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The Stone Age Diet -- What Is It and Why Does It Work

The Stone Age Diet is a diet which attempts to recreate the way Man ate around 30,000 or 40,000 years ago. It is sometimes also referred to as the 'paleo' or 'paleolithic' diet. Those who use it believe that going back to eating this way eliminates the root cause of many of the chronic health problems we experience today, which respond poorly to the symptom-suppression approach of modern medicine. It is particularly likely to be used in connection with treatment for IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), other chronic digestive problems, and a myriad of health problems connected to food allergies or sensitivities and intestinal yeast overgrowth.

The thinking behind the Stone Age Diet is as follows:

Diet and nutrition is crucially important to our health. The complex systems of our bodies need specific nutrients to function properly. Exactly what and how much we need is down to evolution, in the sense that we are only in optimum health when we eat what we have evolved to eat. Evolution is a slow process, measured in not hundreds, not thousands but millions of years. As a result, any radical, sudden change to our diet risks problems until our systems have had time to adapt. Indeed, over the last 40,000 years less than 0.02 per cent of our genetic code has changed. So our bodies are basically still designed to work best with the same foods and nutrients they were getting 40,000 years ago. This principle applies not only to what we readily recognize as our food and drink, but also to any potentially harmful chemicals which we unknowingly or knowingly take in via the air or in our food and water.

In other words, we have as yet only evolved to cope with the conditions that prevailed back in the Stone Age. That is to say, when we were existing on a hunter-gatherer diet of game meat, fish and seafood, insects and grubs, roots and tubers, plants and grasses, leaves, nuts, seeds, berries and other fruits. At that time, we did not have milk or milk products, because we had not yet domesticated animals. We did not have grains (wheat, corn/maize, barley, oats, rice etc) as these came later, when we learnt how to become farmers in the Agricultural Revolution around 5,000 years ago. And we certainly were not exposed to the thousands of man-made chemicals which find their way today into our air and our food and water, such as pesticides, fertilizers and growth promoters, plastics, drug residues, colorants, flavorings and other artificial additives.

There is a wide variation in individual requirements for nutrients, just as there is a wide variation in the ability to cope with potentially harmful chemicals. But taken overall, a population well adapted to its food and environment is generally robust and healthy. On the other hand, a population ill-adapted to its food and environment suffers high rates of chronic ill-health, and this is what we are seeing more and more of today.

The problem for us in our modern age is that we have changed our diets radically compared to what Stone Age Man ate. We have made bread and other grain-based products our staple foods. We have liberally supplemented these with sugar and other refined carbohydrates and with man-made fats, all of which were unknown to Stone Age Man. And we have changed our environment in terms of exposure to toxins and man-made chemicals beyond all recognition. It hardly seems surprising therefore that chronic, degenerative diseases are rapidly rising in the so-called 'advanced' populations of the world. It is illustrative that many researchers on this subject refer to these diseases as the 'diseases of civilization'.

So what are the 'diseases of civilization'? The term is most often used to refer to heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer and obesity. However, there are many other increasingly prevalent conditions which are thought to be linked with this mismatch between our modern diet and environment and the diet and environment we have evolved to handle. These include allergies and food sensitivities, asthma, auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, multiple chemical sensitivities, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

It is important to recognize that any attempt to recreate the real Stone Age Diet in our modern age can only be an approximation. This is because the nutrient and toxic chemical makeup of the soil is different. Similarly, our plants and animals have been selected and bred for characteristics such as fast growth, superior color or size or keeping qualities. So even our 'natural' foods today are different from those our Stone Age ancestors would have eaten.

In any case, there was no one single diet in the Stone Age, since what was eaten would have been slightly different from one group of Stone Age people to another, depending on location, time of year and availability of particular foods. This is why a modern-day Stone Age diet is probably more correctly termed a Stone Age-style diet. This variation in the composition of our Stone Age ancestors' diet is reflected in the 'Stone Age Diets' prescribed by medical practitioners. Whether using it as a diagnostic or curative tool, they all tend to prescribe their own favored version. What remains constant however is the premise that it is a diet of organic, natural foods based on fish, meat, game, poultry, vegetables and fruits.

There are two main groups of Stone Age Diet devotees. The first consists of people who feel that the modern environment is simply not a healthy way to live, and view a Stone Age-style diet as their best defence against succumbing to chronic disease. The second group comprises practitioners who have specialized in nutritional and environmental medicine (sometimes called clinical ecologists, allergologists or allergy specialists). They very often use a Stone Age-style diet as a means of identifying foods or chemicals that may be causing an individual's ill-health, and also as a basis for a permanent dietary change which may cure or control the illness.

As can be seen, a strict Stone Age-style Diet is very restrictive and compliance by patients used to our grain- and milk-based staple foods is likely to be poor. Therefore, some practitioners prescribe a 'modified Stone Age Diet' which may include some grains and dairy produce. However, these modified versions virtually always exclude the grains that we normally eat, wheat and corn/maize in particular. They are also likely to specify duck eggs instead of our usual eggs from hens, and goat's milk instead of cow's milk.

One of the most problematic aspects of embarking upon a Stone Age-style Diet, particularly a modified one where the individual is asked to include uncommonly eaten grains such as millet, quinoa, gram (chickpea) flour and buckwheat flour, is how to incorporate these items into palatable meals. All too often, the patient simply ignores those foods. However, this can result in an unnecessarily restricted dietary regime which increases the likelihood that the patient will abandon the diet before he has had a chance to benefit from it. Cookbooks which contain recipes specifically for these uncommonly eaten grains do exist, but they are few and far between. One such example is the Stone Age Diet is Easy Cookbook.