“Eat real food: recently living plants and animals.” – Paul Jaminet, PhD, The Perfect Health Diet
No matter how hard we try, we cannot out-smart millions of years of evolution.
Our modern society has grown increasingly fat and sick because we are at odds, from a lifestyle and most certainly a dietary standpoint, with the expectations of our hunter-gatherer genes.
The premise of the Paleo diet is that foods hunted and gathered by our ancient ancestors represent the healthiest human diet, while foods produced agriculturally and industrially are harmful to health and well-being.
Ironically, with all of our advances in science, healthcare, and our societal reduction of infectious diseases, science still points to the Paleolithic era as the healthiest era in human history.
Unearthed Paleolithic skeletons have shown that humans of that era were incredibly healthy, even by our modern standards.
The skeletons’ statures were tall, while cavities and signs of malnourishment were rare. Muscle attachments were strong and there was a general absence of skeletal infections or malignancy.
However, anthropologic evidence shows that after the advent of agriculture, human statures shortened, muscles weakened, and cavities and osteoporosis became commonplace.
The “Neolithic Decline” was brought about by the introduction of grains as the staple of the human diet.
Continuing into modern times, agricultural products and industrially processed foods have become the centerpiece of our diets, and as a result, we have become fatter, sicker, and more plagued by “diseases of civilization” (i.e., obesity, diabetes, cancer) than at any other point in human history.
“Hunter-gatherers practiced the most successful and longest-lasting life style in human history. In contrast, we’re still struggling with the mess into which agriculture has tumbled us, and it’s unclear whether we can solve it.” – Jared Diamond, UCLA Evolutionary Biologist
If our Paleolithic ancestors were bigger, stronger, and less encumbered by diet and lifestyle-created diseases, why not look to them to find the diet for optimal human health?
What Did We Eat?
Fossil evidence shows that our ancestors lived in open, grassy land, as opposed to trees like our ape cousins. This means our food supply came open grasslands as well.
Isotope signatures on the fossilized bones of our ancestors point to a diet that consisted of starchy tubers, animals (not just muscle meat, but organs, bone marrow, etc.), and other gatherable plant foods.
Studies also point to fatty animal foods, including omega-3 rich seafood, as a primary driver of the increase in human brain size during the Paleolithic.
In essence, the true Paleo diet was a high-fat, low carbohydrate diet, with the bulk of calories coming from animal foods and most of the weight coming from plant foods.
Very different from the highly-refined carbohydrate and processed sugar diet most Americans consume today.
Why We Cannot Separate Ourselves from our Stone Age Ancestors
To understand why the Paleo diet is the optimal human diet, we must understand how long we’ve actually been on this Earth.
Lasting for 2.6 million years, the Paleolithic era lasted so long that human beings, through evolution, became highly optimized for the conditions (and inputs such as available foods, sun exposure, movement, etc.) of the Paleolithic environment.
The key point here is that the Paleolithic lasted one hundred thousand generations, while there have only been five hundred generations since the dawn of agriculture.
Let that one sink in.
There simply has not been enough time from an evolutionary perspective for human beings to adapt to our “new” agricultural diets and lifestyles.
Furthermore, when you consider the fact that there have maybe been one to two generations of human beings eating a diet primarily composed of industrially processed foods and commercially refined sugars and carbohydrates, you can see that we are really playing with fire (no pun intended).
So what are the key takeaways here?
Even with all of the scientific evidence, the Paleo Diet just makes intuitive sense. If we have evolved for one hundred thousand generations eating only what we could hunt and gather from the Earth, then how could we expect to be healthy after one generation of eating processed foods?
The key to optimal health is eating real food.
This means lots of phytonutrient rich vegetables, fatty animal products, in-ground starches, nuts, seeds, berries, and other low-carb plants.
“A low-carb, high-plant, meat, and fat based diet is a healthful human diet.” – Paul Jaminet, PhD, The Perfect Health Diet
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“The Perfect Health Diet” by Paul Jaminet, PhD and Shou Ching Jaminet, PhD
Scientific evidence related to the article:
Holt BM, Formicola V. Hunters of the Ice Age: The biology of Upper Paleolithic people. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 2008;suppl 47:70–99, http://pmid.us/19003886. Formicola V, Giannecchini M. 1999. Evolutionary trends of stature in Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic Europe. Journal of Human Evolution1999 Mar;36(3):319–33, http://pmid.us/10074386. Brennan, MU. Health and disease in the Middle and Upper Paleolithic of southwestern France: a bioarchaeological study. PhD dissertation, New York University, 1991.
Anagnostis A. The palaeopathological evidence: indicators of stress of the Shanidar Proto-Neolithic and the Ganj-Dareh Tepe early Neolithic human skeletal collections. Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1989. Summary in Mithen S. After the ice: a global human history, 20,000–5000 BC. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004, p. 424.
Hardy BL, Moncel MH. Neanderthal use of fish, mammals, birds, starchy plants and wood 125–250,000 years ago. PLoS One 2011;6(8):e23768, http://pmid.us/21887315.
Richards MP, Trinkaus E. Out of Africa: modern human origins special feature: isotopic evidence for the diets of European Neanderthals and early modern humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2009 Sep
Ben-Dor M et al. Man the fat hunter: the demise of Homo erectus and the emergence of a new hominin lineage in the Middle Pleistocene (ca. 400 kyr) Levant. PLoS One 2011;6(12):e28689, http://pmid.us/22174868.