Friday, March 28, 2014

"True Paleo Diet"? We Don't Know

The anthropological record provides a framework for further examination of nutritional science; it does not prescribe a diet. It gives us somewhere to start so we’re not flailing blind men dropped off in the middle of a strange city. That is why we’re interested in what early humans ate (and didn’t eat).
It may surprise you to know that I think the first assertion is absolutely right. We don’t know exactly what our ancestors were eating. There are no pleistocene food journal entries scrawled on a cave wall someplace, and many of the primary sources we can access – phytoliths (which indicate the presence of vegetal material) and stable carbon/nitrogen isotopes (which indicate the source of dietary protein) – require analysis and interpretation, thus becoming secondary sources. If you thought food frequency questionnaires were unreliable, try figuring out if the phytoliths found on Neanderthal dentition originated from the direct consumption of plants or the consumption of fermenting plant inside a recently hunted animal’s stomach, or whether the isotope analysis of African hominins from a few million years ago indicate diets high in grass seeds or diets high in grass seed-eating herbivores.
However, we absolutely do know what early humans did not eat:
We know these things because these foods either didn’t exist until the late 1880s (seed oils like corn) or only graduated from expensive luxury item to widely-used staple food in the 1700s (white sugar).
As to the second claim, of course there is no one true ancestral diet with a strictly curated, specific list of dietary DOs and DON’Ts. Humans have managed to populate every barely hospitable nook and cranny of this planet. If living things grow, slither, crawl, flap, swim, or otherwise reside there, we will set up shop in order to eat them.

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We also didn't eat modern wheat and it's processed products (bread, bagels, breakfast cereals, etc), nor did we dress up the old variants of wheat in so many processing steps nor consume it under a pile of sugar.  And when we did eat primarily wheat/grains, we got short and fat, bad bones and bad teeth, and other nastiness.

This is why I like the idea of the paleolithic model of nutrition, not a blind devotion to "paleo".  Some neolithic foods have little impact on some people - I can eat cheese and feel great, for example.

Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, little fruit/starch, no sugar/wheat/industrial oils.

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