History and Development of the Paleolithic Diet for Weight Loss


Growing in popularity, the Paleolithic diet, or caveman diet, has helped thousands of people return to a normal body weight. The diet focuses on mimicking the foods eaten by our ancestors prior to the advent of agriculture. The modern Paleo diet includes fish, grass-fed meats, wild game, vegetables, fruit, and nuts, while avoiding refined sugars and grains. Although the diet still faces stiff resistance (especially amongst nutrition researchers funded by large agricultural companies), the increasing pile of positive reviews and dieting successes has pushed the Paleo lifestyle closer towards popular acceptance.

The Paleo diet originated with gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin, who published The Stone Age Diet in 1975. Walter argued that the ancestral Paleolithic diet was that of a carnivore: mostly fats and proteins with a small supplement of carbohydrates. His dietary recommendations coincided with his own medical treatments for a number of digestive complications, such as colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and indigestion.

In 1985, the diet captured the attention of the mainstream medical establishment when Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner published a research paper on the Paleolithic diet in the New England Journal of Medicine. The two researchers later went on to publish a book about a nutritional approach that focused on achieving the same proportions of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, and protein) as were present in the foods eaten by our ancestors. Note that they did not exclude foods unavailable to our pre-agricultural ancestors, such as bread and milk, but instead emphasized protein, fat, and carb ratios.

Beginning in 1989, Swedish medical doctor Staffan Lindeberg led scientific studies of primitive tribes who had not yet been influenced by modern culture. These surveys became collectively known as the Kitava Study, based on the most frequently studied people- the Kitava tribe on an island in Papua New Guinea. The surveys showed a population that apparently did not suffer from stroke, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, or hypertension. Since its first publication in 1993, the Kitava Study has generated numerous scientific publications analyzing the relationship between diet and modern diseases.

Starting in the late 1990s, more and more nutritionists and doctors have recommended switching to a pre-agricultural diet. Proponents have adapted the original ancestral diet to include the modern foods that best emulate the nutritional qualities of the ancient Paleolithic lifestyle. Just as the members of the Kitava tribe maintained a healthy weight without resorting to calorie counting, so too have the Paleo dieters in western cultures found a lifestyle that helps them lose weight and reduces symptoms of many common diseases.

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