The current paradigm of the Paleo Diet states that is that over a 2 million year-period our genes adapted to a diet in which all food was hunted, fished or gathered from the natural environment. Grains were not farmed and animals were not domesticated. Paleo Cookbooks like the Paleo Cookbook provide readers with recipe upon recipe of meals featuring fresh fruits and vegetables plus lean animal protein. You won’t find any recipes that contain dairy and almost all sources of protein are from animals.
This paradigm begs the question, can you incorporate dairy or be a vegetarian and still follow a Paleo diet?
From the article Stone Age Nutrition: Implications for Today[i] anthropologists SB Eaton and Melvin Konnor Eaton and Konnor allow foods like skim milk and whole-wheat bread to be eaten in a Paleolithic diet. Konnor has concerns about the level of fat that can be ingested when eating a lot of animal protein. “You can’t just go to the supermarket and buy meat loaded with fat and say you’re doing the Paleolithic diet. You’re not.” Animals of 10,000 years ago, Konnor says, were less fatty — so we must compensate by eating leaner meats, and less. Eaton has gone the other way. He says he had failed to consider the contribution of non-muscle meat like brain and fat depots, and thus underestimated the amount of fat we need.
With all this uncertainty about just how lean animal protein should be, other variations to the caveman diet have been explored. Some experts now identify themselves as “lacto-Paleo“. This paradigm is based on the notion that the consumption of a small amount dairy is just fine. Cavemen got some milk when they ate nursing animals so our bodies can handle a small amount of dairy.
Others moving to “vegetarian Paleo.” Unfortunately, it is very difficult to get a the whole protein spectrum on a solely plant based diet. Many grains that do provide protein are consumed as a result of domestication, and by eating domesticated products, one is no longer abiding by a basic tenet of the Paleo Diet.
So does dairy and vegetarianism belong in the Paleo Diet? The argument for dairy seems much stronger than vegetarianism. Vegetarianism can work but a detailed analysis of protein sources must be made by the practitioner to ensure that proper protein consumption is consumed.