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Caveman Cuisine: Is Paleo the Diet of the Future?

5 years ago
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It's occurred to me in these first two months of 2010 that, at least where food is concerned, we may be defining the new decade not by moving forward but by moving back -- in some cases, 2.5 million years back.

At CrossFit MPH in Washington, which I joined after Thanksgiving, the coaches promote functional movements (squats, sit-ups, pull-ups) and minimal equipment use, along with the Paleo diet, in which adherents eat the same way our hunter-gatherer ancestors did -- that is, after the discovery of fire but before farming.

The diet is the brainchild of Loren Cordain, author of "The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Food You Were Designed to Eat." In it, he says that the human body is genetically equipped to process lean meats, vegetables, fruits, roots and nuts, but not dairy, grains, sodium or highly processed foods. And he points out how lean and fit the hunter-gatherers were (but fails to mention their life expectancy). Although there are a few "cheat" foods -- an occasional glass of Merlot, for instance -- Golden Grahams, my preferred choice for all occasions, is not on the list.

I haven't gone Paleo yet, but I've been tempted. The Daily Beast includes it in its list of 10 Ways to Live Forever. But even if you're not searching for an elixir that powerful, Cordain says that avoiding calcium-leaching foods such as hard cheeses (who knew this was not a calcium-rich food?) and grains and sticking to fruits and veggies is good for people worried about osteoporosis, which is why I joined CrossFit in the first place. And then there was an article in The Washington Post that quotes one of my fellow "athletes," as we're called at the fitness center, that since she started eating Paleo nine months ago, she's had one cold and it was so mild she hardly noticed. (Even with just the addition of exercise alone, this is the first winter I've avoided getting a cold or taking antibiotics.)

Next came a story in The New York Times on the caveman lifestyle. It details the thinking of a small subculture of New Yorkers -- let's call them a clan -- who eat a lot of meat and then fast to mimic our forebears. For exercise, some crawl under bushes and throw stones. The article also mentions two brothers who regularly give blood, because they're sure our predecessors gave up more than a few pints fighting giant sloths.

But even if you're not slaughtering cows for your home freezer, there's a sense, fueled by food writers Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman and movies like "Food, Inc.," that our food ways have strayed too far afield and need to be hauled back to grandma's day. When's the last time you read a menu at a fancy restaurant that didn't tell you what local farms the pork belly and the baby arugula hailed from?

It's a long way from the TV dinners of my youth.
Filed Under: Woman Up, Culture
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