I'm curious about paleo. The dietary recommendations make a lot of sense, but the link to human evolution seems more tenuous to me. Does the paleo diet stand or fall with claims about the way paleolithic humans ate/behaved? How does evolution inform the paleo diet?
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on June 18, 2013
at 04:12 PM
This might help (Note, just speaking for the perfect health diet, not paleo (robb wolf) or primal (sisson) or bulletproof (dave asprey) or whoever else identifies as paleo.
Also, in the perfect health diet book, they talk about how there is pretty good evidence hunter-gatherers or our forebears were malnourished, so the way one eats should not be exactly EXACTLY like hunter-gatherers (h-g's).
So you should buy their book for more of a discussion and to get the references to those papers that describe how well nourished h-g's were.
The Perfect Health Diet is based on biological evidence for what it is healthiest for humans to eat, not on mimickry of Paleolithic diets. Nevertheless, we believe our diet is a pretty good representation of what Paleolithic hunter-gatherers ate ??? in fact, a better representation than conventional ???Paleo.???
The references at the bottom of the above link should help too...
on June 18, 2013
at 06:50 PM
I often times run into people who raise the issue (as thhq did) that our ancestor's diets were highly varied and thus there is no "one" Paleo diet. This is absolutely correct and I think it highlights the difference between how someone unfamiliar with Paleo sees it ("eat these things") and how most practicioners of the diet see it ("don't eat these things"). The focus on NOT eating certain things isn't because no one can eat those things or because they are inherently worse for you (though an argument could be made for empty calories I suppose). It's for the following reasons:
-the foods restricted by the Paleo diet are (relatively) recent additions to our diet, either in terms of overall consumption or ratio of overall food.
-In some cases (grains and legumes specifically) the organisms that these foods are have evolved defenses specifically to avoid being eaten; combine this with our small amount of time to evolve against those defenses and it becomes clear that while some people may have been lucky enough to have inherited genes that allow them to bypass those defenses, most of us probably did not.
-In the rest of the cases, the majority of our ancestors didn't have ready access to these "Neolithic" foods (again, depends on the people and location) in the same magnitude that they did "Paleolithic" foods like those promoted by Paleo. As such, the nutrients from those foods (specifically the polyunsaturated fats that tend to be concentrated in vegetable and seed oils) were a smaller part of the Paleolithic man's nutrient intake. Again, evolution would have favored those who handled the diet of their location best, so for the majority of us, we (theoretically) are genetically conditioned to thrive on a "Paleo-style" diet. Of course, individual mileage may vary based on a LOT of factors (genetic mutations, translocation[probably not a real word, right?] from ancestral homeland, etc).
So, long story short: Paleo isn't a guarantee that you'll be healthy if you just eat the way some idealized Paleolithic man ate. It's an educated gamble based on the probability of your ancestors not having access to the food prohibited by the diet. Arguably you could be lucky and have the genes to tolerate a low-fat, high-carb diet rich in whole grains and low in saturated fat (or the genes to thrive on any diet, regardless of macronutrient ratio); but I don't think the odds are in your favor.
on June 18, 2013
at 05:45 PM
I'd say pretty tenuous. The diets our ancestors ate were highly variable depending on what foods were available locally that they could thrive on. Where I live now the local diet was seafood, meat, roots and berries; so I try to eat as much of those as I can. But this would have been different in tropical climates with more edible vegetation.
The part that paleo diet gets right is eating more meat IMO, and if meat is more of your calories then vegetation foods become less important. You don't need diet books and supplements to eat that way. Eating ancestrally isn't rocket science.
on June 18, 2013
at 06:51 PM
I think so. Around 2 million years ago we started to increase our reliance on animal foods. At or around the same time we developed sharper teeth and a mutation in the MYH16 gene. Whether or not the mutation was responsible for brain growth, and was a result of diet is arguable. At 1.5 million years ago there's evidence of anemia suggesting by this time, meat was a significant part of our diet. This interesting article also suggests meat consumption and more specifically our desire for animal fat. We have nearly identical tapeworms to that of Hyenas, African hunting dogs, Lions, Cheetahs, and Jackals also suggesting that we were eating the same foods as these animals. You could also look into the overkill hypothesis, if it's true I think that would also have an influence in determining our ancient diet.
Also important to note is our increase in salivary amylase within the last 200k years providing evidence of our reliance on underground storage organs such as roots and tubers. I almost forgot perhaps the most important part. The regular use of fire at about the 400k year mark. How long we've been cooking is debatable but we can be pretty sure it was at least 300-400k years.
Most of this stuff is speculative and from what I gather there are many differing view points about what we would have eaten in the paleolithic. Just a couple things I'm unsure of. Dr. Wrangham suggests we started eating starch much earlier and that cooked food was what made our diet softer and selected for smaller jaw muscles. As to the mutation in that MYH16 gene it seems that Paranthropus Boisei developed large ridges on his or her skull to facilitate larger jaw muscles. He or she ate a much harder diet and lived after the MYH16 mutation, so maybe our diet did select for smaller muscles and thus allowed the brain case to fuse later in life. Really hard to say. I should say too that I've come across Anthropologists who think diet didn't have a large role in our evolution, so I think judging the efficacy of a diet on a distant past that we can't prove has it's pitfalls.
It is tenuous and it can be a bit like splitting hairs when your talking about this stuff, but it's fun to speculate.
on June 18, 2013
at 04:31 PM
The paleo diet does not require that we exactly mimic what paleolithic humans ate. However, it suggests that our evolutionary circumstances can give us some clues as to what works well vs. poorly for our bodies. It also encourages us to evaluate dietary choices based on the long view of human evolution rather than the past few hundred or thousand years. Modern Westerners often react to a grain-free, soy-free diet as if it's a dangerously extreme crackpot idea with no precedent -- that's because they're judging it in comparison to the diets that everyone has eaten throughout history, but we judge it in comparison to the diets everyone ate in the much longer span of prehistory.