Before I can act like a modern-day caveman, I have to decide on some ground rules with regard to my diet. So far, I’ve decided:

1 • While probing the internet has revealed quite a few schisms in the caveman congregation regarding this or that food, the basic message stays more or less the same everywhere: To eat a paleolithic diet means to eat good, lean sources of protein, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and nuts and seeds in moderation. These, the paleos believe, are the fuels our bodies are designed to run on. We’ll look at that idea in more detail as we go on.

What’s not allowed are the foods of the neolithic revolution — of civilization. Verboten are cereals, legumes (that one surprised me), and processed foods; plus added salts and refined sugars and flours.

2 • Tubers and other starchy root vegetables are contentious. Diet-oriented paleos (such as Loren Cordain) ban them altogether while others only counsel a blight on potatoes, sweet potatoes, and similar stuff (I’m not offered much cassava in Canada but I assume that’s off-limits). Meanwhile my early research seems to indicate people ate tubers, say, 25,000 years ago.

For the time being my rule shall be to keep them out of the diet, since I’d like weight loss to be a side effect of this experiment and I know from previous experience that the less starch I eat, the less I weigh.

3 • Honey is the one exception to the paleo rule about sugar in most plans, since our braver ancestors would have had (limited) access to it. Other paleos use agave nectar, and so will I, at least until I decide to be stricter with myself.

Also, our cave-dwelling ancestors knew how to use tree sap to make pigments, so I’m assuming for the time being that they knew how to turn it into sugar as well. I’ll be using maple and birch syrups sparingly.

I may be a caveman, but I’m still a Canadian.

•  Finally, a style note: As is often the case for Canadians, I have a spelling decision to make: American or British? In this case, I’m going U.S.-style, employing the spellings “paleo” and “paleolithic.”

As I said, I may be a caveman, but I’m still a Canadian. And as a stickler for spelling, my instincts lean towards “palaeo.” My Ontario-approved school textbooks of course used “palaeolithic,” so it looks correct to me.

But the National Post, the newspaper I work for — and in which I’ll be writing about my experiment later — uses the shorter U.S. spelling paleolithic. To keep things simple for myself, I’ll go along with that.

• That’s enough rules for now. Some paleos won’t eat New World foods, but I’ll make a ruling on that later. For now they’re fine.

Photo by Adam McDowell


7 Responses to “Cave-rules”

  1. Hi Adam,

    Anyone that considers agave nectar to be paleo has fallen for the deceitful marketing of the product. It should be called High Fructose Agave Syrup, which is what is actually is. But that, of course, won’t do these days. Hence the nectar name. It is not paleo.

    One sweetener that I have recently become aware of is coconut palm sugar. Like maple syrup it is low tech. Simply boil it down. And the coconut palm grows in Africa, unlike agave which is New World. I see that there are various coconut palm sugars listed on

    The longer you give up sweet foods the more you will lose your tolerance for them. I gave up sweets four decades ago and I find sweet foods sickening.

    I don’t see where you stand on dairy consumption? I strongly believe it is not paleo. But it is the food that many people find is the hardest to give up, so people find a way of making it acceptable on the diet.

    On the subject of tubers. All agree that potatoes are out. Potatoes are a stem tuber. The others are root tubers. As a stem tuber is exposed it needs to have anti-nutrients to keep animals from eating them and disrupting the plant’s reproductive cycle. Hence potatoes are not edible raw. Limiting the starchy root ones, as you note, is helpful if you want to loss weight.

    As for other New World foods. I don’t eliminate them, but I minimize them.


  2. One comment on nomenclature. Those of us that follow this diet call it paleo, or primal if dairy is included. The caveman bit comes from the media that uses it to sell newspapers. There is little evidence that many of our ancestors actually lived in caves. Caves with paintings were only visited once a year. The name “Caveman Diet” implies a brutish character that thrived on meat, and the diet need not be meat heavy, though it must include some animal foods. Be sure you get plenty of wild-caught fish, which unfortunately will blow your budget.

  3. What sources are you using? All the 15+ paleo oriented sites I read advocate fat over protein. As far as I know, dr Cordain is the only one emphasizing lean meat.

    From personal experience I can say that it is a lot easier to stick to this type of diet when you eat enough fat.

    Check out this article

  4. […] made an attempt to answer here, but it’s still incomplete. I am eating lean animal protein except dairy but including eggs; […]

  5. Your list is rather more simple than mine!

    (That’s part of my newly-launched “Modern Paleo” web site. I’ll add you to my blogroll!)

  6. Can you post a scan of your fridge cave rules? I may post it on my shared cave food hole!

  7. […] he hasn't strayed too far from the ways of his ancestors. In his own paleolithic adaptation, he's carved his rules into stone: No processed foods, cereals, legumes, or starchy root veggies, and no sugars except for the most […]

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