VIRGINIA BEACH -- Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have lived 2.5 million years ago? To roam the earth in search of shelter and food? To live like a caveman? That's the premise of the Paleo Diet.
Its creator calls it more of a lifestyle and it's growing in popularity. Proponents say you can lose weight effortlessly and drastically improve your overall health.
"You know, human beings have been around for 2.5 million years. 99 percent of that time, we were hunter/gatherers eating the paleo lifestyle, eating the paleo diet in the paleo lifestyle," explains Virginia Beach family doctor Brant Thomas.
Detractors say the diet is too restrictive and is difficult for people to start and stick to. In a recent article in U.S. News & World Report which ranked the best diets, the Paleo Diet finished in the bottom. The magazine cited a lack of research proving the diet's cardiovascular health and weight loss benefits.
Don't tell that to people who've put the diet into practice. Retired Virginia Beach School teacher Leslie Law says the proof is in her numbers. She had high cholesterol and was taking Statins before starting the diet.
"I noticed that my a1c was going up. My sugars weren't where they wanted them to be and I just felt that there had to be another way, other than drugs," explains the 64-year-old.
So, what is the Paleo lifestyle? According to its founder, Dr. Loren Cordain, who wrote The Paleo Diet, it's based on eating fresh, lean meats, fish and seafood, fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds and healthful fats – including avocado, olive oil and coconut oil.
What he says you won't get from his "ancestral menu" are dairy, grains, refined sugars and processed foods. All of those items that are very common in the standard American diet, according to Dr. Thomas.
"Sugar. I mean, the average American consumes 140 pounds of sugars a year," he states.
Law began eating Paleo in September 2012. After 6 months on the diet, her total Cholesterol went from 219 to 186. Her LDL or “bad” cholesterol dropped from 122 to 87 and her “good” cholesterol or HDL rose from 80 to 83. She attributes these successes to eating Paleo and practicing CrossFit.
"I think I'm in better shape now than I was when I was in my 50s and even my family has said that as well," explains Law. "Plus, it's how you feel, you know. I think you're less foggy in the brain. I think you have more energy. There's just so many wonderful side benefits to the diet itself."
Dr. Thomas says lots of his patients are 'biting'. You can see examples of their successes in his Paleolithic Diet presentation. There’s a link to it here.
Dr. Thomas prescribes Paleo to his patients and he practices what he preaches. He says he’s passionate about treating and beating cardiovascular disease and diabetes and believes “eating like a caveman” works.
"You know, just natural foods. Again, I think when it comes to how our DNA is made, that's the diet that we should be eating. Those are the foods that we should be eating instead of the Standard American Diet, which is 70% processed and unnatural," explains Dr. Thomas.
More importantly, like many of Dr Thomas’s patients report, Leslie says her health drastically improved through this diet and exercise and without any medications.
For Leslie, the diet has been such a success, she started her own snack-making business called XO Paleo. From grainless granola to grass-fed beef jerky to organic chocolate, she wants everyone to 'Taste the Love' and be able to stick to the diet.
That’s the problem critics have with the diet. They say it’s too restrictive for most people to follow long-term and that it limits some essential nutrients.
Both Dr. Thomas and Leslie disagree.
"I mean, I can't even begin to tell you the last time I had pizza. I was a huge bread fan. I wasn't a big sweets eater, I was a crusty bread fan,” explains Law.
Does she miss having bread? Her answer - a resounding “No! That's what's so crazy."
You can also take a look at a humorous Paleo Diet flow chart to help you determine if what you are eating falls within the Paleo Diet perimeters.