It’s a fashionable way to shed the pounds.
But following the Paleo or caveman diet may have another even more important benefit.
Researchers say it could slash the risk of bowel cancer by half.
Followers of the diet shun processed foods — such as takeaways, packaged goods, bread and pasta. Instead they only eat foods which would have been available to our hunter-gatherer ancestors such as fruit, vegetables, nuts and lean meat.
England cricketer Andrew Flintoff and film stars Megan Fox and Matthew McConaughey are among those who lost weight on the diet.
However, the latest research is the first to uncover a possible positive knock-on effect on bowel cancer, which kills 16,000 Britons a year. US researchers from Emory University, in Atlanta, studied the dietary habits of 2,301 men and women aged between 30 and 74.
Participants were ranked according to how “Paleolithic” their diet was. They were also tested for a Mediterranean eating pattern which allows for moderate consumption of milk, yoghurt, grains and alcohol. Then the dietary data was set against their medical records. In all, 564 developed a colorectal adenoma — a benign tumour which is a precursor to the disease. But for women with the most Paleolithic regime, the risk of developing the tumour fell by 29 per cent, and those who ate Mediterranean diets were 26 per cent less at risk. For men, these diets had an even greater effect, with the odds slashed by 51 and 42 per cent respectively.
The study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Scientists have claimed since the 1970s that our bodies are more attuned to a prehistoric diet. But the idea became fashionable following the publication of The Paleo Diet by US nutritionist Loren Cordain in 2010. Critics of eating this way say it doesn’t take account of how humans have evolved and may leave us undernourished.
Nutritionist Dr Sarah Schenker said: `This study shows there’s a lot of value in the principles of the Paleolithic and Mediterranean diets. Ultimately, we live in the 21st century so it’s impossible for people to live like cavemen.
`So instead of adhering strictly to any one diet, we should weave those good messages into our lifestyles. If, for 80 per cent of the time, you can buy fresh, unprocessed food and cook it from scratch, that’s the best a lot of people can manage.’
Sarah Williams, senior health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: `We know that a balanced diet with lots of fibre, fruit and vegetables and less red and processed meat helps cut the risk of bowel cancer.’
Echoes of Atkins
The Paleo diet has similarities with the Atkins diet, known the world over for its strict approach to cutting carbs.
The most important aspect of both programmes is to avoid modern everyday staples such as bread, potatoes, pasta and rice and instead fill up on lots of protein from meat, fish and eggs.
But while the Paleo diet also encourages followers to eat a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables, traditionally these are limited on Atkins.
Atkins also embraces processed meat such as bacon and dairy products such as cheese and cream, which would never be found on the Paleo menu. However, Atkins has changed in recent years to incorporate more fruit and veg and less meat following concerns over the diet’s long-term health risks.