Why I Think the Paleo Diet Is Silly

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


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