Wikipedia defines the paleolithic diet as a “modern nutritional plan” based on the presumed diet of Paleolithic humans. It is based on several controversial premises, the most important of which are:
1. Human genetics have scarcely changed since the dawn of agriculture, which marked the end of the Paleolithic era, around 15,000 years ago
2. Modern humans are adapted to the diet or diets of the Paleolithic period;
3. It is possible for modern science to discern what such diets consisted of.
Purported Paleolithic diet consists mainly of fish, grass-fed pasture raised meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, fungi, roots, and nuts, and excludes what are perceived to be agricultural products; grains, legumes, dairy products, potatoes, refined salt, refined sugar, and processed oils.
Proponents argue that modern human populations subsisting on traditional diets, allegedly similar to those of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers, are largely free of diseases of affluence and that Paleolithic diets in humans have shown improved health outcomes relative to other widely-recommended diets.
I really don’t know what kind of data the paleo folks have to back up their claim that “Paleolithic diets in humans have shown improved health outcomes relative to other widely-recommended diets”. I just find it rather unconvincing that these folks can really duplicate what our ancestors ate 15,000 years ago. Yes, science can tell us what the cavemen ate, but do we have the resources to resurrect their ingredients and copy their recipes?
Organic or otherwise, practically all the meat that we can get our hands on are from domesticated animals. How paleo is that? Mammoth steak, perhaps? How about crocodile meat on Monday, pigeon on Tuesday, bees on Wednesday, ants on Thursday, salmon on Friday and the bear on Saturday? Wild berries, wild nuts and wild mushrooms would be quite authentic. It’s supposed to be pre-agricultural, right? What about seasoning? Did Paleolithic man in his cave kitchen always have the means to season his meats and eat them fresh? Did he use salad dressing for his greens? Did he have ovens? Was your steak cooked over wood fire? Is that paleo steak on your plate really paleo?
Next, we look at the statement that “Paleolithic hunter-gatherers, are largely free of diseases of affluence”. Can we be certain that our paleolithic ancestors weren’t prone to heart disease and cancers? We certainly can. That’s because life expectancy during those days was probably about 25 years! Of course, it may not have anything to do with how unhealthy their diet was, but it certainly had something to do with their lack of medicine and abundance of predators. If you were a paleo man, your chances of suffering a heart attack were probably much lower than the chances of being eaten up by a lion or having your own tribesmen club you to death for being a burden to the community. Some desperate folks resort to arguing about the mathematical definitions of “average lifespan”, but we all know that most of our ancestors died far younger than most of us.
Ironically, modern folks who should be long dead during paleolithic times are now munching on purported paleo food that few people during that time could have lived to their age to enjoy. Take a look at the meaty diet of the caveman. Isn’t this a low-carbohydrate diet very similar to the traditional Eskimo diet? And by the way, Eskimos on a traditional Eskimo diet died an average of 10 years younger than their Canadian cousins. We know averages can be misleading, but in this case, we know that it isn’t.
Finally, we look at the kind of environment that our Paleolithic ancestors lived in. Compared to them, our lives are so much more sedentary. We don’t have to run after deer or antelope from food. We don’t have to run from lions, tigers or cannibalistic tribes to end up on the dinner table. I wonder if the Paleo fans would advocate hunting as a pastime, but I guess a little skinny dipping and other back to nature activities won’t do any harm.
© Chan Joon Yee