You may not have heard of the caveman diet before, or you may have and just not realized it. Other terms for this way of eating include the stone-age diet or more popular recently, the Paleo diet.
Put quite simply, the caveman diet means you eat food that would only be available back when hunter-gatherer cavemen roamed the Earth. It’s so simple, “a caveman could do it.”
But, given how today’s food industry is, how easy is it to eat while on this diet?
If you take a look around your local grocery store, you will notice most everything is processed and has lots of packaging to keep food fresher longer. There is a long list of ingredients, most are hard to pronounce and have to be looked up to find out what it even is.
As you walk through, think about what would have been available to a caveman back in their day. Animals, wild fruits and vegetables were all on the menu to the people whose only option was to hunt and gather their food for each meal.
Even fruits and vegetables were limited at that time. Agriculture and the creation of mass food production has only been around for a few thousand years. Over time, even our teeth and jaw structure has changed since farming became more widespread and the need to hunt and gather for food has decreased.
Is it any surprise then that your trip to the grocery store to find food for this way of eating has kept you to the outside perimeter of the aisles, and you haven’t found anything suitable in the center aisles?
Once you realize how many processed foods most Americans eat, you might see yourself seriously considering changing the way you eat.
The Standard American Diet
We have been conditioned that a Standard American Diet (SAD) is what we need to eat, because most everyone does and they usually do without question. It might work for some, but others may be looking for more out of their food and to go back to basics.
After all, if it was good for cavemen, couldn’t it be good for us?
What can I eat on the Caveman diet?
According to the Caveman Doctor, you will need to get at least a quarter to a third of your daily food intake as protein. You will also want to limit your carbohydrate amounts to no more than 150 grams per day.
Depending on your goals, you can reduce your carbs per day to as low as 50 grams, but going lower than that can put you into ketosis. An increase in carbs will help you gain weight, while a lower amount of carbs will help you lose weight.
You will need to increase your protein and fats to counteract the reduction in carbs. And if you feel sluggish or like you are getting the flu, you may need to increase your sodium. A good way to do this is to drink some bone broth.
Here’s an idea of what your caveman diet food list would consist of:
- Meat – beef, chicken, turkey, alligator, venison, pig
- Seafood – all types of fish, scallops, oysters, clams
- Nuts and seeds – sunflower seeds, walnuts, pumpkins seeds, macadamia nuts, peanuts, almonds
- Oils – the above nut and seed varieties are also good as oils as long as they are not processed
- Tubers – yams, sweet potatoes, potatoes (though some say that white potatoes should not be included)
- Eggs – free range and organic is best
- Fruits – apples, oranges, any type of berries, any fruit that can be eaten with the skin on to provide the most nutrients
- Vegetables – leafy greens, broccoli, onion, carrots, cauliflower
This is not an entire list, but gives you a general idea of the types of foods you would be eating. To get the most out of your food, get grass-fed, free-range and organic products as much as you can. You want the least amount of processing and preserving with the most amount of nutrients to be able to reap the benefits of the caveman diet.
What foods should I avoid?
When eating like a caveman, there are a lot of foods you will have to avoid or stop eating. Think about your trip to the grocery store and all the aisles you avoided. Those foods include:
- Dairy (though some say that butter and cheese are okay for Paleo)
- Artificial sweeteners
- Trans fats/hydrogenated oils
- Refined vegetable oils
- Anything processed
When thinking about all the food items that can be included in this list, it might be overwhelming. But just remember, if you stick to outside aisles of the grocery store or even start shopping at the farmers market, a lot of the guess work has been taken out of your decisions.
Here is a good rule to follow to help when shopping:
- No more than four or five ingredients
- If any of them are hard to pronounce or you’d have to look them up to see what they are, it’s probably not going to be something you want in your caveman diet.
The Caveman diet and the Golden Era
Back in the Golden Era of bodybuilding, there was not a lot of information about what to eat to bulk up and fuel your body to get the most out of your workouts. Supplements were generic and not targeted towards true health. There was also little information about the right way to fuel your body with food.
The Story of Tom Platz
Golden Era bodybuilder Tom Platz realized that in order to get to the next level in bodybuilding, he would have to eat a whole food diet and avoid the foods his peers were eating. He believed then, and still does now, that processed foods should be avoided and you should know the source of your food whenever possible.
