Now before everyone kicks off and accuses me of knocking the Paleo diet, that’s not what this video is about. It simply compares the modern day interpretation of the Paleo diet to what the Paleolithic man would actually have eaten. This video is a TED Talk by research associate Christina Warriner, who works in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma. The video is 22 minutes long, but it’s packed full of really interesting research and findings. She goes on to explain why the version of the Paleo diet that is promoted in popular books, and the majority of the media has no basis in archaeological reality. She then does a little bit of myth busting by comparing the diets of Paleolithic man from what they do know from records and research. Here are just a few of them:
Eating large quantities of meat
Most Paleo diets include a lot of lean and healthy meat sources such as fish, grass fed beef as well as the naturally occurring animal fats. But she states that “humans have no known anatomical, physiological, or genetic adaptations to meat consumption”. In fact, we have many adaptations towards plant consumption. In comparison to carnivores we are unable to produce Vitamin C (we get this from plants), we have longer digestive tracts and our teeth are designed for grinding/shredding vegetation. When Paleolithic man did eat meat it would likely have been from smaller animals such as rabbits, and they would have consumed a lot of the organs and bone marrow not just the lean cuts. They would never have had huge portions from large domesticated cattle like we do today.
Not eating whole grains or legumes
Evidence has been found of simple vegetation food processing going back as far as 30,000 years ago for possible the production of flour, and this was widespread across Europe. Dental calculus even enables researchers to recover microscopic fossils from dental plaque to extract DNA from the teeth of human remains. From the early research, there appears to be an abundance of plant remains including grains and barley.
Eating food that isn’t a result of agriculture
Christina illustrates how almost every food we consume now are so different to how they would appear in the wild if they hadn’t been changed by agriculture. She uses examples of wild bananas which are full of seeds, lettuce and salad that are naturally high in latex and are very bitter, and wild brocolli is almost like a moss or grass compared to the domestic version we know. Interestingly many Paelo diets recommend eating a good variety of foods, but this are naturally found in locations all around the world so Paleolithic man wouldn’t have had access to all of them. Because of this Paleolithic diets would have varied wildly depending on their locality and the available food sources; there wouldn’t be one diet that could be considered a Paleo diet.
What does this all mean?
The modern Paelo diet can be a good and healthy diet, but Christina highlights three valuable lessons to consider that we can apply to our lives today.
1. Food diversity
We require lots of vitamins and nutrients, and so diversity is the key. Typically, processed foods in a supermarket are made up of three main ingredients including corn, soy and wheat. This means in most cases we are actually limiting ourselves to a very small range of foods.
2. Eat fresh, ripe foods that are in season
Because we live in such a large society, it is sometimes not possible to eat only fresh foods. Foods spoil, and so need to be preserved in some way to prevent bacterial growth that breaks them down. We have a lot of naturally occurring bacteria in our digestive system which require healthy balance, and the truth is that we don’t know what effect eating a lot of processed foods will have on this system.
3. Eating whole foods
We are evolved to eat whole foods, even the parts we can’t digest as it modulates the digestive process. When foods are processed, even things considered healthy like fresh orange juice, can become very unhealthy because our bodies aren’t designed to have such high amounts of i.e. sugar without the supporting fibre. She uses an analogy to illustrate this point, where she takes a 1 litre bottle of soda and compares the amount of sugar in it to the equivalent of eating 8.5 feet of sugar cane to get the same amount, which would be almost impossible.
I’m sure this will likely cause some controversy, so please feel to comment below. You can also find out more about Christina Warriner from her website, here: http://christinawarinner.com/