5

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Ancestral foods that aren't paleo vs paleo foods that aren't ancestral.

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created June 07, 2013 at 3:53 PM

So this is something I have a hard time reconciling.

There are those that advocate the practice of following traditional diet practices in line with one's own ancestry. But, according to paleo, many of those food staples in a given traditional diet are not technically "paleo," and therefore we're not actually evolved enough to effectively process them.

However, this is where I have a hang up. Despite that, many standard paleo staples could very well have never been even remotely in some people's ancestry, but because it's technically paleo, we are somehow then evolved enough to eat it? That's a hard sell to me.

For instance, I'm a mix of French and German on my father's side, and "Anglo-Saxon" (i.e. Germanic tribes who migrated to Britain in the 5th century ) on my mother's side. Dietary staples were dairy, poultry, game meat, pork, beef, fish, berries, nuts, honey, vegetables, wheat, rye, oats, and potatoes. It only took 7,000 years to develop a tolerance for dairy in adult hood, and it is likely that my family (and many other Europeans) descent directly from some of the first agriculturalists. Isn't the paleo diet then just an unnecessarily restrictive diet for many people, particularly those of European descent? *Aren't some staples actually going against what we're adapted to eat even more so than supposed "mal-adaptation" to grains and dairy?* For instance, coconut oil would never have been a part of my diet. Like never. Neither would sweet potatoes, which were only developed 5,000 years ago in Central America. Yet, coconut oil and sweet potatoes are both touted as the ideal plant fat and starch (if you eat it). Avocado's would be another example.

Traditional diets were all quite nutritious. If they weren't, it wouldn't be any traditional diet, as it wouldn't have survived the test of time. How is then thatcertain paleo miracle foods would have never been a part of my traditional diet, but I'm somehow more equipped to handle these than my own familie's Ancesteral diet staples that aren't technically under the label "paleo?"

Does that make sense. It's long so I don't mind if you haven't read fully through, but i'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on this topic and how you reconcile for what to me seems like a break from common sense.

(I think I have a fairly flexible metabolism, as I can eat sweet potatoes and limited quantities of coconut oil with no problem, but I just as well can eat limited quantities of oats, wheat, and rye with no problem either.... I also find that Paleo as a movement is somewhat patronizing at best and downright condescending at it's worst towards Traditional diets, most of which depended upon starch calories (often from grains) in order to survive. it wasn't thought of as insalubrious to one's health in any way (brown rice for Samurais, white rice for most of Asia, potatoes for Ireland, etc).

5cb72179fcddcee6a6b570dc80269a1a

(78)

on June 08, 2013
at 03:37 PM

But don't get me wrong, the Paleo template or Archevore or whatever you wanna call it is the right approach to healthy living. Northern Euro's avoiding dairy or whatever sounds lame to me. Unless they're lactose intolerant. Which would be rare.

5cb72179fcddcee6a6b570dc80269a1a

(78)

on June 08, 2013
at 03:28 PM

I too believe that the paleo diet is unnecessarily restrictive to those particularly of European descent. The human body has made adaptive responses within the very large gap of time that some Paleo leaders suggest nothing occurred. Most people would be better off without dairy, grains etc... But I bet eating whole foods including grains, dairy etc for CERTAIN ethnicities would have virtually no negative impact in my opinion. A scientist can probably swoop in with a bunch of data to prove me wrong but again dairy and alcohol are relatively safe for some. These are genetic adaptations.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on June 08, 2013
at 01:43 AM

haha, I bet that does. still not back to barbell exercises but I will keep that in mind.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 07, 2013
at 07:14 PM

btw CD, if you're looking for a good ab workout that doesn't involve crunches (isn't everyone?), try that leg workout I just mentioned except make them front squats instead of traditional and keep rest between sets as low as possible for you to still meet the rep range requirements. Killer.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 07, 2013
at 06:54 PM

Can you and CD consolidate your answers so I can check mark them both? That bit about mother and water is a neat factoid. And yeah, I've heard that about Naples, but I thought the ancient Greeks invented it, not Italians.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 07, 2013
at 06:38 PM

Great answer. That part starting at "paleo at it's most basic form" and on is a great summation of how I feel, especially that part about being modern humans with modern needs. For instance, while squatting is inherently a very primal movement pattern, Squatting wwith a loaded bar for 10x10, then 5x5, then 3x3 for a leg workout is not, and would require something other than berries and meat to recover from.

