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Check out this take on a 'paleo diet': were paleolithic humans vegetarians?

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created April 13, 2012 at 2:26 PM

*Hi everyone,

I recently read this in a French magazine, in an article named "how to stay zen in 2012" [lol] here's a translation:

Pre-historic peoples were super-zen, says nutritionist Laurent Chevallier, Like a hunter-gatherer, we should try to eat as naturally as possible, avoiding processed foods and excess protein. We should aim towards a predominantly vegetarian diet, prioritising fruits and vegetables, and allowing eggs, fish, and meats about three times a week each. We should restrict bread and sugar, and choose honey and fruit for sweetness instead. We should also pay attention to caffeine consumption in beverages such as sodas, coffee, and tea; try substituting caffeinated drinks for infusions such as rooibos, which do not contain the stimulant.

I agree with avoiding processed foods, eating naturally, and using fruit and honey while avoiding sugar and grain products (i think that when he says 'pain'[bread] he doesn't just mean the loaf, but generally products made from commercial flour), and minimizing caffeine.

But what is interesting is that he says paleolithic peoples prioritised plant foods.

I suppose this is related somewhat to the whole debate on whether we can accurately gauge the exact diet of paleolithic peoples. Since its near impossible to do that, most deductions are made by looking at non-industrialised societies. And the variations we see (contrast: Inuit - all meat/Kitavans - more plants) show that you cannot generalise the paleolithic diet in that way because a lot depends on location and food availability therein.

I have a hard time agreeing that one would prioritise plant foods; even the Kitavans, who eat a lot more plant material (having access to it in their particular environment) eat plenty of fish; plenty of evidence from traditional societies show that animal foods were highly esteemed for their nutrient value.

All this notwithstanding, I personally have had good results reducing muscle meats,eating mostly organs, eggs (including roes), shellfish, and gelatin, as well as increasing fruit and starch intake, and eating honey, but I don't agree with restricting animal products to 3x a week.

I'd love to hear your thoughts! Do consider that this is a mainstream magazine so they wouldn't propose anything considered too radical, I suppose, but its interesting to see various 'takes' on 'paleo'. Also, this is France, where hyper-processing is a lot less popular (not to mention they use a fair bit of raw dairy).

1dd1d4bde5b46b4c90efeadea3a96a75

(180)

on May 14, 2012
at 08:07 AM

Why restrict vegetables when we have access to them? Because they contain toxins and unnecessary fibre. Yes they do have some nutrients, but they are poorly absorbed by the body and most require fat to be absorbed. That's besides the fact that all modern vegetables have been highly bred for taste and often sugar content. They would taste hardly the same in the wild, and even a lot of modern veggies (kale, spinach, cauliflower etc) are really not even very palatable without added fat and/or spice.

C326acd0ae246a39c5685f2ba72e3136

(1631)

on April 17, 2012
at 09:26 PM

Agreed! They're probably are kids who enjoy veggies but for me I wasn't one! lol.

D5a52362ba91628833829a52acf1c227

on April 14, 2012
at 07:40 PM

I feel better when I eat more vegetables. Also, a lot of babies and children *I* know LOVE their veggies and can't get enough. See, everyone is different! Atleast we can agree that grains and processed sugars are not optimal... mostly meat, mostly veg... both are still better IMO than all the things of a SAD diet. :)

C326acd0ae246a39c5685f2ba72e3136

(1631)

on April 14, 2012
at 04:26 AM

Because I honestly feel worse eating roughage. You may not but I do. I just see no reason to eat them. They taste nasty anyway unless cooked in butter. I had to " teach " myself to like veggies. When I went vegan I ate so many so that is probably how I " learned " to like them. Most young ones ( baby's ) love eating fat and meat. That is how I was. I hated veggies. But ey different strokes for different folks.

A968087cc1dd66d480749c02e4619ef4

(20436)

on April 14, 2012
at 12:22 AM

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the Lewis & Clark expedition where it is reported that the 30 or so men each ate 9 pounds of meat daily.