Tom’s intense training program and incredibly strong mental outlook, along with his whole food based nutrition plan, allowed him to develop one of the most massive and awe-inspiring physiques of his era. Although he was not genetically gifted when he started weight training, Tom was able to transform his body by the combination of physical and mental strength, including a superior nutrition plan.
According to Platz, “Food should be your main source of nutrients. Supplements are supposed to supplement your food intake. That’s it.” He credits his knowledge in nutrition for still being healthy and fit today in his 60’s.
Eating high carbohydrates, whole food, and meat on the bone has become a way of life for him. He mentions that the only food he actually eats processed is bacon. His food choices then and now mirror much of the Caveman diet, don’t you think?
Let’s take a look at some recipes and meal plan ideas to help you better understand how to eat on the caveman diet.
Caveman diet recipes
There are some great recipes out there so you don’t get bored with eating the same foods over and over again in the same ways. Having choices and new ways to fix the same foods are the best way to be able to stick to a diet and avoid reverting back to your old ways.
Eating a paleo diet has become increasingly popular over the last few years, so you can find some tasty recipes pretty easily. The Ultimate Paleo Guide is just one website you can check out. It has a great archive that breaks down food by meal type or specific diet you are following.
Here’s a great caveman diet breakfast idea from their website which takes just 20 minutes from start to finish and keeps you full for hours:
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 2 cups kale, chopped
- 4 oz grass fed beef, diced
- 1 egg
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
- Heat the oil in a heavy skillet and add the kale once warmed. Cook until wilted and soft, about 3 minutes.
- Add beef and cook until done to your likeness
- Remove both from the pan and set aside
- Fry egg to until done to your likeness
- Serve immediately
As you can see, a meal does not have to be time consuming even though you are cooking from scratch. Once you make it a habit, cooking becomes easier and takes less time.
What would a Caveman diet meal plan look like?
If you are still unsure if this diet is something you can stick to and make a way of life, let’s create a meal plan so you can see what a week’s worth of meals could look like.
- Breakfast: recipe listed above
- Lunch: Salad with meat protein and a handful of nuts
- Dinner: Stir fry with meat protein and lots of vegetables
- Dessert: Berries
- Breakfast: Poached eggs and spinach
- Lunch: Tuna, egg and avocado salad
- Dinner: Pot roast
- Dessert: Nuts and fruit
- Breakfast: Almond flour pancakes with bacon
- Lunch: Green salad with salmon and a side of fruit
- Dinner: Lamb stew
- Dessert: Coconut fruit smoothie
- Breakfast: Veggie omelet
- Lunch: Chicken and vegetable power bowl
- Dinner: Stuffed peppers with meat of choice and side salad
- Dessert: assorted fruit salad
- Breakfast: roasted vegetables with egg of choice on top
- Lunch: Turkey lettuce wraps, nuts
- Dinner: Baked fish with stuffed squash
- Dessert: Berries
- Breakfast: Vanilla coconut chai pudding
- Lunch: Salad with meat protein and a handful of nuts
- Dinner: Venison burger, no bun, with baked potato and veggies
- Dessert: Mango spinach smoothie
- Breakfast: Sausage, veggie, hashbrown casserole
- Lunch: Trail mix and salad
- Dinner: Root vegetable soup with meat protein of choice
- Dessert: Chocolate nib and fruit smoothie bowl
As you can see with this sample meal plan, there is a lot of variety in what you can eat so you don’t get bored. You can also meal prep one or two days a week to make the rest of the week easier and less time consuming. Making large pots of soups and stews means you can have meals for several days so you can just grab and go from the fridge.
Caveman diet vs keto
When it comes to comparing the caveman diet with the ketogenic diet, there are a lot of similarities but there are also some differences which show a clear winner between the two diets.
When it comes to the types of food to eat and avoid, paleo and keto are very similar in eating a whole food diet. However, keto is even stricter due to the low carbohydrate count (20-30 grams per day) required to maintain ketosis, the basis of the diet.
People tend to spend more time with the keto diet, weighing and tracking food to make sure they are staying within the requirements to maintain ketosis.
Weight Loss Comparison
Looking strictly at weight loss comparison, people tend to lose more weight on the keto diet as long as they stay in ketosis. But, due to how strict the program is, they tend to fall out of ketosis and end up gaining weight back.
