At least some (a large part I would argue) of what it means to be "paleo" eating in such a manner that is informed by our evolutionary past. This in short means meat, fish, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruits- no grains, maybe dairy.
But as paleo has become adopted, "scientific" theories abound on what is the "optimal (paleo) diet." Among the most accepted concepts included maintaining a favorable omega 3/6 ratio, minimizing PUFA, favoring saturated fatty acids as a fuel source, and minimizing fructose consumption (i.e. preferring glucose based starches to fruits a-la PHD). I think we can all generally accept that these concepts are becoming "mainstream paleo," which used to be just meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables...and dairy if you're primal. Coconut oil is an ideal source of energy, and I've seen food logs of people on here on low carb diets who literally eat it by the spoonful.
Now I may be going out on a limb here, but just from what I know of ancient and current hunter gathers, what a lot of what is theoretically "optimal" seems at variance with what was likely the case, and intuitively not optimal at all.
Exhibit A- coconut oil: A favorite among the low carb crowd because its MCTs provide a quick "energy boost." Where is coconut native to? The South Pacific Islands. It seems that in such a temperate climate, carbs are more bountiful than any other place on the planet in the form of tropical fruits, roots, and tubers. Coconuts come with coconut water, another excellent source of carbs. The Kitavans, one of the better studied of the modern HGs, have terrific health scores and eat around 70% of calories from carbohydrate dense foods. How is coconut oil compatible with a low carb diet?
Minimizing PUFA and creating a favorable omega 3/6 ratio: It seems that of all the foods on the planet, the nut has been the most rigorously (or among them) studied in not just epidemiological, but also clinical studies. Nuts are the most dense source of LA PUFA in the human diet since the 1960s. It is highly, highly likely that our ancient ancestors consumed these in large quantities whenever possible, due to their calorie and nutrient density. Modern HGs consume vast quantities of nuts, such as the Mongongo, which is not a low LA nut. It also seems that these tribes it very little in the way of fish and seafood, so most of their fat is coming from land mammals and birds, all of which contain predominantly OEMGA FATS (3,6 and 9). These people all seem quite healthy, as clinical studies on nut consuming humans would suggest, but in direct contradiction to what new paleo theory suggests is optional. The Inuit (certainly an outlier) consume a high PUFA diet as they feed of mostly the fat of cold blooded fish. However, they obviously have what is deemed a "favorable" omega 3/6 ratio, despite reports of suffering from hemophilia.
Favoring Saturated fatty acids as fuel and high fat diets: I have no idea where this came from. All land mammals, particularly free ranging ones, have a predominance of MUFA as their sole source of fat. If you look at the way animals are typically prepared (roasted over the fire), this is a very inefficient way of rendering whatever fat there is in the already lean land mammals that are caught. However, it is true that organ meats seemed to be eaten with alacrity and zeal unlike other parts of the animal. LAst time I checked though, organ meats were not particularly fatty, but are good sources of cholesterol and fat soluble nutrients.
fructose is the devil: I see that every HG society considers honey to be liquid gold, and at least among the African Hadza it is the number one preferred food source. You can see video documentaries, papers, and pictures of HGs going to great lengths to obtain and eat copious amounts of the stuff by the fistful. http://www.bioanth.cam.ac.uk/fwm23/tubers_and_fallback_foods_21040_ftp.pdf
starch (carbs) make you fat: at least in Africa, Hadza women are leaner when they eat the predominant source of calories from starch than from animal flesh. http://www.bioanth.cam.ac.uk/fwm23/tubers_and_fallback_foods_21040_ftp.pdf
So, assuming we have found what is the "optimal diet" (low PUFA, high SFA butter/coconut oil, low fructose/carb), are we even ready to eat it? WOn't it take at least a few generations of current paleo-people eating that diet and mating with each other before we select out unfavorable genes and genetic mutations can occur which are adaptable to said diet? *Might the theoretical "optimal diet" not be optimal in practice...at least until we can let natural selection occur over a few generations of eating this way?*
Not be offensive, but doesn't it seem kind of arrogant and/or naive to think that we can actually plan out the diet that is ideal for us. It seems more like the play the hand you've been dealt as best as you can, not go through the deck manually and choose the best hand yourself.
