The Paleolithic, or caveman diet, is a reversion to the foods eaten by humans prior to the advents of civilization, agriculture, and technology. Before those developments, the human diet during the Stone Age is thought to have consisted largely of lean red meat and vegetation.
Some dietary experts also think that the original diet of the caveman varied due to the availability of foods. For example, prehistoric man would fast when there was no food, or ate only vegetables when hunting yielded no results.
The Paleolithic diet is high in high-quality protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, iron, mono-unsaturated fats, omega-3 fats, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. The diet excludes salt, saturated fats, grains, legumes, dairy products, and sugar, and is low in enzyme inhibitors such as protease or amylase inhibitors, exorphins, and glycoalkaloids.
The Paleolithic has produced beneficial health outcomes in controlled medical studies. In clinical research, stroke and ischaemic heart disease were absent in a population living on the island of Kitava, in Papua New Guinea, where the diet is similar to the Paleolithic.
Because ischaemic heart disease is closely linked to depression, anxiety, and Alzheimer’s, the Paleolithic diet could theoretically have mental health benefits for some people.
The Paleolithic Diet and Inflammation
Inflammation contributes to a whole host of problems, especially depression. The precise mechanisms that cause this are still being studied, but the correlation is clear – in an extreme example, patients taking a proinflammatory drug (interferon) for hepatitis suffer from severe depression and higher suicide rates than patients on any other drug.
Inflammation, therefore, is a key cause of depression. However, it’s important to note that inflammation itself is not the problem; the problem is the toxic diet of modern processed foods that caused the inflammation in the first place. Anti-inflammatory drugs are increasingly used to treat depression, but eating a gut-healing, non-inflammatory diet in the first place is much more beneficial than filling your body with gut irritants and washing them down with a dose of chemicals to reduce their effects.
A Paleo diet forestalls the need for anti-inflammatories by preventing inflammation in the first place. People with severe digestive problems may see benefits from following a slightly stricter version of Paleo until their gut health improves, but a basic Paleo diet is inherently non-inflammatory because it excludes the food toxins that cause inflammation in the first place.