What Should We Eat?

Tom Davis

Last updated: June 17, 2004

This page discusses the caveman diet under normal conditions. The author, of course, is far from normal, and is interested in high intensity athletic activities. Consequently, while he is not engaged in those ridiculous activities, he follows the advice on this page (mostly).

But before, during and after hard exercise, the following modifications for high intensity sports are critical.

General considerations

Don't get stuck in a rut! If you eat a wide variety of foods that fit with the general caveman philosophy you'll be more likely to get all the vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, and so on, that you need.

The Atkins diet, the Zone diet and the South Beach diet are all a bit like my caveman diet, and there are lots of cookbooks published for all of them. You can also find recipes tailored to these diets on the web. The South Beach diet seems like the best of the three to me, but none of them is bad. And if you just page through cookbooks for those diets, some of the recipes may not be suitable, but you'll surely find many good candidates.

Try different lettuces, different berries, different fruits, and so on. Don't just decide that since you like strawberries best that they're all you'll eat. Have blueberries, gooseberries, raspberries, and so on. If you experiment in this way, you'll surely find some great new tastes.

I like those huge salad bars (there's a nice chain called "Fresh Choice" that can be found at least in the San Francisco bay area, but there's no doubt similar possibilities almost everywhere. But each time I go, I try to put different things on my plate (avoiding, of course the carbohydrate disasters that no doubt attract so many people to eat there).

In most restaurants I've found that if you find a meal that looks great except that it comes with mashed potatoes or rice or french fries, you can ask the waiter if they could please replace the starch with additional veggies.

Similarly, if you want dessert and all that appears on the menu is sugar bombs, you can often just ask for a bowl of berries and they'll accommodate you.

"Super foods"

If you just open your eyes, every day you see extravagant claims made for one food or another. "Garlic prevents cancer." "Pomegranate juice lowers cholesterol." "Honey prevents colds." And on, and on, and on.

I'm not saying these are wrong, and in fact, I believe that many foods do have wonderful healthful properties. So what I try to do is to take all of them, but a little at a time. I do have all of the foods above and many more, but not every one of them every day.

Falling off the wagon

Don't worry if you fall off the wagon every once in a while, especially if you're near the weight you want to be. After all, that caveman sometimes came across a honey tree and he gorged on as much of that high-glycemic food as he could eat.

What you don't want to do is fall off too often. In the same way that if you smoke one cigarette every month it's not great for you, but your body has a whole month to recover, it certainly wouldn't be a catastrophe compared to the guy who smokes three packs a day. If you're out at your anniversary dinner, go ahead and have that creme brulee if you feel like it!

Similarly, you often have to decide how to deal with invitations to eat at friend's houses. At a restaurant, at least, you have some choice, and can almost find something that's not bad, but when you show up and your friend has cooked up a giant bowl of pasta, what do you do?

I just eat it and don't say anything and figure that's one of the times I fell off the wagon. You've probably told your good friends about the diet and they'll often try to accommodate, but I, at least, don't like to add any tension to a first meal with someone. You can do what you want, of course. And even if there's some "bad" food served, you can often put a little bit of the bad stuff on your plate and a lot of the good stuff. Then you've just fallen a little off the wagon.

Avoid foods with a high glycemic index

One main difference between what is available to us and what was available to the cavemen is that it is very easy for us to obtain foods with a high glycemic index. Try to avoid those foods.

A "high glycemic index" means that there are lots of carbohydrates easily available for immediate digestion. If you are not doing exercise basically at the same time you are eating, a large input of high glycemic food will cause your insulin levels to surge as they are digested. See the page on health benefits for more information about this.

Foods with high glycemic indices include: wheat products like bread, crackers and pasta, rice, potatoes, foods with a lot of sugar (refined or not), cookies, sugared soft drinks, fruit juice, dried fruits (raisins, dates, apricots, et cetera) and modern, high-sugar fruits.

