Friday, October 21, 2011

The Five Failings of Paleo

Fail #1: We Don’t REALLY Know What Our Ancestors Ate
By studying the unique characteristics of the human body, modern hunter-gatherers, and our closest primate relatives, we can figure out with a high degree of accuracy what the diet of our ancestors prior to the advent of agriculture was.
In short, we are best adapted to run on two sources of fuel:
  1. Animal Fat
  2. Plant Starches
Prehistoric humans almost certainly ate a diet high in meat and vegetables, with some eggs, fruit, nuts, and seeds when available. And this is, in basic terms, the kind of diet I think most of us should eat.
But when it comes down to it, we can’t know with 100% accuracy how we ate. We have yet to find a magic phone booth that will transfer us back through time–Bill and Ted notwithstanding–to directly observe how our great-times-450-grandparents lived. Yes, we’ve found animal bones with knife scrape marks on them, and fossilized poop with plant matter, but we’ll never be able to go all National Geographic and directly study our caveman forebears in detail.
Although we clearly couldn’t have eaten dairy, grains, and legumes in large volumes, there is plenty of evidence that some of our ancestors consumed a little bit. It’s hard to believe that they disposed of the mammary glands of female aurochs when modern tribes such as the Hadza characteristically make use of every last bit of the animal.
A recent study has even suggested that we were grinding flour up to 30,000 years ago! (Shock! Horror!)
And if all that wasn’t enough, even if we knew exactly what we ate back then, most of those species of animals and plants likely no longer exist today. They have all almost certainly either:
  • Gone extinct, or
  • Drastically changed as the result of domestication.
We might have a pretty good idea of how our ancestors ate, but not a good enough idea to say that all people would be better off if they avoided grains, legumes, and dairy completely. It’s much better to test these types of food out on yourself to see how you do before you decide to completely avoid them.  The rest here