Would like to hear your input and correct where I am wrong. And thanks for reading this far and in advance for answering!
asked byforeveryoung (14952)
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on September 27, 2012
at 06:10 PM
I'm not quite sure what the question is.....sure paleo, ancestral eating, or the hunter gatherer lifestyle (whichever you like) is only a theory, but as such its the one that makes the most sense (IMO).
Instead of studying sickness, we study healthy wild humans that don't have the diseases of civilization that we find in our own cultures. Then we emulate those activities that are espoused to lead to such health and vitality.
In respect to your breakdown of O6/O3 and such, I tend to agree (see my previous posts on nuts). Not a big deal when gotten from real food. Then again I also make an effort to eat sardines, bivalves, and other seafood because I find the "theory" of these foods being an important part of our past and current genetic makeup compelling. They provide DHA and iodine and things not found in large quantity in land animals.
As you know, there is a wide variety of "human" diets. There is this http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/71/3/682.full?ijkey=KPJ8NPKvC6lVQ. Then there is this "There are a number of striking things about the data once you sum them up. First of all, diet composition varied widely. Many groups were almost totally carnivorous, with 46 getting over 85% of their calories from hunted foods. However, not a single group out of 229 was vegetarian or vegan. No group got less than 15% of their calories from hunted foods, and only 2 of 229 groups ate 76-85% of their calories from gathered foods (don't forget, "gathered foods" also includes small animals). On average, the hunter-gatherer groups analyzed got about 70% of their calories from hunted foods. This makes the case that meat-heavy omnivory is our preferred ecological niche. However, it also shows that we can thrive on a plant-rich diet containing modest amounts of quality animal foods.
The paper also discusses the nature of the plant foods hunter-gatherers ate. Although they ate a wide variety of plants occasionally, more typically they relied on a small number of staple foods with a high energy density. There's a table in the paper that lists the most commonly eaten plant foods. "Vegetables" are notably underrepresented. The most commonly eaten plant foods are fruit, underground storage organs (tubers, roots, corms, bulbs), nuts and other seeds. Leaves and other low-calorie plant parts were used much less frequently. "
I bolded what I find to be the relevant points, and in a society where we have an overindulgence of well EVERYTHING I think the "displacement theory" of vegetables just crowding out worse choices is quite likely.
on September 28, 2012
at 12:59 PM
" doesn't it seem kind of arrogant and/or naive to think that we can actually plan out the diet that is ideal for us. It seems more like the play the hand you've been dealt as best as you can, not go through the deck manually and choose the best hand yourself. "
Not yet, anyway (perhaps in the near future).
To continue with your analogy, the most important consideration is to be able to read the hand you've been dealt. Alas, we're playing by the light of a very feeble candle at present.
on September 26, 2012
at 09:06 PM
It's all really just a template. None of us is going to eat exactly like any hunter-gatherer or traditional culture, existing now or in the past. We can only take an approximation of what we see them doing and try it out on ourselves. Or we can use our scientific methods to try and isolate nutrients and come up with theories. All of this has limitations. None of this guarantees you are practicing a diet that will ensure you the greatest longevity and the greatest health. Those two things may not even go together for all we know. Applying labels like "optimal" or "perfect health" to these things is just marketing.
on September 26, 2012
at 06:51 PM
Now, when you venture into the world of optimal, you have a problem. This has been staked out by low-carbers. Smack in the middle of the carbohydrate victory dance in paleoland, Feinman comes up with something like this: Suddenly Last Summer: The Triumph of Carbohydrate Restriction. Then there is Peter, with his proton series. That guy keeps stretching my brain. He actually eats the Optimal diet. The Optimal diet is a very high fat diet created by Dr. Kwasniewski.
