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One of the latest food trends:
the Stone Age "paleo" diet

No cereal or dairy products, no sugar, but a lot of fruit, vegetables and lean meat – that's the paleo diet, a relatively new diet trend that purports to be based on what our Palaeolithic ancestors ate. It's a topic that is being given more and more prominence in Internet forums, on bookshop shelves and in seminars. But despite its many positive aspects, nutrition experts have been critical.

The foods you should give up...

Stone age hunter-gatherer societies presumably ate much more protein but less fat and fewer carbohydrates than we do today. They covered their energy requirements primarily with lean meat, fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and seafood. People following a paleo diet today cook with high-quality oils , honey, eggs, nuts and seeds, all seasoned with fresh herbs. Salt consumption is reduced to a minimum. The introduction of agriculture around 10,000 years ago opened up a whole range of new foods, but people who follow a paleo diet avoid all of these – rice, maize, wheat, rye and barley, as well as the products made from them, such as pasta, bread and muesli. To this list of foods to avoid, paleo adherents would add potatoes, milk and dairy products, pulses, like lentils and soya, as well as highly processed foods like sugar.

Benefits of the paleo diet

A Stone-Age-type diet certainly has benefits: eating generous amounts of fruit and vegetables supplies minerals, roughage and vitamins. Fish and lean meat supply valuable protein and the fact that the diet avoids processed foods and sugar is another positive aspect.  Quality and sustainability are important in your food choices. Switching to a paleo diet is expected to increase your feeling of wellbeing, and reduce your risk of overweight, circulatory diseases and diabetes.

Criticisms of the paleo diet

So far, so good. But giving up cereal products means that important minerals and dietary fibre will be missing from your diet. Dairy products are an important source of calcium, so that people following a paleo diet have to make sure they find their calcium elsewhere. In addition, it's currently not clear how the high protein consumption will affect the function of liver and kidneys in the long term. In today's "normal" wholegrain diet the protein content makes up around 20 percent of your total energy requirements, by contrast, the paleo diet recommends a protein content of 32 and 37 percent. Another criticism, of course, is that it's relatively difficult to work out exactly what Stone Age people actually ate. One general criticism is always valid ¬– the more you restrict your choice of foodstuffs, the more of a challenge it becomes to make sure your body gets adequate amounts of all the nutrients you need. If you want to try out the paleo diet, you'll need to set up a good nutritional plan to make sure you don't miss out on any essential nutrients.

Source: Heike Kreutz, www.aid.de