The ability to adapt and stay consistent on any particular diet is more important than losing weight in the short term. After all, what good is any diet or nutrition plan if it cannot realistically be maintained?
One other interesting comparison for the caveman diet compared to keto is that it is more of a lifestyle change than a diet. Getting back to basics doesn’t just include eating like a caveman, but living more like one too.
It means being outside more, exercising, meditating and overall living a more active lifestyle than you may have been before. Hunter-gatherers had to go out and sometimes travel for miles to find their food each day. Now, most people can just go to the grocery store for everything they need, so being active and exercising takes the place of hunting and gathering.
That is one of the reasons that the caveman diet is the real winner over the keto diet – it is more realistic and sustainable for the average person to maintain, and it doesn’t include as many health concerns as the keto diet does.
Now that we’ve compared the paleo diet to the keto diet, let’s take a look at the caveman diet pros and cons to see how it compares to the Standard American Diet.
Caveman diet pros and cons
- High protein, low fat, high fiber diet keeps you fuller longer
- Possible weight loss
- No calorie counting
- Has the potential to cure some health issues
- Less package waste, better for the environment
- More expensive
- More time consuming
- Rigid plan with little wiggle room
- Could cause nutrient gap
- Food source concerns
In 2015, the government issued the new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for the updated SAD, or Western Appetite diet (WPD). The goal of the updated guidelines is to improve overall health and reduce chronic illness, focusing on disease prevention.
By the Books
According to the in depth and thorough guide (which can be found and downloaded in pdf here), more than 50 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, and it has been this way for over 25 years! The statistics for other health problems that Americans have faced for decades due to their diet and sedentary lifestyle should not go unnoticed.
- For years 2009-2012, 73% of adult males and 65% of adult women were overweight or obese
- In 2010, Cardiovascular Disease affected about 35% of adults aged 20 years and older (that is over 35% of the population)
- By 2012, the same age group showed 14% of men and 11% of women had diabetes (90% type 2)
- Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. An estimated 1.2 million adults had colorectal cancer in 2012
- Breast cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., with an estimated 3 million women in 2012
Taking charge of your health with a better diet can help reduce weight, but also help reduce or eliminate chronic health conditions and create more energy to allow you to maintain this lifestyle for the long term.
There may be some negatives to the caveman diet, but the disease numbers prove it is much better for your health than following the SAD/WFD!
Caveman diet reviews
Now that you’ve learned about the stone-age diet and how it compares to the Standard American diet and keto, let’s take a look at some reviews and studies done on this trend.
U.S News created a Best Diets methodology, which used a panel of nutritionists, doctors, and diet experts to compare 41 different diet plans and rate them in seven categories on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best plan.
Curious to see how the caveman/stone-age/paleo diet compared?
According to their ratings, the diet only got 2.4 stars out of 5, making it #33 out of 41 on the list. Here is a breakdown of the categories and how the diet faired in each.
- Managing or preventing diabetes – 2.6
- Ease of following – 1.9
- Heart healthy – 2
- Long-term weight loss – 2.3
- Nutrition – 2.3
- Safety – 2.8
- Short-term weight loss – 2.3
Harvard School of Public Health
This review done by the Harvard School of Public Health’s The Nutrition Source offered much of the same, listing the items we mentioned above in the Cons as reasons for why the diet is not advisable or achievable for most people in the long-term.
The review specifically mentioned deficiencies in calcium, Vitamin D, and B vitamins due to the restriction of some foods and the lack of balance that tends to happen with these types of diets. They also mention cause for concern of the amount of red meat intake linked to heart disease, diabetes, and even death.
Healthline had the most promising review, which included five studies done around the world. The studies unanimously showed in favor of weight loss for participants. It even showed the diet helped some with health issues like fatty liver, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
All studies in this review are based on the book “The Paleo Diet” by Dr. Loren Cordain, so do include lean meats and canola oil, and eliminated all dairy and sodium.
Are you surprised by the results?
If you are still leaning towards trying out the caveman diet, even for the short-term, be sure to take a multivitamin that can help balance out any nutrient deficiencies.
Vintage Base is an excellent multi vitamin and mineral supplement that also contains probiotics and digestive enzymes that help with the absorption of the vitamins and minerals.
Also, let us know in the comments – have you tried this diet? Is it just a diet for you to meet specific goals, or is it a lifestyle change? What have been your successes and failures when it comes to food and bodybuilding?