Paleolithic diet

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Paleolithic-style dish: Seafood stew

The modern diet known as the Paleolithic diet (abbreviated paleo diet or paleodiet), also called the caveman diet, Stone Age diet and hunter-gatherer diet, is a way of eating. It is based on the wild plants and animals that it is thought that the human species ate during the Paleolithic era. This was a period about 2.5 million years long that ended around 10,000 years ago, when people began farming.[1] The term "Paleolithic diet" can also refer to what people actually ate back then instead of the diet today.[2][3] Meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, roots, and nuts make up most of the modern Paleolithic diet. It does not include grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugar, and processed oils.[2][4][5]

Walter L. Voegtlin first made the modern Paleolithic diet popular in the 1970s.[6][7] Authors and researchers recommended and changed the diet in several books and academic journals.[8] Paleolithic nutrition is based on the idea in evolution that modern humans are genetically adapted to the way their Paleolithic ancestors ate, and that human genetics have not changed much since people began growing their own food. Therefore a good way of eating today would be like how people ate then.[5][9] People who say this diet is good say that people today who eat food like of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers do not have as many diseases.[10][11] and that two studies of the Paleolithic diet in humans have shown good things for people's health.[12]

This way of eating is controversial among nutritionists[13][14] and anthropologists.[8][15] People who do not think this is a good way of eating have argued that if hunter gatherer societies did not suffer from certain diseases, this was because they ate food with fewer calories, or for other reasons.[16] Some researchers do not think the reason for the diet (based on evolution) makes sense.[16][17][18] They disagree with parts of the diet and think that they do not help people's health or could even be bad for health.[16][17] They also say it may not be how people really ate in the Paleolithic era.[18][19]

History[change | change source]

A doctor, Walter L. Voegtlin, was one of the first people to say that following a diet similar to that of the Paleolithic era might make a person's health better.[7] In 1975, he published a book[6] in which he argued that humans are carnivorous animals and that the ancestral Paleolithic diet was that of a carnivore—chiefly fats and protein, with only small amounts of carbohydrates.[20][21] His ideas came from the way he treated things such as colitis, Crohn's disease, and indigestion.[6][22]

In 1985, S. Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner, both from Emory University, published an important paper on Paleolithic nutrition in the New England Journal of Medicine,[23] which made more people know about the idea.[24] Three years later, S. Boyd Eaton, Marjorie Shostak and Melvin Konner published a book about this way of eating.[25] The book was about having the same proportions of fat, protein, and carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals as people near the end of the Paleolithic era ate. The book did not say that people should not eat foods that were not available before people started farming, such as skimmed milk, whole-grain bread, brown rice, and potatoes prepared without fat.[20][26][27] In 1989, these authors published a second book on Paleolithic nutrition.[28][29]

Starting in 1989, Swedish medical doctor and scientist Staffan Lindeberg did scientific studies of people living on Kitava, one of the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea. These studies, called the Kitava Study, found that these people apparently did not suffer from stroke, ischemic heart disease, diabetes, obesity or hypertension. Starting with the first publication in 1993,[30] the Kitava Study has led to science writings on whether diseases in Western countries are caused by what people eat.[31] In 2003, Lindeberg wrote a Swedish language medical textbook on the subject.[32] In 2010, this book was changed, updated, and published for the first time in English. The 2010 book[33] is written for both experts and regular people, and uses science to say that people should use the Paleolithic diet.

Practices[change | change source]

Paleolithic-style dish: Roast pork with cooked and raw vegetables and fruit.

Foods that can be hunted and fished, such as meat, offal and seafood, and that can be gathered, such as eggs, insects, fruit, nuts, seeds, vegetables, mushrooms, herbs and spices make up the Paleolithic diet.[2][4] Some books say that people doing the Paleolithic diet should only eat lean cuts of meat without food additives, and that meats from wild animals and beef from cattle that ate grass are best because they have more omega-3 fats than with grain-produced domestic meats.[2][4][34] They don't eat food that they don't think was eaten before people began farming. This includes grains, legumes (e.g. beans and peanuts), dairy products, salt, refined sugar and processed oils.[2][4] Some supporters think they can use cooking oils with low omega-6 or omega-3 ratios, such as olive oil and canola oil because it is healthy. People following a Paleolithic diet mostly drink water, although some also drink tea. Alcoholic and fermented beverages are not part of the diet.[4] Also, eating many different types of plant food is recommended. Unlike raw food diets, all foods may be cooked.[2][35] However, there are also raw, paleolithic dieters who believe that humans have not changed to be able to handle cooked foods, and so they eat only foods which are both raw and paleolithic.[36][37]

According to some supporters of the Paleolithic diet, people following the diet should get about 56–65% of their food energy from animal foods, and 36–45% from plant foods. They recommend a diet with much protein and few carbohydrates, with about the same amount of fats in regular Western diets.[38][39]

Scientific reasons for the diet[change | change source]

According to S. Boyd Eaton, "we are the heirs of inherited characteristics accrued over millions of years; the vast majority of our biochemistry and physiology are tuned to life conditions that existed before the advent of agriculture some 10,000 years ago. Genetically our bodies are virtually the same as they were at the end of the Paleolithic era some 20,000 years ago."[40]

Ideas about paleolithic nutrition come from evolutionary biology.[41] The reason for eating like this is that natural selection had enough time for Paleolithic humans' bodies and metabolisms to get used to the food that they could eat then. But in the 10,000 years since people started farming, natural selection has not had enough time for people's genetics to change to get used to the new diet.[2] This has led to some diseases.[5]

More than 70% of the total daily energy consumed by all people in the United States comes from foods such as dairy products, cereals, refined sugars, refined vegetable oils and alcohol, that Paleolithic supporters say were not eaten during the Paleolithic era.[9] Supporters say that eating too many of these foods is why so many people have cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and cancer, and are obese in the US and other Western countries today.[9] However, there is evidence that Paleolithic societies may have been using cereals for food use at least as early as 23,000 years ago,[42][43] more than 100,000 years ago,[44] and perhaps as early as 200,000 years ago.[45] However, Loren Cordain has said that the new evidence shows that grains were not eaten much back then, and he has also said that eating of wild grass seeds of any kind needs technology and processing to make the food possible to eat, and that this technology was probably not around 105,000+ years ago.[46]

Disagreements[change | change source]

Not everybody agrees with evolutionary reasons behind the Paleoithic diet.[15][17][18][26] According to Alexander Ströhle, Maike Wolters and Andreas Hahn, with the Department of Food Science at the University of Hanover, saying the human genome evolved during the Pleistocene (a period from 1,808,000 to 11,550 years ago) is not based on the right beliefs about evolution.[18] They also say that 10,000 years may have been enough time for people to adapt to diets with food grown through farming.[18] For example, alleles that helped people eat dairy became common in Europe just a few thousand years after people started raising animals. There is also evidence that the diet of Stone Age humans may have had some form the refined starches and grains that are not part of the paleolithic diet. A 2010 study showed the discovery of a 30,000 year old mortar and pestle from which flour of several plants were isolated.[47]

References[change | change source]

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