Medium avatar

(389)

on June 07, 2013
at 06:03 PM

I would certainly classify it as that. That is essentially what we are doing.

4610451431ec7155c87a5698be682a95

(1122)

on June 07, 2013
at 05:52 PM

Excellent summation.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on June 07, 2013
at 05:33 PM

there are other roots and tubers that they would have had access to.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 07, 2013
at 04:41 PM

Thanks for the clarification. So, then grains I'm even more adapted to grains than i am to sweet potatoes or potatoes. Even Otzi had wheat in his teeth.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 07, 2013
at 04:39 PM

Thanks. So grains are more paleo than potatoes or sweet potatoes. Even Otzi had wheat in his teeth.

4610451431ec7155c87a5698be682a95

(1122)

on June 07, 2013
at 04:38 PM

Maybe just rely on whole foods and keep fingers crossed?

Ebb10603524dd22621c1155dd7ddf106

(19150)

on June 07, 2013
at 04:32 PM

Potatoes (and sweet potatoes as you mentioned) came from the Americas, so your ancestors wouldn't have had either until the 1500s or so. ;-)

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 07, 2013
at 04:32 PM

Then should paleo properly be called an Elimination Diet? That's what it seems like to me.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 07, 2013
at 04:31 PM

Yeah I agree with the tolerating doesn't mean optimal. But, my point is that just because it's paleo likely doesn't mean it's optimal either, no matter how "scientifically" healthy it may be (ex: coconut oil it's alleged health benefits). I also think it's impossible to find what's optimal, given the infinite number of options available when it comes to what you put in your body, when, and in what portions. I'm saying there are quite possible diminishing returns to going paleo for the sake of paleo, particularly if of European descent.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 07, 2013
at 04:17 PM

And neither did I say that paleo was the be all end all. this hasn't been helpful or insightful.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 07, 2013
at 04:15 PM

Right I agree with the former, not at all the later. I'm pretty sure mostly every paleo guru started out by saying it was. That grains are making us sick and are the cause of all modern western disease.

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7 Answers

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7
3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on June 07, 2013
at 05:59 PM

I'm more of a macro and quality guy. I really don't buy into the ancestral eating for foods to consume. I think most of us are mutts at this point and thus ancestral eating is not very helpful.

I definitely DO belivee we should look into ancestral patterns for foods to avoid:

from:medicalcenter.osu.edu/patientcare/healthcare_services/digestive_disorders/lactose_intolerance/Pages/index.aspx

  • Seventy-five percent of all African-American, Jewish, Mexican-American, and Native American adults are lactose intolerant.
  • Ninety percent of Asian-American adults are lactose intolerant.
  • Lactose intolerance is least common among people with a northern European heritage.

Obviously there is a link there, and if I were Asian, African, Jewish, etc -- I would probably avoid milk, at least I would be restrictive in the beginning.

But what we should eat should be based upon out lifestyle and physical health. You are young, healthy, and active. That gives you a lot more leeway when eating on the margins. For people who are severely overweight (as I was 6 years ago) or people with medical conditions, there's very little room to stray. For people like me, who were sick and morbidly obese, there is true value in focusing on minimally processed natural foods.

Paleo, at it's most basic form, is one of two things:

  1. An elimination diet that helps people understand what foods they tolerate
  2. A philosophy of looking at diet through an evolutionary lens to help guide modern humans in determining what to eat.

