Academic professor and researcher Loren Cordain is largely credited with the creation of the Paleo diet as it's known today. With a Ph.D. in exercise physiology, Dr. Cordain credits another researcher’s scientific paper with sparking his interest in the diets of our ancestors and their impact on health. Boyd Eaton’s Paleolithic Nutrition: A Consideration of its Nature and Current Implications, published in 1985 in the New England Journal of Medicine, first made the case that the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors differed greatly from our modern Western diet and noted the prevalence of modern-day diseases not seen by our ancestors. While he didn’t establish an outright link, he did call attention to the fact that each point of human evolution where our diets significantly diverged is a critical point to examine in history and understand its impact on human health and disease.
After reading Dr. Eaton's seminal paper in the mid-80's, Dr. Cordain then spent almost two decades collecting over 25,000 scientific papers related to Paleo diets and Paleo lifestyles. His conclusions were that many of our modern-day diseases (coronary heart disease, obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, etc) were rare or absent in hunter-gatherer or non-Westernized populations. Thus, we should consider adopting diets and lifestyles more aligned to our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
In 2002, Dr. Cordain published The Paleo Diet near the peak of the Atkins diet boom. As awareness around nutrition and wellness continued to grow, many of the tenets of the Paleo diet’s principles were already being adopted by the mainstream. For example, the Paleo diet advocates for lower carbohydrate intake, which was the backbone of the Atkins diet. Also, the diet supported moderate to high fat intake with the majority of those fats coming from unsaturated sources - very similar to the popular Mediterranean diet. The Paleo diet’s popularity continued to slowly climb until late 2010 when Robb Wolf’s The Paleo Solution was published and hit the New York Times Best Seller list. This, along with other forthcoming best-selling books, helped propel the diet to the popularity it sees today.