T Nation

Paleolithic Nutrition

What do you guys think of the paleolithic diet? It states that man is not genetically suited to eat grains or dairy (both products of the neolithic age I guess and agriculture) Instead man is designed to eat what his hunter gatherer ancestors ate (meat,fish, vegetables, nut/seed, and fruit)

I came across this assertion while researching for a paper on ancient humans. I thought it was a pretty radical statement and wanted to know what anyone here thought.

I ABSOLUTELY 100% AGREE!!!

Of course I don’t (and can’t) totally live (yes, it is a way of life) this way and still max out my muscular developement. But, about 80% of my nutrition is paleo. I love it, I have never felt better. I rarely get sick (cold and flu) and this plan allows me more than enough fiber, nutrients, and protein to very healthy. I HIGHLY recommend it - or something close to it - eating 80-90% whole foods.

The other issue this brings up, is that I don’t know if I totally agree that dairy in general is bad for us. Rather, the problem is modern-day commercial dairy farms are getting ever more unhealthy. Between pasterization, bovine bacteria, various hormones being un-naturally intoduced, and the latest (read Fast Food Nation) is that much of livestock is getting feed pellets comprised of their sick/diseased/weak peers! While I’m on this I will also share that I also HIGHLY suggest you guys get your veggies from the nearest farmers market or Amish shop and eat indepedently raised and grass finished beef. Commercialization is hurting people like us that actually don’t eat fast food and want to be healthy the old-fashioned way - home cooked food.

Great topic,

TS

[quote]tiffy wrote:
What do you guys think of the paleolithic diet? It states that man is not genetically suited to eat grains or dairy (both products of the neolithic age I guess and agriculture) Instead man is designed to eat what his hunter gatherer ancestors ate (meat,fish, vegetables, nut/seed, and fruit)

I came across this assertion while researching for a paper on ancient humans. I thought it was a pretty radical statement and wanted to know what anyone here thought.[/quote]

It is probably quite accurate, given that a significant portion of the population is lactose intolerant. I am not sure if there is a corollory condition due to ingestion of grains. It could be that we would be ‘evolving’ towards a more lactose tolerant population.
IMHO, the diet you did mention(meat,fish, vegetables, nut/seed, and fruit)are the ingredients touted as the
archtype for bodybuilding, with the exemptions of oatmeal and cottage cheese.
Human beings have been surviving on all sorts of different foods throughout history. There was a local tv show once which featured a man who ate nothing but ‘kraft dinner’… for years… morning…noon and night… Not a diet suggested for intense labour or building muscle, but the man appeared to be quite healthy. The same could not be said for the poor sap who endured the ‘30 day Macdonalds diet’ for the documentary ‘Super size Me’.
If I may, I think the primary purpose of such a statement might be to say that our digestive systems are most ‘efficient’ in processing these foods.
peace…

I am not sure what this theory is all about as I have never read it. Although at first it sounds like it may be talking about eating too many processed foods such as white wheat flour. If this is the case then I would have to agree that excessive food processing is actually harmful in some cases. In others its probably beneficial.

If it is talking about reverting back to the days of hunting and gathering well I would have to disagree. For one - the existing landbase could’nt support the masses and I would suggest that living in those conditions was probably pretty stressful and if you survived to the ripe old age of 30 you were probably considered a grandpa or lucky.

Modern agriculture has provided us with a pretty damned good safe, consistent and cheap food supply. Yes, there are issues with the way things are going and those issues will continue to be resolved just like any other industry. Unfortunately the media gets its hands on issues and blows them out of proportion just like everything else and the consumer is fed a bunch of half truths and outright lies.

Like any supply/demand economy, agriculture provides what the consumer demands. The demand for processed flour was there and the industry responded. Prior to the major move towards wheat processing - whole wheat flour was commonplace. Beef - the consumer demand for fattened cuts of meat increased because the consumer wanted tasty, juicy steaks so the industry responded. Yes it is possible to raise cattle without the fat content in a finished product, you just have to feed them differently.

