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Is the Paleolithic Diet Prepper Friendly?

The Paleolithic diet, also frequently referred to as the Paleo Diet, Stone Age Diet, or Cavemen Diet, is a nutritional approach that calls for people to eat the way our Paleolithic ancestors did. Proponents of the diet attribute many modern illnesses to the processed, carbohydrate-heavy foods that most of us eat, and encourage us to restrict our diet to the plant foods and animal protein that fed our Stone Age forebears.

Paleolithic diet followers argue that human beings are designed to eat a typical “hunter-gatherer” diet rather than the refined sugar, dairy, and grains that have dominated our diet since the agricultural revolution. A gastroenterologist named Walter L. Voegtlin was one of the first people to propose a Paleolithic diet in his 1975 book The Stone Age Diet: Based on in-depth Studies of Human Ecology and the Diet of Man. The diet gained real notoriety in 1985, when Emory University professors S. Boyd Eaton ad Melvin Konner published a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine that advocated a Paleolithic nutrition plan.

The modern illnesses, frequently called the “diseases of civilization,” that this nutrition plan hopes to eliminate include hypertension, type II diabetes, and obesity. These diseases have become associated with civilization and processed foods because they arrived at the same time as the food abundance that occurred when humans learned to rely on agriculture as their primary food source.

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The Basics of the Diet

There is not a single definitive form of the Paleolithic diet as there is with other diets that were the creation of the single person. The name Paleo Diet, as this style of nutrition plan is most commonly known, is now a registered trademark of Loren Cordain, a doctor of exercise physiology who has published four books on the subject. Other followers of Paleolithic nutrition diverge somewhat from Cordain’s recommendations, some preferring a higher percentage of fruits and vegetables and others advocating a raw food version of the plan. Even so, there is general agreement among most followers about the types of food that are permissible, and how much.

Most Paleolithic nutrition plans say that 55 to 65 percent of your energy should come from animal sources, and 35 to 45 percent should come from plants. This generally results in a fat intake of around 39 percent, depending on how careful you are about eating very lean meats. Both farmed and game meats are permissible, although the diet specifies that farmed meat should be grass fed whenever possible. Other protein sources available to Paleolithic dieters are eggs, fish, and shellfish. Dairy foods of any kind are not allowed, and high-fat meats such as bacon are discouraged.

Paleolithic diets say that the remainder of your food should come from fruits and vegetables. Dried fruit and other dehydrated foods should only be eaten in moderation. Nuts and seeds are generally permitted in small amounts, but grains and legumes are usually excluded. Starchy root vegetables are one of the areas where different forms of the diet vary most – some exclude them altogether, while others permit them in moderation as an unprocessed source of carbohydrates. The root vegetable friendly versions seem to be preferred by followers who include significant exercise as part of their diet regimen.

Paleolithic diets mostly restrict beverages to water, tea, and coconut water. Other variations allow occasional coffee, wine, or diet soda. Raw honey and coconut sugar may be allowed as a sweetener, although fruit alone is usually preferred to add a bit of sweetness to the diet. The diet also forbids foods with added salt, although herbs and spices that would have been available for gathering are allowed.

Can Preppers Follow a Paleolithic Diet?

Reviews of the Paleolithic diet on WebMD and the US News and World Report both caution that this nutrition plan may be difficult to follow in the long term. The articles cite both the restrictive nature of the diet as well as the cost of relying as much as possible on lean, grass-fed meat and organic produce – two of the most expensive kinds of food on the market.

Preppers may have different areas of concern with a diet of this nature. In many ways, the general ideals of this diet are very prepper-friendly – reverting back to a time when big agribusiness did not yet exist, and each family or community was responsible for hunting and gathering their own food. However, following a Paleolithic diet in this day and age is always going to be a compromise. Even if you are a hunter, actual hunting and gathering of sufficient food is nearly impossible in a world where most fertile land has been developed by residential or agricultural businesses.

This means that most preppers will have to rely on gardening and raising animals if they want to remain independent from grocery stores. Of course, most preppers are working towards such independence anyway, but the restrictions of a Paleolithic diet make it that much more challenging to get sufficient nutrition on your own farm. Many of the usual staple sources of calories in a modern diet – like grains and legumes – are forbidden. Rather than growing one or two staple crops like wheat or chickpeas, a successful Paleolithic diet means growing enough fruits and vegetables to provide each member of a family with six to eight servings a day.

Where to Get Your Meat

Hunting, raising, or purchasing a large amount of meat is necessary for following a Paleolithic diet. As mentioned earlier, relying on grocery stores to supply lean and grass-fed meat is likely to be rather expensive. Hunting and farming are both cheaper and more self-sufficient options, but both require significant expertise if you plan to rely on them as your predominant food source. Needless to say, the vast majority of Paleolithic dieters do not farm, hunt, or fish for their food.