You can't really get to optimal from paleo; in fact the most solid paleo perspective is that we can't really have an optimal diet because if we 'optimize' we eat the same thing all the time and lose variation. You've already noticed the problem with being paleo and yet trying to avoid fructose.
So, you have to have another paradigm in which to decide optimal. If you've got an argument based on biochemistry you can argue for an optimal diet because, presumably, some basic principles apply to all mitochondria everywhere. From the anthropological perspective, you can't argue for an optimal diet because of the variation of diet among ancient populations and the various differences they would experience through their lives.
on September 26, 2012
at 06:21 PM
Optimal diets vary from Kitavans to Inuit to Masai and even the WAPF Swiss Alpiners (goat milk, goat cheese, goat and rye bread - think Heidi). I don't think any particular diet is optimal beyond avoiding toxic things, especially avioding the modern industrial toxic food products. But fixing individuals with particular metabolic problems (like my T2 diabetes) or other diseases may require certain diets that are more restrictive than just an ancestral diet. Optimal for me is likely to be different than someone who is not a T2.
Honey is probably fine in the absence of high omega-6 intake, such as what you would get from a typical American diet. But honey is not an option for me (at least for now or in anything more than a very small amount).
on September 26, 2012
at 06:43 PM
I appreciate your perspective - it is really easy to latch onto a concept and follow it religiously as if it is the end all answer. In reality, a more appropriate answer is that it depends on many variables, including genetics and what foods are readily available and appropriate for each culture. For example, in first world countries there have been so many different types of foods shipped in during the last century that we have an interesting situation, one in theory where we can choose any combination of foods we would like to eat. This may be opposed to what many varying world cultures would have developed on, e.g. the Masai tribe or the Inuit peoples, who have a limited group of 2-4 staples in their diets. Who knows, this could be influencing our health as our genetics haven't yet adapted (as you mentioned) to this variety. Even societies that we see as thriving on a certain diet likely have their own issues (like the Inuit and bleeding, as you mentioned). There are many scenarios like this that make it difficult if not impossible to determine the "perfect diet" for everyone.
on September 28, 2012
at 02:01 AM
I have an issue with your question because it shows a lack of understanding of evolutionary principals.
You write: "Won't it take at least a few generations of current paleo-people eating that diet and mating with each other before we select out unfavorable genes and genetic mutations can occur which are adaptable to said diet?"
It doesn't take a few generations to adapt to a diet. If it did, we would all be well-adapted to grain, legumes and dairy. Hell, our kids would even be adapted to high fructose corn syrup. This is not how evolution works. Yes, some mutations and adaptations happen quickly in evolutionary time -10-100 generations might cement a particularly advantageous gene. But evolution is a very slow in general. Some evolutionists believe that evolution proceeds extremely slowly most of the time with occasional "quick spurts" of adaption. But even these quick spurts are measured over hundreds or even thousands of years.
So whether our highly scientific version of the Paleo diet is optimal or not, we will not adapt to it in 2-3 generations. Our great grandchildren will not be genetically different from our grandparents. That's why we are Paleo in the first place. Because our bodies are pretty much the same as the bodies of hunter gathers from 20,000 years ago.
But that said, I thought your points about the "optimal diet" were quite interesting and thought-provoking.
on September 26, 2012
at 11:13 PM
Good question...but I have a feeling you aren't really asking but are rather ranting out loud. Given some of your other posts, it seems you're about as laxed as paleo can get....apparently eating rye bread and nuts daily.
I understand exactly what you are getting at- paleo has gone way overboard in trying to find the ideal or perfect diet, when really the theory of it all is in direct contradiction with what history seems to suggest.
I can read between the lines, and your smug "question" does not fly over my head!
on September 26, 2012
at 06:15 PM
But, here's my last two rants about the word "optimal"