Times are changing (hopefully for the better) with respect to human nutrition and the industry will adjust to meet those demands.

PS - meat,fish, vegetables, nut/seed, and fruit are all products of agriculture. And by the way “grain” is the seed of many many plants in the grass family. Oats are a grain.

takes off farmers hat

Unfortunately, the majority of people have their demands defined by advertising.

This implies their demands are manipulated for profit instead of set according to what is best for them – assuming they might actually want what is best for them if they knew what that was.

Sigh.

Back to the topic at hand, though we need modern agriculture to support the bloated population of the planet, I’m sure eating a diet similar to what we would naturally have eaten would be good for us. Back when humans were still evolving it is what we were living on.

[quote]vroom wrote:
Unfortunately, the majority of people have their demands defined by advertising.

This implies their demands are manipulated for profit instead of set according to what is best for them – assuming they might actually want what is best for them if they knew what that was.

Sigh.[/quote]

I totally agree, but don’t forget that this phenomenum is not strictly isolated in the agriculture industry. Do we really need cell phones, ipods, etc? Nope - people got along fine without them in the past. I guess technology is a two bladed sword. On one hand it provides us with things that make life easier, more pleasant etc but in some cases this same technology can be downright harmful if abused or taken to the extreme.

I guess my main question I would have to the author of this study or paper is what specifically is different in our diet as a whole now than it was in the past? Certainly our ancestors were’nt able to enjoy the wide variety of fruits and vegetables we have access to now. I mean up in the great white north we are heading into that lovely time of year when we get smacked with all that white shit and I can walk into the grocery store and buy bananas, oranges, grapes, lettuce, spinach etc etc all winter. Somehow I don’t that our ancestors had that luxury.

Is this study saying that consumer choices are somehow restricted today? I don’t think there has been a time in history when the consuming public had such a wide variety of foods to choose from, be it krespy kremes or a healthy banana.

In my opinion the single biggest issue we face as far as “health” is concerned is the lack of consumer knowledge with respect to healthy nutrition. And I think we can all agree that you can lead the horse to water but…

Good topic, and one that I find very interesting.

Could you post a link to the study you are referring to?

There are a whole host of nutritional factors in the modern Western diet that create an evolutionary discordance - fatty acid profiles, protein, processed grains, antioxidants…the list goes on.

The omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is a good example. If you were to only eat wild food, vegetables, and whole grains, you’d have around a 1 to 1 ratio of omega-6’s to omega-3’s. Eat a bunch of vegetable oils with inflated omega-6 to omega-3 ratios and animals who were fed the same vegetable oil, and you’re cruising for obesity and heart disease.

There is a nugget of truth to the Paleo diet claims. Obviously humans did not evolve for most our history with access to grains and refined grain products. Likewise, humans didn’t (or so we think) eat beans or potatoes or other plant products that require cooking. I’m a little skeptical of the second claim as we’ve had access to fire for hundreds of thousands of years, cooking for nearly as long, and I’m sure someone figured out how to roast tubers and or use inflatable bags made from intestines/stomach to boil things in. Then there is the fact that the Jamon people in Japan were making advanced pottery by at least the end of the last ice age. But, we can more or less agree that humans would have typically had access to meat (mammal, fish, insect protein, lizards, amphibians, birds…), seasonal fruits, herbs, nuts, honey, and some leafy greens.

The Paleo diet is big on the leafy greens, and hey, that is a good thing. Problem is that most of these leafy greens are the invention of intensive selection, breeding and agricultural techniques. A majority of our veggies are derived from a single genus, Brassica–brocolli, mustard greens, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts, kolrhabi, rutabaga, bok choi, and oil sources like canola and rapeseed. Your wild Brassica looks like a weed. I don’t think people were chomping on them like salads. Its one of the amazing advances in human history that some geniuses shaped an unimpressive weed into so many different types of edible plants. My point here is that most of what we consider our green veggies would not have been recognizable as such during most of human evolution. If there were big leafy things growing big herbivores would have eaten them before we got to them. So we evolved occassionally munching on a juicy weed at best.

