Trend eschews processed foods for vegetables and meat
A diet trend that lost popularity more than 10,000 years ago is making a modern comeback — and it’s beginning to creep onto USC’s campus.
Followers of the Paleolithic Diet, also known as the “caveman diet,” believe that while people have evolved in many aspects since prehistoric times, the human digestive system and genetic make-up has not developed enough to handle certain processed foods, grains and dairy products, according to second-year environmental science student and “caveman” dieter Alec Courtright.
“I started doing the caveman diet a little over a year ago, and I’ve seen some major changes,” Courtright said. “I heard about it from a few friends who were trying it out to maximize their workouts, and I tried it out. I did a lot of research and saw a lot of great results.”
Courtright gained much of his knowledge of the nutritional plan from trainers at his hometown’s CrossFit gym and was directed to check out a blog called Mark’s Daily Apple. The creator, Mark Sisson, has been advocating the caveman lifestyle since 1996 and believes it is the way to wellness.
“I started reading Mark’s blog and began following his advice,” Courtright said. “Everyone who follows the Paleolithic lifestyle knows about him, and we put him on a godly pedestal when we talk about him or refer to his work.”
An average day for Courtright is chock full of vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds and — most importantly — meat. The diet is based on lean meat, followed by vegetables, fruit, dairy and grains.
While the diet says to completely avoid dairy and grains, there are many separate styles of the caveman diet that incorporate starches and raw or unpasteurized milk and cheese, said USC dietician and nursing professor Kathy Mercer.
“I think that the caveman diet can be healthy and beneficial, but I would tend to lean toward following a plan that allows dairy,” Mercer said. “Calcium deficiency is becoming a real issue, especially in young women, and it’s so important to eat those foods that are high sources of calcium.”
Mercer said the most appealing aspect of the diet is that processed and fried foods are completely cut out. She said that college students tend to consume an inordinate amount of fast food and unhealthy snacks and that the caveman diet can be beneficial because of the emphasis placed on the consumption of large amounts of fruits and vegetables. However, Mercer said, while meats can be great, they can also lead to high fat intake.
“It is important to note that the diet specifies lean meats like beef, pork, fish, wild game and poultry, and that these meats should be all-natural and grass-fed,” Mercer said. “My problem with this is that organic and natural meats can become very pricey. The nutritional value is better, but the cost will turn some people away.”
While caveman dieters prefer fats in meat to carbohydrates, the American Heart Association has suggested to keep the amount of red meat eaten to 18 ounces per week, Mercer said.
Courtright said he is definitely exceeding that amount. While he agrees that the price of good meat can be a deterrent, he still likes to eat a large steak about three times a week alongside a salad with vinegar and flavored olive oil.
“Nothing fills you up and satisfies you more than a good steak,” Courtright said. “I love to eat, and I eat a lot, so it’s nice to actually get up from the table full.”
The diet says to eat meat, but it doesn’t say how much, Mercer said, and overeating can be a problem.
“If you’re going to eat like a caveman, you need to exercise like a caveman,” Mercer said. “While this can be used as a weight-loss plan, it’s important that you move around and stay active. Cavemen didn’t sit around watching TV all day.”
Courtright said he is going to try to stick with the diet as best he can, but he has hit a bump in the road recently.
“I’ve really been craving a fast-food cheeseburger lately, with the bun on,” he said. “I’m going to try to stick it out though.”