Paleo Diet Origins, Misunderstandings, and Benefits
The Birth of Paleo and Its Popularity
In his book The Stone Age Diet, published in 1975, Walter Voegtlin first penned the rituals of eating paleo. Later written works such as The Paleo Diet, The Primal Blueprint, The New Evolution Diet, and NeanderThin by other authors detailed variations of the diet. It was estimated that 1 to 3 million Americans—about one percent of the population—were following the diet in 2013, and paleo was predicted to be one of the most popular diet fads of 2014.
The Paleo Philosophy
The basic premise behind paleo is that we were designed to eat like ancient man who was presumably leaner, fitter, and less diseased than the average person is today. Paleo purports that our genes have not evolved since the introduction of agriculture 10,000 years ago and that we should, thus, return to the foods we were evolved to consume. In an attempt to follow the “caveman diet,” paleo dieters eat seeds, nuts, meats, fish, fruits, and vegetables but avoid grains, dairy, legumes, tubers, and processed foods.
Where Paleo Gets off Track
The paleo philosophy operates under a few false assumptions. First, there was no uniform caveman diet. For instance, hunter-gatherer in the Arctic would have eaten much differently from those near the equator. Additionally, archeological findings from teeth plaque demonstrate that ancient man did, in fact, consume grains, legumes, and tubers—foods that are avoided under the paleo diet.
Furthermore, the assumption that our bodies are not suited for many of today’s foods because our genes stopped evolving before the Agricultural Revolution is not entirely true. Our genes have continued to evolve since the beginning of farming. Take the case of lactose tolerance, for example. A portion of individuals in Africa and Europe evolved to tolerate lactose after their domestication of livestock and subsequent consumption of dairy, while people groups in Asia, who were not consuming dairy, did not develop this tolerance. Moreover, virtually all foods available today have been domesticated through thousands of years of agriculture and are, thus, inevitably different from what ancient man was eating.
Benefits of Eating Paleo
Although research has yet to confirm that paleo is superior to other diets, there are certainly benefits to eating paleo. Paleo promotes consumption of a variety of nutrient-rich foods and discourages consumption of preservatives and artificial ingredients. People on the paleo diet also benefit from eating whole foods, which are more fibrous and nourishing than processed foods.
Paleo, a still common diet fad, is an attempt to return to our evolutionary roots of simple, wholesome eating. While some of the assumptions of paleo are faulty, eating paleo-friendly foods such as lean meats, wild fish, fruits, and veggies certainly benefits one’s health.