B9637ddb9a9a5c6a7306e3c804fcd21d

(3217)

on April 13, 2012
at 10:56 PM

Vegetables and fruit have lots of nutrients; also, they mainly have soluble fiber, which does not harm the intestine and positively impacts heart health. Its the bran/husk of cereal grains that mainly has insoluble fiber (the abrasive kind). The bottom line - the more varied your diet, the better. Why restrict vegetables when we have access to them? I'm sure if the Inuit had access to plants, they would eat them. Animal foods are most nutrient-dense, but that doesn't mean that an all-meat diet is a one-size-fits-all.

B9637ddb9a9a5c6a7306e3c804fcd21d

(3217)

on April 13, 2012
at 10:52 PM

Michael - paleolithic, pre-industrial peoples could well have survived eating an all-meat diet, because of the quality of the meat, and because they ate nose to tail. Literally. Even the eyeballs. Actually, the Inuit make a point of consuming moose thyroid glands to ensure adequate thyroid function and fertility, which is impaired by long-term lack of carbs. Industrialisation, etc, has affected our food supply (even high-welfare meat, since soils are depleted everywhere), and it is risky to try to get everything from a limited food source.

B9637ddb9a9a5c6a7306e3c804fcd21d

(3217)

on April 13, 2012
at 10:46 PM

I concur. And they'd probably try putting all the canola in their car tanks. Nothing but machine oil could possibly smell that bad...!

C326acd0ae246a39c5685f2ba72e3136

(1631)

on April 13, 2012
at 09:41 PM

I honestly think everyone is different but not that much. We all know eating a diet based around grains, or eating only fruit is not healthy. At all. I just see that eating plants there is no point. I mean, there is nothing in plants you cannot get from animal sources. Besides animal sources are much more easily absorbed and from my own experience easier to utilize. The only thing veggies are good for are variety and color. They are lacking in amino acids and have harsh fiber which scratches and disturbs the delicate lining of the intestines. This can lead to malnutrition eventually.

A968087cc1dd66d480749c02e4619ef4

(20436)

on April 13, 2012
at 06:24 PM

Yes, bananas. Except chimpanzees in the wild would be all like "WTF? I taint neva sean such frooty gudniz!"

D5a52362ba91628833829a52acf1c227

on April 13, 2012
at 06:24 PM

That may work for you, but it doesn't work for everyone. Some people feel how good you feel, but while eating mostly plants...and the way you feel when eating mostly plants, some people feel when they eat mostly or all meat. Everyone is different.

11838116de44ae449df0563f09bd3d73

(655)

on April 13, 2012
at 06:18 PM

Yes, all that French cave art depicting apples and bananas.

B9637ddb9a9a5c6a7306e3c804fcd21d

(3217)

on April 13, 2012
at 04:35 PM

Well, its all very contingent on the individual. VLC works for some, not for others. I think vegetarianism is anything but optimal, but VLC doesn't work for everyone.

276a5e631b62f8e0793987c0496364bb

(1644)

on April 13, 2012
at 04:10 PM

I beg to differ. If we went extinct, I think our processed foods would last long enough for the next intelligent species to make use (or fun) of!

B9637ddb9a9a5c6a7306e3c804fcd21d

(3217)

on April 13, 2012
at 04:05 PM

Yes, its probably good advice for most of the population; especially if you apply this to somewhere with very low meat welfare levels, or where to most people 'meat' means frozen burgers with unpronounceable additives...!

B9637ddb9a9a5c6a7306e3c804fcd21d

(3217)

on April 13, 2012
at 04:02 PM

Stomach-or-brain is the new brawn-or-brain...!:-D

B9637ddb9a9a5c6a7306e3c804fcd21d

(3217)

on April 13, 2012
at 04:01 PM

That's true! And I think they would have gotten smaller game such as wild squabs/pigeons or pheasant quite often. In tropical areas I'm sure they ate a lot of larvae, they can get quite huge and have decent protein.

