It’s the cave man style diet that’s taking over the world, but what’s it doing to our health? We asked two experts to weigh in on the debate and their thoughts are wildly different.

Mark Rockley

Mark Rockley

It seems we’ve done the Time Warp again and the latest health trend has seen us scurry back to the days of the cave man. But instead of donning animal furs or clubbing their friends over the head during a disagreement, legions of people are now all about eating like our ancestors.

It’s known as the Paleo Diet, a health movement that’s quickly taken hold of Brisbane with many devotees following the food plan and specialized cafe’s setting up shop across our city. But the big question is, how safe is this new food movement?

The Primal Pantry is a Paleo cafe in Teneriffe Village and according to owner Mark Rockley the movement is a return to eating whole and simple foods, with minimal refined sugars and carbohydrates. Rockley says in order to eat Paleo you must consume a diet high in lean meats, vegetables, fats and seeds and avoid dairy, grains and processed sugar altogether. The Primal Pantry team believe the diet is more compatible with the way our bodies are innately programmed to process food and will lead to improved health outcomes, increased energy and a reduction in blood sugars that can cause cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

“I’ve been in the fitness industry for a while and I developed a range of snack foods called Paleo Hero. I’ve followed the Paleo diet for three years,it’s about eliminating  toxins that are in current packaged foods with all the preservatives and colorings,” Rockley says. “When I sat in a seminar and listed to what Paleo was all about it just made a lot of sense to me. It’s also good for your health. I have a lot of allergies and following this sort of eating plan has cleared them up for me which I’m really happy about.  A lot of people already follow similar eating plans so they are about 60 per cent there already but Paelo is just a descriptive term for eating real food.

“We do eliminate things like grains and dairy, which we weren’t really designed to consume on mass levels. We’ve had a massive amount of interest since day one,it’s been very popular and people have really embraced it. One of the biggest misconceptions is that people believe it can be quite bland and boring but we show people the food can be quite tasty. A lot of people think when they first hear the term ‘cave man diet’ that it’s all meat, which isn’t true.

Julie Gilbert

Julie Gilbert

“There are a number of health benefits when it comes to clean eating. Paleo is a lifestyle, it’s not just a diet. It’s about being active and healthy.”

However, not everybody is jumping on the Paleo Diet bandwagon. Solutions with Food principal and Dietitians Association of Australia media spokesperson Julie Gilbert says following any kind of restrictive diet like this is not safe.

“People get caught up and motivated with it but in reality it’s all about losing kilojoules, that’s the only way people lose weight,” the accredited practicing dietician says.” It is a worry that people are cutting out food groups, you cannot sustain a diet that does not have breads, cereals and dairy in it.  The most important thing to look at is the cutting out of calcium, calcium deficiency of course leads to osteoporosis so that’s the big one. The other one is that grains and legumes are really good sources of fiber and also good sources of vitamin B and iron. Initially a lot of people can feel tired and lethargic when on this diet and they can also feel constipated.”

Gilbert said it was particularly distressing to think that teenagers would be embracing and following the Paleo Diet.

“You should never let your teenager diet, particularly girls who are trying to lose weight for events,’ she says.” It is not designed for them because they are still growing, their bones are still growing so if they are not getting enough calcium that’s a really dangerous thing.

“People think it’s a new fad to latch on to, promising vitality, good health and longer living.  But why are we basing our modern society on a cave man diet? Considering life expectancy in their era was around 40 years of age and life expectancy for us is 80 plus. So we need to make sure we are following a diet that will let us live well into our eighties. Not a diet that will let us live until we are 40. Look at all core food groups and include them in the right portion sizes and if you’re not sure how to do that, see a dietician. They are the only experts in nutrition, there is no one else out there.

“It’s also a very expensive diet  because it’s heavily protein based so that costs a lot. It’s also out of people’s normal eating patterns, particularly when you’re talking about families. People come to us and say ‘look I want something normal and sustainable’. Healthy eating is the only way to go.”