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The Modern Caveman’s Dilemma

Who Should Eat the Paleo Diet?

Heather K.L. Harden
Life Sciences
Quest University Canada
Michael L. Foley
Life Sciences
Quest University Canada
Rachel A. Poon
Life Sciences
Quest University Canada
Annie Prud’homme-Genereux
Continuing Studies and Executive Education
Capilano University


During the Paleolithic era, human life expectancy was only 33 years—roughly half of what it is today. We owe our more extended lives in part to better hygiene, medicines, and more plentiful foods. Yet some people aspire to return to that earlier era, at least at dinnertime. The Paleolithic diet (Paleo for short) is based on the belief that humans are optimally adapted to the foods available to our hunter-gatherer ancestors and eschews processed foods and the products of traditional agriculture (e.g., grains, milks, legumes). This case study uses role play to investigate the dietary, environmental, sports performance, and evolutionary basis and implications of this diet. Each team of students is provided with information on one of these aspects, which they evaluate and later disclose to other students in a jigsaw activity to decide whether the protagonist should go Paleo. The case takes roughly one hour to complete, requires no background, and is suitable for a nutrition, evolution, anthropology, or introductory biology course.


  • Describe the Paleo diet, how its food choices differ from a standard North American diet, and the health, athletic performance, and environmental implications of these food choices.
  • Critically evaluate the ideological grounding of this diet (i.e., evaluate whether it is based on sound evolutionary principles and provide arguments for this conclusion).
  • Weigh competing priorities and evidence in determining whether someone should follow a particular diet plan.


Diet; nutrition; Paleolithic; Paleo Diet; food choices; exercise; sustainability; cavemen

Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division, Graduate, Professional (degree program), Clinical education, General public & informal education



Type Methods

Dilemma/Decision, Jig-Saw, Role-Play



Subject Headings

Nutrition Evolutionary Biology Biology (General) Physiology Biochemistry Food Science / Technology Environmental Science Anthropology Sports Science Public Health Agriculture

Date Posted


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Renee Judd
Learning and Information Technology
National Louis University
Chicago, Illinois
The science in this case is good, but the stereotyping of middle-aged women as bored housewives who need their children to figure things out for them is offensive. My students are adult learners and I cannot use this case because of its setting.

Nicole Benenati
Ithaca High School
Ithaca, NY
I used this case in my AP Biology class because it was an excellent opportunity for students to use evidence to support conclusions. Each family presentation was required to cite research and articles mentioned in the case. After the presentations (which all came to the same conclusion) pairs answered a set of summary questions, also citing research and articles mentioned in the case. I would be happy to share these summary questions.