I would think a great deal of our diet pre-agriculture was a lot of insect protein, scavenged meat, rotten fruits, nuts, and the occassional starch rich tuber. It wasn’t some grass fed bovine and a bowl of blueberries. Oh yeah, the Paleo guys go on and on about berries. Yeah, berries are great. Ever seen a wild strawberry? Nothing to write home about. And they taste like crap. Again, berries are mostly the result of agriculture. We certainly had a varied diet but not varied like taking a stroll down the produce isle and having access to 40 or 50 varieties of modern veggies and fruits.

There is another problem with the Paleo diet hypothesis. I’d be willing to wager that there was hard selection on human populations during the transition to agriculture. 10,000 years is not a lot of evolutionary time for a large mammal. That said, we’ve had rudimentary agriculture basically since about the end of the last glacial period and civilization didn’t really appear until, oh, maybe 6,000 years ago. If we assume the roots of agriculture, e.g. simple horticulturalists, began at the end of the glacial period, that’s about 5-6,000 years of experimentation with agriculture. Obviously there was a learning curve involved because we didn’t get big cities until what, like 4000 B.C. or thereabouts. You get big cities because you get good at agriculture. I would think there was then both humans selecting on the right plants to grow and how to grow them and, essentially, plants selecting on humans that could live on them well. Say 6,000 B.C. you would still need to be in good shape to survive. Metabolic disorders, food allergies and the like would have a survival cost in an environment where physical fitness was at a premium. Which is my roundabout way of saying that grains, while potentially problematic, are something we’ve had over 10,000 years to adapt to. And really, an oat is no more foreign in that sense than a blueberry or brocolli.

The bottom line is that the Paleo diet, while based on some sound dietary principles (e.g. high protein, low simple refined grain carbs, high complex vegetable carbs and fibers, high in fruits, healthy fats), is based on a Luddite fantasy wherein our ancestors had access to arugula and spinach salads, walnuts, flax seed, salmon, blueberries and apples. In reality they were eating rotten fruit when they could find it and termites and termite eggs. Sometimes bird eggs. Nibbled on some fresh herbs and maybe figured out how to cook a tuber for some starch. The argument that we ought not eat rice or oats or corn because they are unnatural doesn’t hold water since nearly everything we eat today (including all the animals we eat) are the result of thousands of years of agricultural selection.

Oh yeah, lastly, these Paleo guys often point to how much bigger and healthier people were prior to agriculture. I think this is a bit misleading, though someone with more of a background in anthropology is welcome to correct me. Yes, agriculturalists with no protein in their diet are smaller, no doubt. So, sure, there was a marked decrease in size from hunter-gatherers to some poor agricultural societies (with exceptions). But I believe a lot of skeletons used for comparison are really hunter-horticulturalists (people that maintain small seasonal garden plots). I can’t imagine anyone being big on the sort of subsistence diet that was available for most of human history. Also, it ought to be noted that the biggest, or at least tallest people in the world, are the Masai in Africa, and they subsist largely on cow’s milk and blood (that’s a lot of protein). And the Inuit, of course, subsist entirely on fish and marine mammals. I think humans are a bit more flexible in our diets than we’re given credit for (and I’d say the average Masai or Inuit is pretty tough–though the Masai I believe practice ritualized homosexuality for most of their adolescent and teen years, so lets not go crazy with any Masai diets…).

You mean other than such common items as cheese slices, soft drinks, jugs of juice, crackers, cereals, breads, cookies, cakes, pies, gum, candies, chocolate bars, donuts, pizzas, fries, burgers, tacos, burritos and ice cream?

Other than that, as the last poster stated, the nutritional profiles of many foods have shifted due to modern agricultural or finishing techniques.

However, yes, in utopia everyone would know better and avoid all these things most of the time. :wink:

I’ve read that book by Dr Loren Cordain (the Paleo Diet) and having read it then other books and scanned through some of the literature, personally I have to say I largely agree with what he says. It’s a pretty good book as these kind of things go the best bit is there’s a full P.R. literature reference in the back.

