What is the Caveman Diet Plan?
The Caveman Diet, also referred to as the Paleo Diet, Stone Age Diet, Paleolithic Diet, Primal Diet, and Hunter-Gatherer Diet is a modern low carb diet. In this article, the “caveman diet” and the “Paleo diet” will be used interchangeably.
The caveman diet plan is based on the assumption that our bodies are genetically programmed to function best if we eat like our caveman ancestors.
Now on the face of it that sounds preposterous. It has been thousands of years since humans lived in caves, but what is important to remember is that even though a few thousand years is an eternity for an individual, from a genetic perspective, the caveman days happened just yesterday.
Until a few thousand years ago (or yesterday, from a genetic perspective) humans had to hunt meat and gather vegetables and fruits to survive. That all changed with the agricultural revolution, after which humans advanced from hunter-gatherers to farmers.
Ever since, instead of loading up on meat, vegetables and seasonal fruit, we load up on carbs (corn, rice, bread, potato, etc.). So, instead of eating a diet that our bodies were constructed for, we eat a diet that makes us fat and sick.
According to the CDO (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, and obesity-related conditions (heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, an certain cancers) are some of the leading causes of preventable death.
If you are more scientifically inclined, here is a 72-minute video by Dr. Loren Cordain, Colorado State University professor and author of “The Paleo Diet”, explaining the caveman diet in more detail.
Proponents of the caveman diet point out that when you are on a standard American diet, not only do you easily gain weight, you are also more prone to digestive illnesses like Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis. There are multiple accounts of people with digestive illnesses like Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis who improved dramatically when switching to the caveman diet.
How Much Weight Can I Lose on the Caveman Diet and How Quickly?
According to Dr. Loren Cordain, author of the best selling guide “The Paleo Diet”, if you want to lose up to 75 pounds in 6 months (average 12.5 pounds per month) and/or attain optimal health, the caveman diet will work wonders for you.
The great thing is that you don’t need to count calories. For optimal weight loss, there are some quantity limits on a small number of food items (nuts/seeds, alcohol, oils, diet sodas, coffee/tea, and dried fruits), but otherwise you can eat what you want, as much as you want, as long as you eat only certain foods.
Here is short video (3 minutes) of celebrities who succeeded with the caveman diet or diets similar to the caveman diet.
Why is the Caveman Diet So Hard?
Some genetic rules that made sense for cavemen and did not cause any problems for them, can really mess up a person’s diet in today’s society. In the book “Mean Genes: From Sex To Money To Food: Taming Our Primal Instincts”, authors Dr. Terry Burnham and Dr. Jay Phelan make the case that our survival-minded genes were developed in a time of scarcity, and today those genes cause all kinds of problems in a modern society of affluence.
For example, for a caveman, it was necessary to have the genetic imperative that said “load up on sweets like there is no tomorrow”, since sweets in those times were rare and most of the time not available. That same genetic imperative in today’s 24/7 society of instantly available sweets causes real problems.
It is helpful to keep this in mind as you begin the caveman diet. Especially in the beginning it may be incredibly hard for you to give up the sweets, carbs and dairy (see below for information on what you can and cannot eat). It should get easier over time, but there may be moments when your genetic imperative takes over and you will want to “load up on sweets.”
The Caveman Diet Food List
The nice thing about being on the caveman diet plan is that you won’t be hungry. You may be dissatisfied because you can’t eat your favorite foods (pizza, ice cream, hamburger, etc.), but you won’t be hungry.
If you do some internet research, there are several “versions” of the caveman diet food list. The below lists are compiled based on Dr. Cordain’s book “The Paleo Diet.” For example, fatty meats, bacon and sausages are prohibited according to the book, but you will see many online “Paleo” recipes that include bacon and sausages.
It’s probably easier to not go crazy over the details, and use common sense and your best judgment. It is far more important in this diet to eliminate sweets, grains and dairy than to eat the right type of meat.
FOODS ALLOWED ON THE CAVEMAN DIET PLAN
Here is what you can eat on the caveman diet plan:
Meat & Seafood – All you can eat
For meats, grass-fed meats are ideal. According to “The Paleo Diet” book, salt-added meats and fatty meats are to be avoided, including bacon, deli meats, hot dogs, and sausages.