I think sometimes people get too caught up in the romance of the "Grok" ideal and forget that we are not cavemen, we are modern humans and need to focus on what works for us now -- not some isotope analysis of dental remains of a long-distance ancestor.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 07, 2013
at 07:14 PM

btw CD, if you're looking for a good ab workout that doesn't involve crunches (isn't everyone?), try that leg workout I just mentioned except make them front squats instead of traditional and keep rest between sets as low as possible for you to still meet the rep range requirements. Killer.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 07, 2013
at 06:38 PM

Great answer. That part starting at "paleo at it's most basic form" and on is a great summation of how I feel, especially that part about being modern humans with modern needs. For instance, while squatting is inherently a very primal movement pattern, Squatting wwith a loaded bar for 10x10, then 5x5, then 3x3 for a leg workout is not, and would require something other than berries and meat to recover from.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on June 08, 2013
at 01:43 AM

haha, I bet that does. still not back to barbell exercises but I will keep that in mind.

4
4610451431ec7155c87a5698be682a95

(1122)

on June 07, 2013
at 04:25 PM

Not an answer, but can we speculate what MAXIMUM life span would have been pre/post agriculture? Just because a diet is adapted and adopted by a certain culture doesn't necessarily mean its best. SAD for example.

Tolerating certain foods also doesn't really mean they're optimal.

Simply typing out loud here.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 07, 2013
at 04:31 PM

Yeah I agree with the tolerating doesn't mean optimal. But, my point is that just because it's paleo likely doesn't mean it's optimal either, no matter how "scientifically" healthy it may be (ex: coconut oil it's alleged health benefits). I also think it's impossible to find what's optimal, given the infinite number of options available when it comes to what you put in your body, when, and in what portions. I'm saying there are quite possible diminishing returns to going paleo for the sake of paleo, particularly if of European descent.

4610451431ec7155c87a5698be682a95

(1122)

on June 07, 2013
at 04:38 PM

Maybe just rely on whole foods and keep fingers crossed?

4
Medium avatar

(389)

on June 07, 2013
at 04:19 PM

"Paleo" is a good starting point for most people. It is broad and restrictive, in the sense it eliminates the majority of foods that cause most people's problems today. Where you take it from there is entirely up to you and what your body can handle.

Medium avatar

(389)

on June 07, 2013
at 06:03 PM

I would certainly classify it as that. That is essentially what we are doing.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 07, 2013
at 04:32 PM

Then should paleo properly be called an Elimination Diet? That's what it seems like to me.

3
Ebb10603524dd22621c1155dd7ddf106

(19150)

on June 07, 2013
at 05:25 PM

Like modern languages originating from few (or even one) mother tongue, "ancestral diets" are descended from (one of many) hypothetical paleolithic era diets.

Accepting that hypothesis for now, we can find core words or core foods that are similar in all ancestral diets - the words for water or mother tend to be similar, for example, and similarly we can find that ancestral diets all seek out and include animal flesh, regardless of how much the amount varied and how difficult it was to acquire.

Researching hypothetical "mother tongues" is interesting and informs us about our modern languages ... but no one speaks them - they are deader than Latin. In terms of replicating an actual paleo diet, we would find it impossible - few to none of the components for any given paleolithic era diet no longer exist.

What we do have with "paleo", though, is a template to apply to our ancestral and modern diets for study and then application. This can be compared to a researcher studying a "mother tongue" and then applying that knowledge in some scholarly way -- for e.g. historically connecting two hypothetical tribes of people on different sides of a continent by language analysis.

My ancestors were Italians - some Estruscan seafarer types on my dad's side, some mountain trolls & Alp-dwellers on my mother's. So, part of our ancestral diets may have been similar: plenty of ancient ibex and mammoth ... bu there's no way we're getting food from those animals today, so we do what we can to apply that into the template of how we eat.

There is no one correct diet - that's one thing I know. Even ancestral diet practices that make certain foods less troublesome than they are in their natural forms (e.g. fermented legumes or vegetables), have nothing to negate the effects of allergies once allergies present themselves.

An Italian with bonafide gluten sensitive enteropathy issues almost makes me a pariah at my extended family get togethers. Honestly, they find it even weirder that I don't eat wheat than when I was vegetarian years ago!

The Italians in Naples (not quite my countrymen) invented pizza, for e.g. It took Americans to really take and own the pizza for it to become the monstrosity we know it as. This version of pizza introduced itself back to Italy. Now because of things like this (and many, many, many other reasons) Naples has a higher incidence of childhood obesity than America -- 40% by calculations I've seen. Crazy!

