Eat like a (modern) caveman

2013-06-26 11:11

Fast food, sugary cereals, greasy takeaways… It’s no secret that Western eating habits are leaving us unhealthy and battling with weight issues. Does the answer to good health lie in eating like a caveman?

The world is never short of a new diet fad, whether it’s the high-protein Atkins or the cabbage soup challenge.

Recently, an eating plan promoted by American Dr Loren Cordain became the talk of the diet world. The Paleolithic or ‘Paleo diet’ and ‘caveman diet’ is based on us eating the way our ancestors would have eaten 2.6 million years ago.

Chantal Walsh, a Joburg-based registered dietician, says, ‘The caveman diet mimics the eating patterns of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

It includes fresh meat (beef, lamb, pork, poultry), fish, seafood, fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts and healthy oils (olive, avocado). It excludes all dairy products, cereals, grains, legumes, refined sugars and processed foods.’

Caveman genius 

According to Dr Cordain and his colleagues, research shows that hunter-gatherers didn’t suffer from the chronic illnesses and diseases that are common today, such as obesity, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Of course, our Paleolithic ancestors probably didn’t live much beyond the age of 40, when chronic disease often strikes, but let’s weigh it up anyway.

We asked Chantal to take a bite out of the caveman diet to tell us just how healthy it is, and here’s what she had to say.

Pros of  the Paleo diet:

  • It includes healthy fats and fatty fish, which are both high in essential fatty acids beneficial for brain functioning.
  • It includes a variety of fruits and vegetables to ensure you get a selection of vitamins and minerals for your immune system.
  • It cuts out refined starches, which often elevate and drop blood sugar levels quickly over short periods of time, therefore causing fluctuations in energy levels and increasing cravings for sweet foods.

Caveman oversight

This diet has been criticised for eliminating grains and dairy, which have a place in the modern diet because of how the human body has changed over the last 2.6 million years. Chantal agrees there are aspects of this diet that aren’t healthy.

The downside of the Paleo diet:

  • It’s extremely high in proteins, especially animal proteins that are high in saturated fats, leading to a possible increase in total cholesterol. This can be a cause for concern for heart health.
  • It cuts out all cereal and grain products. These products contain the majority of our B vitamins, essential for the nervous system. Grains also contain a variety of fibres, which assists in the regular functioning of the digestive system. Legumes and lentils are considered superfoods because they are a fantastic source of fibre, minerals and vitamins. They also help to keep you fuller for longer, thereby decreasing total calorie intake.
  • They should be included in your daily diet.
  • The lack of dairy products or healthy alternatives in this diet is also of concern. Low-fat or fat-free dairy products provide us with calcium and vitamin D for bone health. Completely eliminating these isn’t recommended.

Plate intelligence

1. Half of your plate should be made up of vegetables and salad.

2. A quarter should include starches/carbohydrates, but choose the right types – it should be high in fibre and sustain you for longer, eg brown or basmati rice, low-GI bread, high-fibre breakfast cereals, etc.

3. The other quarter of your plate should be lean animal protein (skinless chicken, fat-free meat, extra-lean mince) or plant protein (beans, lentils, legumes).

4. Remember that quantity is also important. Your starch portion should be no bigger than your fist and your protein portion should be the size of the palm of your hand.

Contemporary caveman diet  

Adding modern-day knowledge to what our ancestors knew can create balance. Chantal says, ‘As dieticians we recommend a balanced combination of vegetables, salad, fruit, protein and carbohydrates to ensure you get the correct vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other essential components. This helps ensure a healthy functioning body that will be least at risk for lifestyle diseases.’

So while your caveman ancestor may have eaten poultry, nuts and berries and some root vegetables, we’ve spiced it up and created a more balanced and palatable version of the caveman eating plan.

Day 1


1 cup cooked oats

1 tbsp oat bran

½ cup low-fat milk

1 banana


1 tub fat-free yoghurt

1 pear


Chicken wrap:

1 wholewheat wrap

1 tbsp fat-free smooth cottage cheese

½ chicken breast, grilled

Lettuce, tomato, cucumber, carrot, onion

15g grated low-fat cheese


3 Provitas

1 tbsp peanut butter

½ small papaya


120-150g grilled salmon, hake, trout, sardines or mackerel

1 gem squash

½ cup green peas

4-6 baby potatoes, crushed with 2 cloves of chopped garlic

Day 2


1 cup high-fibre breakfast cereal

(bran flakes,etc.)

½ cup low-fat milk

½ grapefruit


8-10 unsalted almonds

1 apple


Couscous salad:

1 cup cooked couscous

2 slices lean cold meat, chopped

15g low-fat cheese, chopped

¹/³ cup chickpeas

Peppers, spring onion, cucumber, tomato

2 tsp red wine vinegar

1 tsp olive oil

½ small avo


30g lean biltong

1 low-GI health rusk

1 nectarine


Chicken casserole:

1 chicken breast

¼ cup lentils

2 cups mixed veggies (cauliflower, broccoli, marrows, peppers, etc)

½-1 cup basmati rice

Day 3


½ cup low-GI

low-fat muesli

½ cup fat-free yoghurt

½ cup mixed berries


1 tub fat-free yoghurt

1 handful dried cranberries


Tuna mayo sandwich:

2 slices low-GI bread

½ tin tuna, in water

Lettuce, tomato

1 tbsp low-oil mayo


2 Ryvitas

2 tbsp hummus

1 banana


Lean beef stir fry:

100-120g lean

beef strips

2 cups mixed veggies (cabbage, peppers, marrows, mushrooms, onion, etc)

1 tbsp low-sodium

soy sauce

½-1 cup pasta

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