after discovering their newborn son Troy was allergic to dairy in 2011. Jai Hobbs had found out about the diet through his cross fit training.
“Initially I thought it sounded ludicrous. I was a new mum and I was like ‘seriously Jai’ but he persisted, so slowly I started making more and more Paleo dishes and baked goods and snacks,” Marlies said.
Going on the diet immediately cleared up baby Troy’s health problems, as well as lingering issues with both the adults.
“My skin cleared up straight way, I lost about eight kilos, my husband lost about 10 kilos we were going from being quite restless sleepers to sleeping solidly through the night and waking up feeling refreshed and we had improved energy levels and better results from workouts.”
The recent incarnation of the diet is claimed to have been founded by Colorado State University exercise physiologist Dr Loren Cordain.
Followers of the “movement” believe that hunter-gatherers were typically free of chronic illness and disease that are epidemic in Western society including obesity, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Though critics point out that cavemen also had a life expectancy of around 30 years old.
Like many others around the world, the Hobbs were quickly completely committed. But, due to the specific nature of the diet and its relative obscurity in Australia two years ago, they found it difficult to find the right ingredients.
This difficulty inspired them to open the Paleo Café in Cairns, which serves meals like Paleo bircher museli with berries, chicken, mango and macadamia salad and roast pork belly.
“Customers love the food because its good clean home-style cooked food and we can only hope they transition more and more to eating this way,” Marlies said.
Marlies left her job as an environmental lawyer, and Jai left his business role to focus on creating recipes and opening the café.
The evolution of their business mimics the rise in popularity of the diet, as they are also about to release the Paleo Café Lifestyle & Cook Book, one of the first Australian published on the subject which will include recipes, information about the lifestyle and quotes.
“It will be an amazing predominant Paleo lifestyle tool in Australia,” Marlies said.
“It’s designed to be a motivational cookbook and share the story and show how the lifestyle would work.”
While cutting out dairy, previously her favourite food was difficult, Marlies said she doesn’t miss anything.
“I have a whole new appreciation of the effect of food on our body and how bad and damaging it is for me.”
With takeaway not an option aside from a chicken and salad or some coconut based curries, rice is the one thing she occasionally cheats to eat, either with Thai or in sushi, though at home they make Paleo alternatives.
“In terms of curry we don’t miss out because we make rice out of cauliflower. It’s delicious and absorbs the juices of the curry and its beautiful and filling and you don’t even notice you aren’t even eating rice.”
They also make their own breads and baked goods, with desserts definitely still on the table including a banoffee cheesecake with caramel sauce.
As well as the diet, the lifestyle also recommends reducing stress, getting enough vitamin D, sleeping well and exercising.
Taking advantage of their success, they’ve quickly moved to franchise, already selling cafes into Brisbane, Bondi and this week opening in Mornington.
Next year the café will expand around Australia to cities including Adelaide, Townsville and Albury.
But the Hobbs won’t stop there. They have interest from people in America and Canada too.
With its rise in popularity Paleo has attracted serious criticism, though it is generally praised for cutting out sugar and preservatives. Next to the books extolling its virtues, there are others tearing it down.
In her TED Talk University of Oaklahoma archelogist Christina Warinner debunks the diet saying modern foods are significantly different to in caveman times.
But the Hobbs are true believers, mainly because it works very well for them, and the food is fresh and delicious.
“I think people have finally realised we’ve taken a wrong path and we have to turn around and go back and fix the damage that’s been done,” Marlies said.
“I just I believe that it is the most effective diet for optimal health but I don’t try to force it on anyone that doesn’t see the same common sense and merit in it that I do.”