I talked to him about the whole calorie intake problem for those who train often, apparently he is bringing out another book detailing how you can go high g.i. after training and so basically states what has been said here for ages - very similar to JB’s 7 habits article.

I can’t give up potatoes though!

These are the websites that prompted me to ask this question

www.paleodiet.com

Basically, from what I have since dug up these guys claim that grains and dairy can cause everything from mental disorders to arthritis and MS! I thought that this was a pretty bold statement considering every person I know lives on a diet based in dairy and bread products. I think these guys are verging on being fearmongers. Still, I thought it would make an interesting discussion.

Weston A Price already went over these similiar stuff a long time ago, (60 years) in his book called Nutrition and Physical Denegeration. http://www.westonaprice.org/nutrition_greats/price.html

This is very interesting!

The fact that most adult humans still have lactase for milk sugar digestion, where as another species (rats for example) have lactase exclusively as pups, shows that humans are indeed suited for dairy ingestion. On the other hand, the fact that human lactase does not have 100% prevalence (as evidenced by lactose intolerance being so pervasive), likely shows that it is a relatively recent evolutionary adaptation. In other words, from this perspective, we as a species seem to have been on our way to becoming adapted to dairy consumption, but perhaps not in every physiological sense.

Then again, I consume dairy so it might have screwed me mentally.

Great thread!

Cheers

[quote]tiffy wrote:
These are the websites that prompted me to ask this question

www.paleodiet.com

Basically, from what I have since dug up these guys claim that grains and dairy can cause everything from mental disorders to arthritis and MS! I thought that this was a pretty bold statement considering every person I know lives on a diet based in dairy and bread products. I think these guys are verging on being fearmongers. Still, I thought it would make an interesting discussion.[/quote]

Great discussion… lots of neat ideas and info. IMHO, they would be fearmongering. Too many other factors affecting those conditions other than just diet. It could have an effect(diet is always important), but it is probably not as profound as they may assert.
A fella I work with was stricken with MS a few years ago. He had been a competitive bb’er with some local success. He attributes his ‘work ethic’, diet and medical research(he has to endure weekly injections to control the disease) for his current good health. He was the reason I entered my first competition. He is now a national level competitor. I would be partial to believing that his diet, (which closely mirrors my own and is in ‘partial agreement’, so the speak, with this diet) is in some way helping.
peace…

Great input by everyone!

rg73 specifically though, I really appreciated your obviously advanced (or more advanced that most of wish to be) knowledge in this area. Most especially it was interesting to learn that so many of our common “healthy” greens come from one species of plant!

Having said that, I think what the Paleo authors (I have read several) are suggesting is that we eat SIMILAR to how our ancestors ate, using modern agriculture to help round out our diet. Of course our predicessors could not have had the variety and quality of the foods we now have access to now. But, I believe that way of eating is one of the most fundamentally sound for too many reasons to list. Therefore, but coupling those principles with today’s advances in ag and technology, we can even be healthier!

As far as the salad greens comments, the Paleo authors I read were bigger on wild game, fish, nuts, and berries - not so much salad greens and the like. I think those aforementioned foods were more readily available to Paleo peopls, all though, as you shed light on, the variety and quality control was not there. Point being, the greens are not that emphasized from what I have read.

Still, I think one of the biggest issues with this whole subject is what I touched on in my first post - even if one wanted to eat whole foods (Paleo or what have you) it’s starting to become difficult to find as much “quality” meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and produce, due to the shrinking bottom lines of farmers/meat producers. In other words, there are a lot of shot-cuts being taken, putting those of us that think we are eating whole/healthy foods, at an increasing level of risk.