B9637ddb9a9a5c6a7306e3c804fcd21d

(3217)

on April 13, 2012
at 03:59 PM

Dave - specifically bananas, mind you. 31 A DAY *dramatic music*

B9637ddb9a9a5c6a7306e3c804fcd21d

(3217)

on April 13, 2012
at 03:57 PM

Hey Todd, thanks for answering; no, this is all there is on the 'paleo eating' concept; the rest of the article involves things like bath oils and head massage :-D My question-title is rather flawed in that indeed, he didn't mean to say they were veg-n, rather that they mainly ate plant food. I agree about the Michael Pollan-esque advice. P.S. Chevalier is a dude. Just sayin' ;-)

1d0497f8781845ab371b479455bfee8e

(11157)

on April 13, 2012
at 02:58 PM

That article was hysterical!

A968087cc1dd66d480749c02e4619ef4

(20436)

on April 13, 2012
at 02:57 PM

And this magazine's article was based on what? Some jerk-off's idea for what we should eat based on his dubious idea of what caveman ate? Puh-lease. Everyone knows that we are almost genetically identical to chimpanzees and therefore should only be eating fruit.

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7 Answers

9
32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41757)

on April 13, 2012
at 03:13 PM

Hard to say anything with high certainty about paleolithic peoples. They were probably as diverse as recent hunter-gatherers, who have proven to be 100% animal to nearly 0% animal, arguably all paleo. I think at times some versions of paleo are a bit too meat-centric.

9
E1c41fc9d29cec2c3066e000c9562d92

on April 13, 2012
at 02:57 PM

I think it is likely that we only had game meat 3-4x times a week, depending on the success of our hunts. However, we didn't just eat game meat. Every day, gatherers would of sought out small land fauna like insects, invertebrates, small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles.

Additionally, I would suspect on those days we did make large game kills, we probably feasted. We would go for the organs and fat first, and probably consumed a huge amount of calories. After all, the animal would soon rot and wasting food would be insane. This up and down pattern of game meat equates out to our modern daily consumption.

A968087cc1dd66d480749c02e4619ef4

(20436)

on April 14, 2012
at 12:22 AM

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the Lewis & Clark expedition where it is reported that the 30 or so men each ate 9 pounds of meat daily.

B9637ddb9a9a5c6a7306e3c804fcd21d

(3217)

on April 13, 2012
at 04:01 PM

That's true! And I think they would have gotten smaller game such as wild squabs/pigeons or pheasant quite often. In tropical areas I'm sure they ate a lot of larvae, they can get quite huge and have decent protein.

6
Ca2c940a1947e6200883908592956680

(8574)

on April 13, 2012
at 02:38 PM

From what I understand the reason we have the brains we do was due to the increase in dense animal proteins and utilising cooking methods. Also I believe meat and especially fatty meats were favoured over lower calorie plant foods which needed more processing.

My understanding is that we would struggle to eat like primates the whole time, and changing diets allowed us to be more active (outside of constantly eating) and focus our energies elsewhere. Our brains would then have developed due to our diet, environment and possible new problems we had to solve that arose. Well this is my guess.

Found this a moment ago: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2008/04/eating-meat-led-to-smaller-stomachs-bigger-brains/

B9637ddb9a9a5c6a7306e3c804fcd21d

(3217)

on April 13, 2012
at 04:02 PM

Stomach-or-brain is the new brawn-or-brain...!:-D

4
Baa413654789b57f3579474ca7fa43d7

(2349)

on April 13, 2012
at 02:56 PM

Well, I think the idea that pre-historic people prioritized plant food flies in the face of several commonly accepted theories, specifically the Expensive Tissue Hypothesis and Optimal Foraging Theory.

J Stanton does a great job of explaining these concepts in the context of a Paleo diet here: http://www.gnolls.org/1763/why-humans-crave-fat/ and here http://www.gnolls.org/2812/big-brains-require-an-explanation-part-iii-optimal-foraging-theory-and-our-story-begins-on-two-legs/

Having said that, I think there is another way of reading the quote that you posted. She says that like a hunter gatherer we should avoid processed food. She then says that "We should aim towards a predominantly vegetarian diet..." I don't necessarily view that statement as an assertion that hunter-gatherers were vegetarian. The "hunter-gatherer" reference only applies to the avoid processed food recommendation. In other words, she is borrowing on the popularity of Paleo/Hunter-Gatherer diets to promote low processed food consumption, and combining it with Michael Pollan-esque advice to eat mostly plants.