Tip: Don’t go crazy over figuring out which meats are allowed or not. Just use your common sense and best judgment.
Low-Glycemic Fruits (For Weight Loss) and Non-Starchy Vegetables – All you can eat
Examples of non-starchy vegetables:
- Bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
- Green onions
- Mustard greens
- Swiss chard
Eggs – 6 to 12 a week
Nuts and Seeds Except Peanuts – No more than 4 ounces of nuts and seeds a day for weight loss
Alcohol – Better if you avoid it, but you can still have your occasional glass of beer or wine
Oils – In moderation, 4 tablespoons or less per day
Diet Sodas/Coffee/Tea – In moderation
Dried fruits – In moderation, less than 2 ounces per day
But How Can I Lose Weight On The Caveman Diet, If I Can Eat All I Want?
In the long term it is difficult to overeat if you are limited to the food groups mentioned above. Your appetite will naturally come down, and at the same time your metabolism will be increased.
If you think about it, all the foods that we crave and able to eat in excess are usually some combination of starch, fat, and sugar. There is always space after dinner for a little bit more ice cream or a little bit more cake, but probably not for a little bit more of raw carrots or another slice of meat.
By limiting yourself to food items where it is really difficult to overeat long term, you will naturally eat less (but not be hungry, as can be the case on many diets), and your metabolism will improve, burning more calories (since you now eat foods that your body was designed for).
CAVEMAN DIET SNACKS
Some people do better with snacks, and of course you can snack on the caveman diet. Yes, the caveman snacks are portable but different to what you have been eating. No more sugar (candy) and high-carbs (potato chips), but real and healthy food.
The snacks on the caveman diet are healthy and made of real food. You can eat the following snacks whenever you get hungry:
- Fresh fruits of any kind
- Protein (homemade beef jerky, cold slices of meat, shrimps, boiled eggs)
- Raw vegetables like carrots, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes (with homemade dips like guacamole or salsa)
- Nuts, but limit to 4 ounces a day for weight loss
These are simple things to make. The key is preparation. Here, for example, is a short (3 min) video of the Food Network on how to make the perfect Guacamole Dip.
FORBIDDEN FOODS ON THE CAVEMAN DIET
One helpful way to figure out if the food is forbidden is to imagine the foods that the cavemen/women had access to. Basically you can’t eat anything that wasn’t readily available 300 generations ago by people living in caves.
Technically, the only source of sugar allowed in the caveman diet is fresh WHOLE fruits. In the book “The Paleo Diet”, Dr. Cordain prohibits even freshly squeezed fruit juice since they lack fiber while having a higher glycemic index.
So ALL OTHER TYPES of sugar including the below types of sugar are forbidden.
- Table sugar
- Lactose (dairy products)
- Honey (yes Dr. Cordain explicitly lists honey as not allowed)
- Maple syrup
- Corn syrup
- High fructose corn syrup
Tip: If you ever have a sweet tooth, and must eat something sweet, we recommend using a safe natural herbal sugar substitute that has been used for hundreds of years called stevia.
Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or any another cereal grain is a grain product. Bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products. That includes corn and corn products.
The average caveman may have come across the occasional wild grain, but that would have been very rare, and probably not very popular. Nibbling on raw wheat kernels is not that tasty. Bread is tasty, but that is a wheat product that the caveman did not have access to.
No Cereal-Grain Like Seeds
These include amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa.
No Starchy Vegetables
This means no potatoes, no sweet potatoes, and no yams.
No Legumes (Peanuts, Peas, Beans)
Peanuts, peas and beans are forbidden on the caveman diet plan.
Peanuts are legumes not nuts, therefore forbidden in any form (including peanut butter).
No Dairy Products
The caveman/woman did not have access to dairy products (butter, milk, yogurt, ice cream), and therefore these are forbidden as well in the caveman diet plan. Note that some versions of the caveman diet allow butter and cream.
