How to Eat Like a Caveman

We spoke with Dr. Loren Cordain to learn more about his new cookbook and the Paleo Diet.

If you’re interested in improving the conditions of health problems, like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or cardiovascular disease and want to drop weight while improving your skin, then the Paleo Diet is the one for you.

With a foundation in high-quality, low-fat protein foods (like lean meats, poultry, fish or seafood), plenty of fruits (except for dried) and vegetables (except for corn and potatoes), the Paleo Diet is aiming to mirror the eating habits of our ancient ancestors.

By following the book’s easy recipes and meal plans, you will be able to achieve all that it promises without constant hunger or counting calories.

Endless amounts of cookbooks and diets promise many of the same things, so we interviewed Dr. Loren Cordain to find out what makes The Paleo Diet Cookbook different and why it works.


Many cookbooks and diets also promise to improve health problems and bring effortless weight loss — how is the Paleo Diet different?

The Paleo Diet is not a diet, per se, but rather a lifetime way of eating to maximize health and wellbeing.  As opposed to all other dietary schemes, I, or for that matter any mortal, did not devise it.  We simply uncovered humanity's pre-existing diet by examining the nutritional patterns of the world's hunter-gatherer populations.  In my book, I have simply mimicked hunter-gatherer diets with contemporary foods available at the supermarket. The bottom line: unlimited fresh fruits, veggies, healthy meats, seafood, fish, nuts and certain healthful oils. Foods to avoid are all processed foods, cereal grains, dairy foods and legumes.


Why did you decide on mimicking the diets of our ancestors and how did you come up with the recipes? 

The nutritional requirements for all animals are based upon their genomes and evolution via natural selection shapes genomes of all organisms. Because our genome was shaped by the hunter-gatherer ecologic niche, then by mimicking those foods that hunter-gatherers ate, we can optimize our health and wellbeing. The recipes are simply based upon the food groups that our ancestors are known to have consumed.


You say that 55-65% of a person's daily caloric intake should be lean meats or other sources of protein like poultry and seafood — isn't that the opposite of what Michael Pollan said in his latest book?  [Editor’s note: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."]

Yes, it would be diametrically different from the evolutionary model our ancestors consumed.  Most of the plant food consumed in the world today is cereal grains.  Whether whole or refined, there is an enormous litany of health problems associated with this practice as outlined by more than 400 references in one of my papers. [Editor’s note: He has a published paper to prove it.]

Hunter-gatherers rarely or never ate grains. I could agree with Michael that people should eat as many fresh fruits and veggies that they can possibly consume. However, because of the sheer volume of these types of foods it is difficult to eat more than about 45 % of daily energy as plant foods. Our recommendation to eat between 55-65 % of daily energy from animal foods is based upon the 229 hunter gatherer societies we studied.


The diet suggests giving up dairy completely, but what about all of the research supporting probiotics?

I agree with the notion that probiotics found in dairy can have a therapeutic effect upon GI tract function, but the downside health effects  of dairy doesn't justify obtaining probiotics in this form. People are better off supplementing with probiotic capsules. Also, high fruit and vegetable diets (like the Paleo Diet) promote gut colonization of these healthful bacteria.


As this diet requires a lifestyle change, what is your advice for readers who are still looking to live a social and ‘everyday’ lifestyle?

There really is nothing abnormal about this way of eating. Almost all restaurants serve "real" non-processed foods. If one simply makes wiser choices at meals, it is easy to follow the Paleo Diet. I have also incorporated the 85:15 rule into the diet so that people who are 85% compliant can achieve most of the health benefits of the diet. I allow people three open meals per week if they want to go out with friends for pizza and beer, if that's why they like. 


Is this a feasible diet for someone who isn't surrounded by other people following the Paleo Diet?

There are many websites and support groups worldwide that trade tips about making this lifetime plan of eating work under just about any situation. If you or a loved one has serious health problems related to diet, what better way to show your love by supporting their desire to become healthier?


A reader posed the question, "If I'm living with my girlfriend and we usually share dinner, then won't it be very expensive/difficult if I am following the Paleo Diet and she isn't?" — How would you respond?

Real food like steamed broccoli and broiled salmon is more expensive than cheap dried beans and grains, but they are a lot more healthy in the long run and probably reduce health care costs in mid and later life.


Did you find that the circle of people you surrounded yourself with changed since you and your wife started following this diet? 

No, but we don't wear our diets on our collars either. As I mentioned earlier, if you don't tell people, most would never know you are eating Paleo. Is an omelet and fresh cantaloupe an unusual breakfast? How about chicken salad for lunch? How about broiled steak, salad and steamed veggies for dinner with fresh fruit for dessert.  You can even toss in a glass or red wine vis-à-vis the 85:15 rule.


What advice do you have for someone who is just starting the Paleo Diet or is interested in following it?

Listen to your body, and you will never eat in any other way. Most people immediately notice an increase in energy throughout the day — they sleep better and mentally feel more positive. People with health problems including high cholesterol, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, acne and almost every autoimmune disease under the sun have improvements in symptoms.


Click here to see The Paleo Diet's Salmon Caesar Salad recipe. 

Click here to see the Paleo Chicken in a Pot recipe. 

Click here to see the Baked Trout with Fresh Lemon and Dill recipe.