The paleo diet has been around for many years, and despite the usual trend of diet fads fading after a short-lived period of hype, this one seems to be sticking around. It was first introduced as a concept in 1975, but became popular in 2002 when it was brought to the public’s eye in the book The Paleo Diet.
Today, millions of people still participate in the paleo diet, attempting to restrict their foods and beverages to items that would have been available in the Paleolithic era, such as seafoods, lean meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. The diet also prohibits most dairy products, grains, and other processed foods.
As a result, thousands of businesses, including paleo meal delivery companies and paleo-themed restaurants, have arisen and thrived.
But what is it that keeps this eating plan so popular? There are several potential explanations.
Back to Basics
Part of the appeal of the paleo diet is how simple it is, especially compared to the complex food products and drinks we’re used to consuming. One look at a nutritional label can be overwhelming to the average consumer; there are probably dozens of ingredients that are hard to recognize, including complex chemical formulas that the average consumer doesn’t understand.
It’s illogical to assume that a chemical compound is dangerous simply because it has a complex name, but the average consumer isn’t looking for a complete, logical, scientific understanding of the world. Instead, they trust their intuitions—and their intuitions tell them that a piece of meat, or a fruit plucked straight from a tree is automatically healthier than something that was created in a factory. They can even use anecdotal and correlational evidence to support this; after all, the obesity epidemic is a product of the modern world, and not something Paleolithic humans had to deal with.
As mentioned in the introduction, there’s no shortage of businesses hoping to cash in on the paleo craze. It’s relatively easy to adopt a paleo menu for your restaurant, or adapt your meal delivery business to focus on paleo-eating customers. And with more viable eating options, paleo dieters are more inclined to stick with the diet for the long term.
Compared to other fad diets and eating plans, paleo is relatively inexpensive. Fad diets are often prohibitively expensive because they require you to buy specific meals, or eat specific foods that cost more than traditional foods. Accordingly, if money’s an issue, consumers may only last a few weeks to a few months on a cost-intensive diet. Paleo, on the other hand, relies on a wide range of different foods, most of which are inexpensive—or at least approachable for the average consumer.
The core concept behind paleo eating isn’t supported by science; our digestive systems aren’t comparable to those of our Paleolithic ancestors, so it doesn’t necessarily make sense for us to eat the same foods and beverages as them. However, the eating plan associated with the diet can have positive results. Eating lean meats instead of processed meats, and fruits and vegetables instead of processed grains can result in a net decrease in total calories consumed, and an increase in the average nutritional value of what you’re eating. Moving from the average Western diet to a paleo diet can, therefore, come with massive benefits.
Paleo eating plans aren’t super restrictive, the way other fad diets are. Instead of being limited to only a specific number of foods, or ruling out some foods entirely, the paleo diet cautions its participants to make good eating choices most of the time, and adhere to the diet’s food standards as best they can. It’s okay if you occasionally deviate from the eating plan, or if your fruit isn’t truly wild. This makes it easier for people to stay consistent with their eating and decreases participant turnover for the diet.
It also doesn’t hurt that many celebrities have spoken up about their paleo eating habits. Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Biel, Channing Tatum, and Jessica Alba are just some of the popular celebrities that have endorsed the paleo diet. And considering those celebrities happen to have impressive, lean bodies, it certainly makes an impression on people.
The Bottom Line
The paleo diet has resonated with people in the United States, and it’s likely that its momentum will continue for at least another several years. The philosophy behind the diet is suspect, but the eating plan itself is valuable for anyone trying to lose weight and stay healthier, and there’s ample public support for the plan—from the celebrities who sing its praises to the businesses that continue to make it easy to stay consistent with eating paleo foods.