Lately, many nutrition gurus have been promoting what they call a “paleo” diet. The word “paleo” comes from Paleolithic, which literally means “early stone age.” They think that human beings ought to be eating a diet like the diet that people ate during the early stone age. Personally, I think that the arguments in favor of the paleo diet are silly, for several reasons. I think that the appeal of the paleo diet is based on adolescent male fantasies of being an unwashed, unshaven big game hunter who gets to spend time with a hot-looking maiden in a fur or leather bikini. Real men don’t eat quiche. They eat brontoburgers:
Of course, human beings never hunted dinosaurs. Scientists say that the last dinosaurs died out more than 60 million years before the first human beings walked the earth.
The paleo diet is based on the idea that people should be eating a diet similar to what people ate during the Paleolithic period, which stretched from about 2.6 million years ago to 10,000 years ago. To the proponents of the paleo diet, this means a diet based on lean meat, seafood, and salad. The paleo diet excludes grains and dairy foods because they are products of domestication and have been around for less than 10,000 years. The paleo diet is basically the Atkins diet: high in fat and protein but low in carbohydrate.
I think that the paleo diet is based on bad anthropology and worse nutritional science. The artwork that is used for promoting a paleo diet tends to feature young men armed with spears. Somehow, it never features women and children armed with digging sticks. Yet the plant-based foods gathered by women and children have always been more important to “hunter-gatherer” societies than the meat hunted by the men, except in extremely marginal areas such as the Arctic. Some biologists believe that the real Paleolithic diet was probably based heavily on starchy roots and tubers:
In other words, people were eating a starchy diet long before anyone learned how to cultivate grains.
Of course, our ideas about what Paleolithic people ate and how it affected their health are based on extremely limited data. In contrast, we can base our own food choices on an abundance of scientifically valid information from many different kinds of studies of how various kinds of food affect health of modern human beings. The results of those studies boil down to three simple lessons:
- Humans thrive on a diet based heavily on unrefined starches
- The more vegetables people eat, the healthier they tend to be
- The less fat and animal foods they eat, the healthier they tend to be
Photo by Imamon