Milk contains the sugar lactose, so don't drink gallons of that, either.

Read the labels on manufactured products to see how much sugar is in them. Sugar tastes good, so many manufacturers of things like salad dressing will add sugar to a product that if you made it from scratch would not contain any.

The foods in the paragraph above account for a large percentage of the carbohydrates that most of us eat today. If you remove them from your diet, you're going to have to replace those carbohydrates with something else, just to get back the calories you've lost.

To make up for those calories, you can or course eat a few more fats and proteins, but you can get plenty of "good" carbohydrates from sources like salads and vegetables, where we don't consider the potato to be a vegetable.

Eat fruits, but try to eat more of them with low glycemic indices. Berries are basically all very good, but melon are also low. You don't need to be a fanatic, and an occasional orange won't hurt you, but don't eat three per day.

For a listing of the relative merits of carbohydrate sources, see the page on the glycemic index.


You can eat more fats; just don't go nuts, and avoid, when possible, fats that are known to be bad, meaning that they're composed of a lot of trans-fatty acids, or they're highly unsaturated.

Also, some sources of fats include a high salt load, so even if the fat's not hurting you, it's probably a good idea to try to avoid the salt. Examples of salty fats include bacon and salted nuts.

The main thing is not to go overboard. At least eat low-fat meats a good percentage of the time (like chicken and fish), but don't worry too much about the occasional steak.

There are also fats available in nuts, avocados, egg (the yolk), cheese, and heavy cream.


Protein is pretty much protein, but what you need to look for is what comes with it. Lean meat will have little additional, but corn-fed beef will have a lot of fat. Bacon has both fat and salt. Beef jerky usually has salt. Nuts have fat and sometimes salt. You get the idea.

In fact, protein is made of 20 different amino acids, some of which are called "essential" because your body cannot manufacture them from scratch. Thus those acids have to come from the protein you eat, so it's not quite true that "protein is pretty much protein". But if you eat, as I recommend, a huge variety of different foods, it's almost certain that you'll get all the protein building blocks that you need.

Make sure you get plenty of protein.


I like alcohol, so it's part of my diet. I don't drink too much, and I sort of count it as some not-so-good carbohydrates.


Don't eat too much. Read labels, since salt tastes good, it's often a surprisingly large part of manufactured foods.


If you eat a lot of the low glycemic veggies, you'll probably get a lot of fiber. But if you want to be sure, fiber additives are available, and eating a bit of that certainly can't hurt.

Dairy products and eggs

The caveman didn't have dairy products, but other than the lactose (which is a sugar) in the milk, it's not bad for you and it does provide pretty good protein and fat. A lot of cheeses get rid of the lactose entirely, so they form a big part of my diet.

Notice that if you drink non-fat milk, removing the fat actually increases the proportion of carbohydrates. I only have a little milk every day that I foam to have with my cappuccino.

Eggs aren't exactly dairy, but they're often lumped in there, so I will, too. They're got lots of protein and fat and almost no carbohydrates, so they are not bad. The yolks have a lot of cholesterol, and it's not clear how bad that is. I'm not afraid of them and do eat them regularly, but not three every day.

Vitamins and minerals

If you eat a wide enough variety of foods, you'll probably get the vitamins you need. But it certainly won't hurt to add a multivitamin each day. And if you're a devotee of Linus Pauling, eat lots of vitamin C. In most cases, extra vitamins that you eat will just be washed through your system, but if you do decide to take mega-doses of some vitamin, check the literature to see if there are adverse effects to that particular one. You can overdo it with vitamin A, for example.

Coffee and stuff

I like coffee, so it's part of my diet. Again, I don't drink 10 cups per day. Just a cappuccino in the morning and one in the afternoon. It affects different people in different ways, so it might be worth running experiments where you avoid it for a couple of weeks and see what happens to you. I tried that and didn't feel much better, and I like the taste, so I drink coffee.
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