Before agriculture and industry, humans presumably lived as hunter–gatherers: picking berry after berry off of bushes; digging up tumescent tubers; chasing mammals to the point of exhaustion; scavenging meat, fat and organs from animals that larger predators had killed; and eventually learning to fish with lines and hooks and hunt with spears, nets, bows and arrows.
Perfect explanation of human evolution. Source: PaleoLeap
The Paleo movement, which started as early as in the 60’s, follows the dietary guidelines of a hunter-gatherer tribe. Meat, poultry, eggs, lots of vegetables, nuts and fruit. That’s what our antecessors supposedly consumed. This diet is largely defined by what is forbidden: dairy, grains and legumes, as these items were introduced in the neolithic. Even some items such as potatoes are rejected and substituted by yams or sweet potatoes by paleo experts (Loren Cordain for example).
Mark Sisson, one of the most eminent experts in paleo diets writes on his website: “while the world has changed in innumerable ways in the last 10,000 years (for better and worse), the human genome has changed very little and thus only thrives under similar conditions”. This is the main reason paleo advocates use in order to support the elimination of the foods mentioned above. The fact is that this isn’t totally true.
Within the last 10,000 years several genetic mutations have allowed humans to survive in the rapidly changing environment. In regions where malaria is common, natural selection has modified people’s immune systems and red blood cells in ways that help them resist the mosquito-borne disease. People also adapted to eating dairy by developing the enzyme lactase (this is more common in countries with higher dairy consumption). We even developed amylase in order to digest starch from tubers.
Dr Christina Warriner from the University of Oklahoma cites evidence that 30,000 years ago primitive humans grinded grains and seeds with stone tools. Even remains of grains have been found in fosilized human dental plaques.
The other fact is that the proposed paleo guidelines were not as clear in the true paleolithic. What we can say for certain is that in the Paleolithic, the human diet varied immensely by geography, season and opportunity. What do Inuit and Hadza diets have in common? Nothing. What is remarkable about human beings is the extraordinary variety of what we eat. We have been able to thrive in almost every ecosystem on the Earth, consuming diets ranging from almost all animal foods among populations of the Arctic to primarily tubers and cereal grains among populations in the high Andes.
One of our Spanish followers sent us an email telling about her experience after living for 20 days with the Yanomami hunter-gatherer tribe:
“They eat everything that lives in their environment: monkeys, bananas, fish, berries and even ants. There’s not much food and the fasting periods are long. It’s basically all about rotating 10 to 12 items”.
This coincides with our opinion. A true hunter-gatherer diet would consist of small amounts of locally grown items, alternated with long periods of fasting. It’s not about living in Sweden and consuming coconut oil and avocados. A healthy diet doesn’t necessary need to be the diet of our predecessors.
The fact that the diet which is nowadays known as paleo has little to do with the real paleolithic diet doesn’t mean it isn’t healthy or correct. There’s a lot of benefit to the paleo diet, especially in weight loss, improvement in cardiovascular profile and the correction of metabolic dysfunction. Although there hasn’t been proper research around chronic diseases and paleo diets, internet is full of case reports proving its benefits in the treatment of almost all chronic conditions such as cancer, autoimmune diseases and even allergies.
The elimination of cereal grains, sugar and processed foods is always beneficial for both healthy and ill individuals. That’s why paleo is our favourite diet in the maintenance of long-term health.
Summarizing, the current “paleo diet” is not how the true hunter gatherer ate but it’s definetely the healthiest diet out there.