Tip: Try almond milk instead of regular milk. It tastes great and has less calories.
No Salt-Containing Foods
Any food that has added salt is forbidden according to Dr. Cordain including the following.
- Premade salad dressings and condiments
- Processed meats
- Smoked fish and meat
No Fatty Meats
Fatty meats are also prohibited according to the book, but here is where some other versions of the caveman diet plan differ and allow these types of meats. According to the book, fatty meats include:
- Chicken wings
- Fatty pork chops
- Breakfast sausages
Tip: Don’t go crazy over figuring out which meats are allowed or not. Just use your common sense and best judgment.
No Processed Foods
Processed foods include not only the typical prepackaged frozen meals, potato chips and cookies, but also processed meats including hot dogs, bacon, bologna and salami.
Tip: Check the ingredients of any packaged foods you buy and try to avoid ones with lots of ingredients in them.
Caveman Diet Food List
For a quick and easy reference, the following caveman diet food list shows all the food items that you should and should not eat on the caveman diet.
|Fruits||Low sugar fruits like berries, grapefruit, lemon, lime, green apple, avocado, and fresh coconut are allowed.||High sugar fruits (grapes, bananas, mango, sweet cherries, etc.) are forbidden until you reach your goal, and then should only be eaten in moderation.|
|Vegetables||Fresh non-starchy vegetables are allowed. Good choices are asparagus, brussels sprouts, carrots, spinach, celery, broccoli, zucchini, cabbage, green peppers, yellow peppers, red peppers, cauliflower, eggplant, green onion, bok choy, tomatillos, mushroom, tomato, lettuce to name just a few.||Starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams.|
|Meat||Virtually all unprocessed meat, including beef, seafood and poultry. Cook the meats simply without adding too much fat by broiling, baking, roasting, or sauteing (no deep fat frying).||Processed meat, salted meat, or breaded meat|
|Seafood||(See above under “Meat”)|
|Dairy||None||Avoid all dairy. Butter and cream are not allowed in the book, however some versions allow butter and cream.|
|Grains||None||Avoid all grains (barley, corn, oats, rice, rye, wheat)|
|Legumes||None||Avoid all beans and peas, including peanuts|
|Nuts/Seeds||No more than 4 oz a day||No peanuts|
Tip: Stevia suggested as substitute
|Candy, honey, sugar (that includes all forms of sugar)|
|Drinks||In moderation (diet sodas, coffee, tea, wine, beer, spirits)||Sugary drinks. Also avoid freshly squeezed fruit juices.|
|Oils||Oils including olive, avocado, walnut, and flaxseed oils up to 4 tablespoons per day|
|Spices||Allowed||Avoid ones with forbidden ingredients such as added starch.|
|Dried Fruits||Less than 2 ounces per day|
|Cereal-Grain Like Seeds||None||Avoid amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa|
|Processed Foods||None||Avoid all processed foods including processed meats, salt-added foods, and premade salad dressings.|
Caveman Diet Criticism
Caveman Diet Food Expense
The caveman diet plan can get expensive, as you need to purchase more meat, fresh fruit and fresh vegetables. Eating healthy can easily get more expensive than the typical fast food diet, but by buying fresh foods, you are investing in your health.
If you think about the doctor visits, prescription drugs and even potentially surgeries that you will avoid by getting healthy, buying healthy foods is actually a lot cheaper in the end.
Also the initial expense increase is partly due to the learning curve. There are tricks to keep the incremental costs at a minimum. For example, farmers markets often have relatively inexpensive locally grown fruits and vegetables. Also check out any ethnic supermarkets (Mexican, Korean, etc.) that exist in your neighborhood. They are often a lot cheaper than going to a regular supermarket.
But there are no ifs and buts about it. You probably will end up spending more money on food, but again considering the money you will save in the long run (no hefty medical expenses) and the amazing benefits you will gain from it such as higher quality of life and extended lifespan, it is without a doubt an excellent investment.
This is your body we are talking about. If you put only junk in it, you can’t expect a great outcome. Buying and eating high quality food is an important investment in a healthy, high quality future.