A short list: farm raised salmon is lower in quality over-all, mercury content in mass produced tuna, and pasterized milk (heat destroys certain vital nutrients). As it’s been touched on in several posts and threads that the majority of beef, for example, is grain finished (not grass). This gives the meat a very poor O3:O6 ratio compared to non-hormonal and free-range/grass finished cattle. And again, pigs, chickens, and cattle getting fed their downed peers on some farms!

I’m not freaking out like the vegans do when they see us eating a cheesburger!!! :wink: (I love that!) I’m not writing my congressmen and lobbying in front of the capital… what I am doing though, is getting foods from locally grown stands and cattle producers (hopefully as organic as possible).

TopSirloin (grass finished that is…)

David Barr…
I do not know if this is fact but…
From what I read I have gleaned that only people of northern european descent still have the ability to digest cow juice. Other groups such as people of african or asian or latino descent lack the enzymes to digest milk. I always wondered as a kid why we still drank the milk of another species and why we drank it past childhood.

I am not some crazy vegan trying to trash milk or anything (since I found the paleo stuff last night I have been looking this crap up on the internet like crazy). I just thought it was cool that there was someone out there who thought somewhat similarly to me regaring milk.

As far as grains go…I find it hard to believe that stuff like bread, pizza, bagels, cake etc all made from grains are good for you. I have had long and heated arguments with my mother who contends that bagels and bread are good for you and that you should eat as much of them as possible.

But I do not know why anyone would say that steel cut oats, yams, chickpeas, kidney beans, and brown rice are bad for you. Sure they are poisonous and/or inedible when in their natural state but once they are soaked and cooked aren’t they good for you? This is where my brain starts to hurt. Who is right???

I think the problem lies in the pasturized milk. Basically, all, if not most enzymes are destroyed by the high temperature which makes it worse. We have the technology to transport raw milk safely but for polictical BS, it’s still not allowed even though it’s just as safe as the commerical milk which you CAN get get sick from. I keep hearing that the babies are allergic to milk. Is that because of pasturized milk? I think i read that babies do better with raw milk. Growing kids too, much better than those low fat milk junk. This low fat milk thing has to go. It isn’t that good as we’ve led to believe.

[quote]David Barr wrote:
This is very interesting!

The fact that most adult humans still have lactase for milk sugar digestion, where as another species (rats for example) have lactase exclusively as pups, shows that humans are indeed suited for dairy ingestion. On the other hand, the fact that human lactase does not have 100% prevalence (as evidenced by lactose intolerance being so pervasive), likely shows that it is a relatively recent evolutionary adaptation. In other words, from this perspective, we as a species seem to have been on our way to becoming adapted to dairy consumption, but perhaps not in every physiological sense.

Then again, I consume dairy so it might have screwed me mentally.

Great thread!

Cheers[/quote]

There is an article about paleonutrition on John Berardi’s website.

I think it’s pretty clear that we should not try to replicate some “paleodiet”, but rather use nutritional information from the archaeological record to our advantage, with modern foods of course.

Plus, considering that there really was no single diet of the Paleolithic, it would be impossible to replicate anyway. People ate whatever they could get their hands on, and this was particular to each region.

One of the more interesting aspects of this that I’ve seen lately is that the first members of our own species (Homo sapiens) are found primarily near coastal settings. The theory is that seafood provided a superior diet, particularly DHA, which gave us our big-ol’ brains.

Maybe if people want to get serious about Paleo diets, we should segment it up as we do with classes of vegetarianism.

I’m not interested in avoiding grains or dairy, but I am interested in eating foods closer to their natural state. However, by this I don’t mean I only want foods in the forms and quantities available during paleolithic times.

I can’t see a need for cakes, cookies, soda and the rest of the list of crap except for their original purpose, as a rare special treat. How come we have this junk available 24x7 nowadays?

I can understand all the confusion surrounding nutrition these days. I just saw the new low carb coke today. Coke C2… apparently this stuff is healthy because its “low carb”

I think society in general is responsible for the state of obesity in our nations. Science, Media, Industry, Government, Educational systems…etc

I love this article from Jim Wendler at Elite

http://elitefts.com/documents/advanced_nutrition.htm