Of course, I don't have the whole article, does she explicit say cavemen prioritized plant food?

B9637ddb9a9a5c6a7306e3c804fcd21d

(3217)

on April 13, 2012
at 03:57 PM

Hey Todd, thanks for answering; no, this is all there is on the 'paleo eating' concept; the rest of the article involves things like bath oils and head massage :-D My question-title is rather flawed in that indeed, he didn't mean to say they were veg-n, rather that they mainly ate plant food. I agree about the Michael Pollan-esque advice. P.S. Chevalier is a dude. Just sayin' ;-)

2
Ccacf7567273244733bc991af4ac42ed

on April 13, 2012
at 03:42 PM

There's a difference between recommending that we prioritise plant foods and suggesting that cavemen did. Historically they ate what they could find, and we have fair evidence that they put a lot of time and effort into killing animals. It's unlikely they had meat available all the time but they probably ate well when they could. We however have near unlimited access to everything all the time. It may well be that paleolithic man in the modern age would be driven to eat meat every day, but that doesn't mean it would be good for him - it's not the evolutionary environment he was selected for. And nor are we. Which means we're all really guessing about how best to tackle our current situation. I suspect the recommendation to focus more on eating lots of plants is just remnant conventional wisdom, and I think that if you ate half a cow on those 3 days a week you ate meat then things would balance out well enough. It's not really a predominantly vegetarian diet, there's too many advocates of balanced diets that suggest plant matter takes up 60-70% by volume to suggest that it deserves the title vegetarian. It's probably a valid approach for many people. I can quite happily spend weeks living off little else beyond animal products, and it's a lot easier, tastier, and friendlier to my digestion. But the essence of the article doesn't really offer too much to complain about.

B9637ddb9a9a5c6a7306e3c804fcd21d

(3217)

on April 13, 2012
at 04:05 PM

Yes, its probably good advice for most of the population; especially if you apply this to somewhere with very low meat welfare levels, or where to most people 'meat' means frozen burgers with unpronounceable additives...!

1
De267f213b375efca5da07890e5efc25

(3747)

on April 13, 2012
at 03:43 PM

There's quite a lot of evidence actually. The Evolution of the Human Diet devotes a whole chapter to the topic of how anthropologists are able to determine what we ate in the past. In addition to the bones and tools that they've left behind, we also have their preserved stool to study for example. However, it's also useful to keep in mind that over a period of 2.5 million years we only have a small number of sparse data points, with periods and locations lacking data comparable to or larger than the entire Neolithic revolution (just imagine if we went extinct tomorrow and a lost Amazonian tribe repopulated the Earth - their descendants might find no evidence of our diet!).

B9637ddb9a9a5c6a7306e3c804fcd21d

(3217)

on April 13, 2012
at 10:46 PM

I concur. And they'd probably try putting all the canola in their car tanks. Nothing but machine oil could possibly smell that bad...!

276a5e631b62f8e0793987c0496364bb

(1644)

on April 13, 2012
at 04:10 PM

I beg to differ. If we went extinct, I think our processed foods would last long enough for the next intelligent species to make use (or fun) of!

0
C326acd0ae246a39c5685f2ba72e3136

on April 13, 2012
at 04:13 PM

Vegetarians?? LOL! Of course not. We need nutrient dense red meat. Yea I guess eggs could fill in a bit of the gap... Trust me. I'm zero-carb and have never felt better or more satisfied. I love cooking 9 eggs in the morning drowned in Kerrygold butter and having a huge fatty steak for dinner. Veggies and fruit mess with my blood sugar and make me constipated. I never understood how we need " fiber " no, we just need to get rid of ALL processed foods. Red meat is a complete food. I've gone months on end eating nothing but red meat and organs and I feel fine. I have ripped abbs and I am much more athletic then people my age. Benefits I've encountered when going ALL MEAT/eggs. No more constipation or smelly bowel movements,less bad breath and body odor ( smell's more, how you say. " Primal ") No more acne at all. Increased endurance and energy on ALL LEVELS. There is no way we can get by on a few eggs and eating greens. Starch can fill in the gap if you get enough calories but carbs aren't essential. Protien and FAT are essential to human life and needed.

