We Are What Our Ancestors Ate: Part 1

This past weekend, I was in the midst of an adamant Paleo-enthusiast who had her 2-minute pitch down pact.  Not to discredit her enthusiasm or anything, but…..The personal trainer by day and sustainable agriculture advocate by night was following the “lifestyle” 80% of the time and 20% of the time downing pizza and burgers to get in her Western-diet fix. She certainly ran a good pitch by including arguments such as the importance of fruit and vegetables, the diminished ability to process the sugar (lactose) in milk in some adults, and the rising rates of gluten intolerances.  And because of these somewhat logical supporting explanations, this diet especially speaks to the hearts of nutrition purists seeking optimal health.  As with most fad diets however, this is one with many restrictions and is based on unsubstantiated evidence.  Although the diet may work for some, it assumes the premise that we are all alike, physiologically and biochemically.
For those who haven’t heard of the recent Paleolithic diet craze (also known as the Caveman, Stone Age, and Hunter-Gatherer diet), it’s a “lifestyle” based on the suspected diet of early humans dating some 10,000+ years ago before agriculture was created.  Although there are varying degrees of the diet depending on whom you talk to, it includes meat, eggs, fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and some plant-derived oil.  Meanwhile, the Paleolithic diet excludes all grains (refined grains and naturally-occurring whole grains), refined sugars, starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, yucca, etc), beans, dairy products, processed meats, and salt.  Some versions of the diet permit coffee and alcohol in moderation, while others don’t.   The dietary lifestyle certainly sounds ideal in theory as it eliminates processed foods and emphasizes eating real food such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts.  However, the eating pattern is based on the fallacy and uncharted assumption that we are all akin to our Paleo ancestors.  Specifically, the diet is based from 1980’s research out of Emory University.  According to one of the researchers, S. Boyd Eaton, “we are the heirs of inherited characteristics accrued over millions of years; the vast majority of our biochemistry and physiology are tuned to life conditions that existed before the advent of agriculture some 10,000 years ago. Genetically our bodies are virtually the same as they were at the end of the Paleolithic era some 20,000 years ago.” (read more)

I certainly agree with the notion that the diet of our ancestors has shaped our digestive machinery, but I would argue that these changes have occurred much more recently than some 10,000 years ago.  Stay tuned for Part 2!

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