Everything old is new again, including diets based on the lifestyle of early human ancestors who began hunting and foraging during the Paleolithic Age more than 3 million years ago. A group of health-conscious individuals is trying to figure out exactly what foods were included in that diet, working on the theory that the human body evolved to make the best use of those specific nutrients. Following that line of reasoning, they argue that modern humans can live healthier lives by following that natural example in everything they consume, from their daily meals to the supplements they add for further nutrition. [This article, “From The Stone Age To Our Own Age: The Paleo Diet (Including Supplements) Promotes Natural Nutrition” was originally published in HealthXWire]
Although some have called this “Paleo diet” a fad, studies have shown health benefits from diets rich in the foods that anthropologists say would have sustained the hunters and gatherers before they learned how to plant and harvest crops. The diet must have been successful for them because it took care of their nutritional needs for more than 99 percent of our species’ pre-history. The Paleo diet downplays the foods that came to fill human stomachs when agriculture was first developed about 12,000 years ago. Starting with the first crops grown on a regular basis, humans began eating more grains, legumes and dairy products, along with bigger helpings of sugar and salt.
The bedrock foods of the Paleo diet are:
∙ Fresh fruits
∙ Organically grown vegetables
∙ Seeds and nuts
∙ Lean meats and fish
Adherents of the Paleo diet are encouraged to avoid:
∙ Breads and other wheat products
∙ Milk and milk-based foods
∙ Beans, peas and other farmed legumes
∙ Any food that requires a high degree of processing
Ancient foods bring modern benefits
The advantages and drawbacks of the Paleo diet are still being studied, but a number of clinical trials have shown that it may provide some important benefits over other diet plans. Those studies have shown it can lead to more weight loss, better blood pressure control, lower triglycerides, improved glucose tolerance, and overall better appetite management. A review of several randomized controlled trials posted by the National Institute for Health on its website concluded that the Paleo diet resulted in greater short term improvements in metabolic syndrome components than did guideline-based control diets. The NIH said these results warrant additional evaluations of the diet’s health benefits.
While followers of the Paleo diet can trace its modern popularity back to the 1970s, a more recent development for the movement has centered around the use of nutritional supplements that are themselves made from the same basic foodstuffs that have been around for millions of years. Strict adherents of the diet regimen look askance at most products that have been refined, but in the case of supplements almost all of them have been substantially altered to extract beneficial compounds and make them more convenient for consumers. So the source of the supplements’ ingredients has become a key issue for Paleo dieters.
One popular supplement, especially among bodybuilders, is protein powder. It’s often consumed after workouts for its muscle-building properties along with nutrients that help the body recover from strenuous exercise. A major source of that protein in many products is whey derived from dairy products, which are a no-no for those following the Paleo diet stringently. One alternative is protein that originated in a more obvious source: meat. Makers of beef protein supplements claim several benefits, such as improved digestibility, a higher amount of protein per serving and fewer allergic reactions, while providing all of the bodybuilding advantages of whey products.
The quest for a better supplement
Another big selling point for beef protein is that it may help some people avoid the inflammatory issues that are sometimes associated with a non-Paleo diet. It was that specific benefit that led Doug Smith, CEO of Paleo Pro LLC in Vista, California, to create a new brand of nutritional supplements that emphasize the use of ancient foods instead of their more commonly used farm-sourced products. Smith had long been involved in the nutritional supplement business, running a number of contract manufacturing companies that supplied products for many popular brands. His researchers had developed a method for extracting beef-based protein powders, but there was not yet a large market for those products. A decade ago, Smith was in a car crash in Europe that left him with serious injuries including broken ribs and a broken lower back.
“When I was recovering, I noticed all these different foods that I would eat would inflame my back,” he said. “A year later, it was like, my back is now healed, but if I ate the wrong thing, I was crippled for a week. I started experimenting with the Paleo diet, and it really had an influence personally on myself.”
Smith’s experience with the Paleo diet soon expanded into his nutritional supplement business, and a new company, Paleo Pro, was born. It now sells almost 30 different products including protein powders, collagen powders, nutritional bars and other supplements.
Adding benefits by subtracting ingredients
Paleo-based supplement manufacturers emphasize the exclusive use of ancient food sources for all of their products. Most of them have developed formulas that avoid:
∙ Wheat, gluten and other grains
∙ Whey, lactose and other dairy products
∙ Soy additives
∙ Hormones and antibiotics
The list of missing ingredients is consistent with the basic guidelines for any Paleo diet. Anthropologists differ on what exactly was on the menu for the earliest humans, but most agree the selection of foods varied with the climate and location of the hunters and gatherers. Some scientists believe meat played a big role, but others point out the difficulty the first hunters would have encountered since they were armed with nothing more than simple stone weapons and tools. Seafood might have been consumed by those living near rivers and oceans, but again the lack of tools might have made catching fish a laborious chore. Fruits, nuts and wild vegetables were almost certainly a key component of the original Paleo diet.
One thing is for certain: Whatever foods were included in that diet sustained our ancestors for millions of years. It’s had to label something ancient as simply a fad.
“I kind of hated that name, ‘Paleo,’” Smith said. “The way I look at it, it’s the same essentially as eating things grown out of the earth, be it an animal or be it a fruit or a vegetable, and stop eating this stuff that’s packaged or boxed or whatnot.”
A collagen education
Now that beef protein supplements are winning more widespread acceptance, another closely related product may also catch on soon with consumers. Powders based on collagen were once considered just an inferior type of protein supplement made from leftover scraps, but nutritionists are now finding unique properties in those powders.
Some studies have shown that collagen can help balance the body’s hormones as well as help support healthy thyroid function and reduce cortisol levels. And because collagen is the building block of bones, it may help strengthen those as well. Aside from bones, collagen is also a major component of the connective tissues that constitute several body parts, such as ligaments, muscles, skin and tendons.
Researchers have found that out bodies produce less collagen as we get older, and that means a natural supplement can do us more good as we age. Scientists say the best form of collagen comes from grass-fed cows – exactly what the Paleo diet calls for – and this type of nutritional supplement is more readily absorbed than collagen from other sources.
If subsequent research shows that collagen powders live up to all of their promise, they may prove to be the next big thing in Paleo-inspired supplements.