B9637ddb9a9a5c6a7306e3c804fcd21d

(3217)

on April 13, 2012
at 04:35 PM

Well, its all very contingent on the individual. VLC works for some, not for others. I think vegetarianism is anything but optimal, but VLC doesn't work for everyone.

C326acd0ae246a39c5685f2ba72e3136

(1631)

on April 13, 2012
at 09:41 PM

I honestly think everyone is different but not that much. We all know eating a diet based around grains, or eating only fruit is not healthy. At all. I just see that eating plants there is no point. I mean, there is nothing in plants you cannot get from animal sources. Besides animal sources are much more easily absorbed and from my own experience easier to utilize. The only thing veggies are good for are variety and color. They are lacking in amino acids and have harsh fiber which scratches and disturbs the delicate lining of the intestines. This can lead to malnutrition eventually.

B9637ddb9a9a5c6a7306e3c804fcd21d

(3217)

on April 13, 2012
at 10:52 PM

Michael - paleolithic, pre-industrial peoples could well have survived eating an all-meat diet, because of the quality of the meat, and because they ate nose to tail. Literally. Even the eyeballs. Actually, the Inuit make a point of consuming moose thyroid glands to ensure adequate thyroid function and fertility, which is impaired by long-term lack of carbs. Industrialisation, etc, has affected our food supply (even high-welfare meat, since soils are depleted everywhere), and it is risky to try to get everything from a limited food source.

C326acd0ae246a39c5685f2ba72e3136

(1631)

on April 14, 2012
at 04:26 AM

Because I honestly feel worse eating roughage. You may not but I do. I just see no reason to eat them. They taste nasty anyway unless cooked in butter. I had to " teach " myself to like veggies. When I went vegan I ate so many so that is probably how I " learned " to like them. Most young ones ( baby's ) love eating fat and meat. That is how I was. I hated veggies. But ey different strokes for different folks.

D5a52362ba91628833829a52acf1c227

on April 13, 2012
at 06:24 PM

That may work for you, but it doesn't work for everyone. Some people feel how good you feel, but while eating mostly plants...and the way you feel when eating mostly plants, some people feel when they eat mostly or all meat. Everyone is different.

D5a52362ba91628833829a52acf1c227

on April 14, 2012
at 07:40 PM

I feel better when I eat more vegetables. Also, a lot of babies and children *I* know LOVE their veggies and can't get enough. See, everyone is different! Atleast we can agree that grains and processed sugars are not optimal... mostly meat, mostly veg... both are still better IMO than all the things of a SAD diet. :)

B9637ddb9a9a5c6a7306e3c804fcd21d

(3217)

on April 13, 2012
at 10:56 PM

Vegetables and fruit have lots of nutrients; also, they mainly have soluble fiber, which does not harm the intestine and positively impacts heart health. Its the bran/husk of cereal grains that mainly has insoluble fiber (the abrasive kind). The bottom line - the more varied your diet, the better. Why restrict vegetables when we have access to them? I'm sure if the Inuit had access to plants, they would eat them. Animal foods are most nutrient-dense, but that doesn't mean that an all-meat diet is a one-size-fits-all.

C326acd0ae246a39c5685f2ba72e3136

(1631)

on April 17, 2012
at 09:26 PM

Agreed! They're probably are kids who enjoy veggies but for me I wasn't one! lol.

1dd1d4bde5b46b4c90efeadea3a96a75

(180)

on May 14, 2012
at 08:07 AM

Why restrict vegetables when we have access to them? Because they contain toxins and unnecessary fibre. Yes they do have some nutrients, but they are poorly absorbed by the body and most require fat to be absorbed. That's besides the fact that all modern vegetables have been highly bred for taste and often sugar content. They would taste hardly the same in the wild, and even a lot of modern veggies (kale, spinach, cauliflower etc) are really not even very palatable without added fat and/or spice.

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