Paleo diet study wins a Centennial teen $2,000

Devon Smith got her family to eat like cavemen and won $2,000 for it. The Centennial teen, 17, scored the dough via the Young Epidemiology Scholars program for high-schoolers, through which she conducted a study on the health benefits of the Paleo diet.

The diet is based on the notion that the human body is best suited to digest the same diet as our ancestors did, long before processed foods and even before organized cultivation of grains and other crops. It consists primarily of meat, nuts, seeds, fruits and veggies.

While the diet doesn't require consumption of raw meat, eating it is a popular component in some isolated circles. It has also gained popularity with endurance athletes. One of its main proponents is Colorado State University Professor Loren Cordain, who wrote The Paleo Diet.

Smith's research, which revealed "overall improved health with decreased weight and normalizing blood levels," earned her recognition as a regional finalist and a shot at up to $50,000 at the national competition in Washington, D.C.

A typical day on the diet, she says, includes cooking "lots of meat" to carry the family throughout the day. Breakfast might be supplemented with eggs and such accompaniments as salsa or guacamole. Lunch is typically a salad with corn tortillas, meat and cheese. Dinner is similar, with the addition of lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Smith is quick to distinguish the diet from the high-protein Atkins diet, which prohibits even the carbs contained in fruits and veggies.

While Smith failed to advance to the finals, which concluded Monday, she recommends the competition -- not to mention the diet. She and her family continue to adhere to it, she says, though not militantly. After all, she notes, they have "cheat days," when they indulge in ice cream or gluten-free cookies.

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