The Paleo Diet

Overdoing Paleo diet? 

Despite its name, the Paleo Diet is a new food trend, one which has become increasingly popular in recent years. The diet’s basic tenet is that our bodies haven’t yet evolved to cope with the changes to our food intake as a result of agriculture. Paleo Diet aficionados hold that grains like wheat are making us fat and unhealthy, and that we would be far better off if we ate how our ancient ancestors did, focusing on lean meats, fruits and vegetables.

What researchers haven’t been able to answer, however, is exactly what our ancestors ate. Early humans and our other hominin predecessors lived pretty much everywhere, in environments as diverse as the Arctic, tropical rainforests and deserts, and so its likely that diet varied by region.

Even within a given region, reconstructions of diet have had to rely on tooth analysis or bones found nearby. A quartet of papers published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences have instead turned to stable isotope analysis, which analyzes the specific chemical signature of molecules, to determine the diets of a variety of ancient hominin species by looking at their fossilized teeth. The findings show that human ancestors started moving away from the traditional ape diet of fruit and leaves about 2.5 million years ago—much earlier than previously thought. Thus, even our “paleo” ancestors may never have eaten a paleo diet.

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  • Josh from Indiana

    I don’t know about our ancestors, but switching to a low-carb and low-sugar lifestyle has been wonderful for me. The eat-less-exercise-more approach only produced minimal results, but in the two months since I’ve switched over I’ve lost 20lbs, feel great and am much healthier than before.

  • candeux

    I think we can be pretty certain that they didn’t eat wheat in its current form (which has been bred over the last 50 years for larger kernels and shorter stalks), refined sugar, and meat from animals jacked up on grain, hormones, and antibiotics.

    So, yes, our ancestors diet probably varied by region, but only within a much narrower range of options than we have today.

    –Joe Canner

  • My daughter has followed the Paleo diet with mixed (but admittedly decent) results. My thoughts have been that there is a lot of speculation about the diets of our ancient forebears–but I think we can say that the grains they ate are not the same grains we eat today. And certainly a loaf of bread produced in 1850 isn’t like a loaf of bread produced today! So how much of our problems with grains are due to our own modern modifications as opposed to the way our stomachs may have or have not evolved.

  • DRT

    We don’t have to go that far back, only a few decades. I actually believe in some genetic engineering, but the wheat we eat today is not compatible with our bodies and that is only a few decades old.

  • attytjj466

    Fruits, veggies, nuts, fish, white meat. Some whole grains, but less, has worked well for me weight, energy, and health wise. Biggest thing to avoid: processed foods. The more additive ingredients on the label, the worse it is for you. I did not always eat like this, but I wish I had.

  • Larry Barber

    They don’t make clear this clear. How do they know that what was being eaten was grain, and not animals that fed off that grain, which would tend to have the same carbon isotope ratio as what was in their diet, I would think. At least that’s what they’re assuming for the humans so presumably it would be true for animals as well.

  • Phil Miller

    …but the wheat we eat today is not compatible with our bodies and that is only a few decades old.

    I’m not exactly sure what you mean by this, but it’s probably not true. The vast majority of people don’t have any problem metabolizing wheat, or specifically, gluten. The number of people who are actually gluten-intolerant or who have Celiac disease is pretty low – probably less than 1% of the total population (some studies have it a little higher).

    The reason people lose weight when they do things like reduce the amount wheat or carbohydrates in their diet is mostly because they are reducing calories, and they are actually focusing on their diets.

  • DRT

    Sorry it took so long to respond. I overstated somewhat, the wheat is incompatible with the role it had in previous times. The wheat produced today is not metabolized the same way as it used to be. To be very extreme about it, if we substituted ice cream for meat people would still get a lot of nutrition, and would not starve, but it would no longer serve the same purpose. The wheat we have today is not like the wheat we evolved to eat.

  • DRT

    FWIW, I have spent time on diets similar to this one, and they work as part of a weight loss and weight maintenance diet. Part of the problem is that the word “diet” seems to imply weight loss to people while that is not my concern. I am interested in a diet that makes me healthy and long lived. I have made good friends with people in nutrition/diet in the past year and all agree that we should get most of our carbs from the sugars in the fruits and add rice if you like, but not wheat.