The Paleolithic (or paleo) diet is so named for the Paleolithic era and the presumed eating habits of those who lived during that time. Paleo diets are also called Stone Age diets, hunter-gatherer diets, and caveman diets. The paleo diet was designed along the idea that the healthiest way to live is to eat only those foods we assume were eaten during the Paleolithic, or “caveman,” era: fish, meat, eggs, nuts, leafy greens, etc. Any food groups associated with farming or processing, such as sugars, breads, alcohol, and dairy products, are excluded from the paleo diet.
The paleo diet emerged in the 1970s from the work of gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin and was viewed as a way of improving health. Voegtlin’s ideas were further developed and promoted by Stanley Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner and brought into current popularity by the 2002 book The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain. Other dietary experts disagree with the supposed health benefits of the paleo diet. Among the naysayers is Michael Pollan, author of a number of best-selling books on food and agriculture, including Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. He says of the proponents of the Paleolithic diet, “They’re assuming that the options available to our caveman ancestors are still there.” But, “unless you’re willing to hunt your food, they’re not.” Whether the paleo diet is healthy or not, our question concerns how biblical the paleo diet is.
There is nothing in Scripture that commands New Testament Christians to eat any certain way. In fact, it was dietary restrictions that kept Jewish believers from initially accepting Gentile Christians into their fellowship. So God gave specific instructions to Peter through a vision, recorded in Acts 10:9–16. In this vision, the Lord presented all types of forbidden animals to Peter and commanded him to “kill and eat” (Acts 10:13). Although this vision was intended to teach Peter that the gospel message was open to all people (Acts 10:34–35), it also removed the dietary restrictions that God had placed on Israel through the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14:1–21).
Paul adds clarity to this idea in Romans 14. He discusses in detail the ongoing argument in the church about what foods were considered acceptable. He makes it clear that “one person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them” (verses 2–3). Then in verse 14 Paul says, “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.”
So the idea that one diet is more biblical than another is a fallacy. There are dietary programs, such as the Daniel Plan, named after biblical characters, but that does not mean those diets are ordained by God. In talking about worry, Jesus makes a point about our often unbalanced focus upon food and drink: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25). As easy as it is to obsess over temporary material things, our main focus needs to be on eternal spiritual things. Fads such as the paleo diet tend to distract us from the eternal perspective that is so important to the heart of God.
As Christians, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16). We should take care of them so that they serve God’s purposes effectively (1 Corinthians 9:27). But chasing after fad diets in some mistaken attempt to make ourselves holier is chasing the wind. We are to control our bodies (Romans 12:1–2), our appetites (Proverbs 23:2), and our thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:5). We should let nothing but the Holy Spirit direct our life decisions (Ephesians 5:18). If God directs one of His children to follow the paleo diet, he or she can do so with a clear conscience. But we should never assume that we are somehow closer to God by the kinds of foods we eat or don’t eat. As Jesus stated, “It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart” (Mark 7:15, NLT).