The Caveman Diet is So Inconvenient in Today’s Society
This part is hard, since there is no caveman fast food chain! All of today’s fast food chains focus on carbs (cheap) and frozen foods (no financial loss due to perishing food items), and avoid fresh vegetables & fruits (too expensive and they spoil quickly).
You will need to prepare, cook, and have a constant supply of caveman foods in your fridge and freezer. If you wait until you are hungry, it is often too late to stick to the caveman diet. The old motto applies: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.
But with a bit of preparation, you can have the caveman diet food ready to eat in your fridge/freezer when you are hungry. You can even bring snacks (carrot sticks, almond nuts, for example) on the road or to work.
Here is a free highly rated Apple app that works on your iPhone and your iPad and helps you find caveman diet options that are near you.
It is called “HealthyOut”. You just tell the app that you are on the Paleo diet, and it shows you the dishes that are available for take-out, or if you are going to a restaurant, for sit-in in your area. It couldn’t be easier.
There are multiple Paleo apps that can help you with your caveman diet. Seek them out to make your caveman diet life easier.
3 Stages You Can Take to Implement the Caveman Diet Plan
Although many people report that in addition to the weight loss, they feel much better on the caveman diet, the adjustment period can be hard.
In order to make the transition to the caveman diet easier, Dr. Cordain has developed 3 stages.
Stage 1 – The Entry Level
We eat on average 21 meals a week, plus snacks (3 meals x 7 days). During the entry level phase of Dr. Cordain’s Paleo diet plan, you can eat whatever you like for 3 of the 21 meals. That could all be on 1 day (breakfast, lunch & dinner), or spread out throughout the week, but you should try to limit yourself to one Open Meal on any given day.
For the 3 “open” meals, you can taste and eat some of the foods that you miss the most. This helps your body adjust to more healthy foods, and also helps you transition mentally to the caveman diet.
The recommended time frame for this stage is two to four weeks, but you can stay on this level as long as you want.
Stage 2 – Maintenance Level
Here the “open” meals are reduced from 3 meals per week to 2 meals per week.
Stage 3 – Maximum Weight Loss Level
At this stage, you only have 1 “open” meal per week. This is the highest level and is for people who want to maximize weight loss and the health benefits, and for dieters with chronic diseases.
Top 5 Tips for the Caveman Diet: How to be Successful with the Caveman Diet
Below are 5 tips that may work for you to make your caveman diet lifestyle easier.
1. Spend the time and find a few caveman diet dishes that you really enjoy eating.
Start with your favorite non-caveman diet dish, and see if you can’t create a caveman diet version of your favorite dish. For example, if you enjoy mashed potatoes, mashed cauliflower can be a close substitute.
Or if you like pizza and can’t live without it, there are “Paleo” pizza recipes on the internet. In a nutshell, if you don’t like what you eat, the caveman diet won’t stick, and staying slim, fit and healthier just becomes so much harder.
2. Prepare, prepare, and prepare.
Spend a few hours each week to pre-cook your food, and put it in the fridge and freezer. It cuts down on your cooking time during the week, and you always have caveman diet food available.
Or if you cook dinner, cook double as much. That way you already made your lunch or dinner for the next day.
One of the main reasons why people violate the caveman diet is because they wait until they are starving hungry, and have no patience to cook a caveman diet meal. There is an old quote that applies here once again: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.
3. If you have a craving for a non-caveman diet food, wait for the next planned open meal.
Take comfort in the fact that you can still eat what you want, but that you choose to do it at a pre-planned time. Self-control is a muscle that gets stronger the more often you successfully apply it. However if you really need your “fix” (and that happens to the strongest person) urgently, have it but keep it limited (don’t binge).
4. Don’t keep non-caveman diet food in the house.
We often have the tendency to reach for what is convenient. We also have the tendency not to want to waste things. In order to avoid eating bad foods for those reasons, make sure to remove the temptation.
5. Learn how to use spices.
You will be surprised by the taste and flavor variety that you can experience with different spices. This may actually turn out to be one of the best learning experiences you have on the caveman diet, with spices enriching your culinary life as well as being good for your health.