Nevertheless, if you can raise or hunt your own meat, you will be closer to the real philosophical foundations of both the Paleolithic diet and self-sufficiency. With hunting in particular, you are likely to eat much more game meat than you would otherwise, which is more similar to what our ancient ancestors would have eaten.

Since Paleolithic diets are more restrictive than many other nutrition plans, it is especially important to eat a range of the foods that are permissible. This means a variety of animal protein in addition to a variety of fruits and vegetables. If you do plan to raise your own meat, it is healthiest to raise sources of both red meat and poultry, and supplement with fresh-caught or purchased fish (obviously, the former is preferable, for optimum health). If you choose to hunt for your meat but are not able to hunt a sufficient variety of game, consider seeking out like-minded neighbors to barter for different varieties of meat.

Learning to catch your own fish is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to supplement your diet with wild-caught protein. If you live in an area where fishing is possible, even relatively inexperienced anglers typically have some success with a bit of persistence. Expert angling is a very skilled sport, but fishing is much easier to experiment with as a novice than hunting.

Foraging

In the environments in which most of us live, foraging for a significant percentage of our food intake presents the obvious challenges. Most of us are permanently settled, and therefore restricted to a relatively small circumference of land on which we can search for food. Land may be restricted due to private or government ownership, while other areas may simply bear little resemblance to the areas in which ancient peoples gathered their food.

However, people who do have access to wild or even not-so-wild places can still incorporate foraging into a Paleolithic diet. Many resources are available to help people identify edible wild plants and mushrooms and know where to look for them. Even urban areas can be unexpected sources of free-growing food sources; rosemary, for example, grows wild in most cities in North America. You will probably not be able to fully support your diet from foraging, especially not at first, but supplementing your diet in this way is the cheapest, and most self-sufficient way to follow a Paleolithic diet. Best of all, you don’t have to carefully determine what is and is not permissible for your diet – if you can find it, you can eat it.

Storing Food on a Paleolithic Diet

Paleolithic diets restrict many items that are easy to store and stockpile. Dried grain products such as pasta or rice are public enemy number one with Paleolithic diets, and as stated previously, legumes are also verboten. That means no beans of any kind, and no peanuts, chickpeas, lentils, black-eyed peas, or other legumes that are commonly dried and stockpiled. Drier foods typically have the longest shelf life of any food source, which means that stockpiling for a significant stretch of time may become a bit more challenging with a Paleolithic plan.

Most Paleolithic diets promote fresh fruits and vegetables rather than dried or frozen fruits and veggies. Both drying and freeze drying turn plant foods into very dense sources of sugar and fiber. Drying can lead to unintentional overeating, and it is healthier overall to eat fresh foods. For example, most people would consider a single apricot to be a full snack, but happily eat a dozen dried apricots at once. The result is a very high volume of sugar and fiber consumed in one sitting.

Therefore, canning is probably the best method for storing food and sticking with a Paleolithic diet. Regular freezing, rather than freeze drying, is also a possibility for the short term, but space in working freezers can quickly become limited. Foods canned at home should last for at least year, and are frequently good for much longer. Storing canned food in cool and dry places away from animal interference will ensure that you get the longest life possible.

Even meat can be canned at home, and meat has been found to last the longest of any canned product, perhaps due to its low acidity. If you need to store the meat from a slaughtered farm animal or hunted animal, large meat freezers can typically hold enough meat to feed a family for many months. However, if you are planning to store meat for emergency use, supplementing with canned meat is necessary in order to stockpile extensive stores that will remain safe to consume in the event that your electricity fails.

Disaster and the Paleolithic Diet

As previous sections have already discussed, a Paleolithic diet does limit your options somewhat when you are preserving and stockpiling food for disaster preparedness. It certainly limits the types of foods that you will be able to store, and also restricts the methods you can use to preserve the foods you want to keep. You may feel that a Paleolithic nutrition plan is a good way to stay healthy from day to day, but not the most effective way to plan for when it all hits the fan.

However, true self sufficiency is being able to survive when all the trappings of modern civilization are no longer there to support us. This can mean having the ability to survive for a long time on stored necessities, but it can also mean knowing how to provide those necessities for yourself and your family when no other resources are available. In that kind of situation, learning how to procure your own food is just as important as learning how to build your own furniture and sew your own clothing.

While most followers of Paleolithic diets simply want to eat like hunter gatherers, there are those who attempt to live like hunter gatherers. They argue that this is the only way to truly eat the kinds of foods that Stone Age humans would have eaten, and also the best way to maintain the level of physical fitness enjoyed by people who spent most of each day searching for food.

This may not be the way most followers of this diet choose to carry it out, but it may be the way that makes the most sense for preppers in the long term. If you decide that this diet is the best choice for your health, following the most dedicated version of the plan will not just help you to maximize the nutritional benefits, it will also give you the ability to recognize food in a world in which most people know what is edible by reading the labels at the grocery store. It can also motivate you to learn the skills necessary to gather and hunt your food in a scenario in which that was the only option.

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