I bring this up because ancestral diets do not protect us completely from the deleterious effects of the certain foods that they may make safer. I wouldn't define an "ancestral diet" as "nutritious" by default -- honestly, I would define it as "adequate" in most cases. When I imagine mainland Europe for the millennia before the West traveled to the new world, I think "porridge" - completely adequate, completely gross. Heck, we didn't even breed modern carrots or strawberries until after the 1600s!

What I do is this: I apply "paleo" to all my food choices, albeit in a general way -- be it meat-on-the-bone I'm throwing on the grill or some near molecular-gastronomy creation I'm attempting to make. What I take from ancestral diets is the knowledge how to prepare and flavor the food choices that I've made in wondrous ways. I suppose most of my cooking has become "global fusion" in a sense ... bluefish-fiddlehead-coconut-mustardseed curry? Yeah, that wasn't on any ancestral diet meal plan. ;-)

My 2??. Cheers!

4610451431ec7155c87a5698be682a95

(1122)

on June 07, 2013
at 05:52 PM

Excellent summation.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 07, 2013
at 06:54 PM

Can you and CD consolidate your answers so I can check mark them both? That bit about mother and water is a neat factoid. And yeah, I've heard that about Naples, but I thought the ancient Greeks invented it, not Italians.

2
7bf306ada57db47547e9da39a415edf6

(11214)

on June 07, 2013
at 07:20 PM

Generally speaking, what's in these paleo, but not necessarily ancestral foods, are things that we are adapted to. Lauric acid, MCTs, starch, even the dreaded fructose. We are adapted to those things, even if our ancestors never had access to the original plant.

So, when the neolithic came, many of us have anscestors who were exposed early to it. I guess the assumption here is that since we've had wheat around longer, maybe we are more adapted to it. Maybe, but this sort of argument works a lot better for milk, since we've only got to leave an adaption that was already on in infancy on during our lifetime.

But here's the real deal- both of these approaches are only so helpful. I am pretty sure you can hurt yourself with your very own ancestral foods, and if I eat extra virgin coconut oil I can get very, very sick. We've got a general framework, but then we've got to turn to somebody like Matt Lalonde for the biochemistry. The simple example is butter. We could say anathema, since it comes from dairy, but it is mostly just animal fat, and we know animal fat is good. Since animal fat is good, both for the guy who's ancestors have never seen a cow, and for the milkman's children, then butter is probably good for both too.

1
Fce356005a83353009c11567c217a9bd

on June 08, 2013
at 02:11 AM

Label it what you will, Paleo or the Elimination Diet or Eating Clean or the Ancestral Diet or the Anti-inflammation Diet, but ultimately I think we can all agree that some modern foods cause issues for some subsets of the population; and we are all on a quest to find a lifestyle (including our diets) that results in optimal health. I am gluten intolerant (non-celiac) where another may be lactose intolerant. No doubt my ancestors had little to no access to today's 18 inch tall modern day grain engineered to produce more gluten.

Every movement had its zealots, Paleo is no exception. At the end of the day, find out what works for you. I agree with August, some of us are better adapted to certain foods. Start by eliminating those foods known to cause issues, attain near optimal health, then add those foods one-by-one; excepting those you know are problematic. Observe. Eliminate that food if it causes problems. Then, we can focus our energies on what really matters: Improving the quality of available foods, to include full disclosure about GMO, CAFOs, and the like.

0
8ce8b8fd33944e67dfd6277e7b671815

(327)

on June 07, 2013
at 04:10 PM

If you feel like you can tolerate those things then go ahead and eat them, no one is saying that paleo is the end all be all of food.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 07, 2013
at 04:17 PM

And neither did I say that paleo was the be all end all. this hasn't been helpful or insightful.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 07, 2013
at 04:15 PM

Right I agree with the former, not at all the later. I'm pretty sure mostly every paleo guru started out by saying it was. That grains are making us sick and are the cause of all modern western disease.

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