The Argument Against Paleo Diet

Friday Nov 27 | BY |
| No Comments


As I’ve said before I’m not a big fan of the Paleolithic diet (shortened as the Paleo diet).

Nowadays, the Paleo diet is a sort of a mixed bag of diets that includes mainly various types of low carb diets.  At its root though, the concept of the Paleo diet is not that farfetched. The arguments are sound but the conclusions are wrong.

The arguments are that observing the long length of human evolution, it is clear that the development of agriculture, roughly 10,000 years ago, accounts for a tiny fraction of our evolution as a species.

Therefore, it has been speculated that our bodies never had the chance to evolve, to adapt, to the changes in our diets and lifestyle brought on by agriculture.

In parts, this is true. We have not adapted to a sedentary lifestyle. We have not adapted that well to the crowded conditions of a city, although we are doing really well today, due to massive improvements in modern medicine and sanitation. Our psychology is still that of an early human living in a small group of 100 to 150 individuals.

There is a mismatch between our society, and our evolution as a species. Now this brought many writers to the conclusion that humans are best adapted to a diet that was the norm before the period known as the agricultural revolution.

Before that, so it is claimed, humans ate a hunter-gatherer type of diet, which did not include agricultural products, such as grains, beans, and other starches. We ate, apparently, more meat, more protein than we do today, and the plant based products as they are found wild in nature, such as berries and some roots during the seasons and migration trails.

The original paleo diet, as described in the first book on the topic by Dr. Loren Cordain “The Paleo Diet” contains:

  • Lots of protein (meat, fish, etc.)
  • Lots of vegetables
  • No dairy products
  • No grains, beans, or starchy vegetables (such as potatoes).
  • Fruit
  • No added salt

It may contain some light starches (such as carrots) but mostly calories coming from fat, some carbohydrates protein. Other Paleo diets may permit sweet potatoes, some dairy, etc.

Cordain describes the macro-nutrient ratio as being 23% carbohydrate, 38% protein and 39% fat, but he also made the point that he did not prescribe a specific macro-nutrient ratio, but rather eating foods that we evolved to eat.

The Problem With the Paleo Argument

Now here’s the problem with this argument. This argument disregards the seventy million years that our line of species has gone through before reaching the Paleolithic period.

You see if you look at the actual line of human evolution it starts about 75 million years ago with primates. Apes come in at 28 million years ago. Great apes, are the apes that are closely related to us, such as the chimpanzee, the orangutan, and the gorilla, arose 15 million years ago. Finally, our genus homo arose 12.5 million years ago. Modern humans came in at 500,000 years ago. And the fully developed humans that we would have no trouble recognizing today as one of our own came in, the best we know, around 200,000 years ago. This is when this entire evolution took place.

During the vast majority of this time the species that led to our species ate a primal diet.

A primal diet is not a hunter gatherer diet. It is more akin to the diet consumed by modern apes, a diet of fruits and vegetation, fruits and greens of various types, maybe some nuts and almost no cholesterol and very little saturated fat.

This is what our ancestors, mind you not modern humans — but pre-human ancestors ate. Then this led to the development of the human being and the genus homo. Yes, we went through a period of consuming a hunter gatherer type of diet, but during that harsh period of life, human beings did not live for very long.

The reality is that we never actually adapted to the hunter gatherers type of diet in the way that the Paleo writers would like us to believe. How do we know this?

Atherosclerosis is rampant among human beings, when they are exposed to a Western diet. And yet, atherosclerosis only affects herbivores. It is not possible to produce atherosclerosis plaques in cats, dogs and other carnivorous animals — no matter how much butter you feed them.1

However, the same experiments have been made in primates and we know for sure that primates develop heart disease when they were given even heavy doses of cholesterol and saturated fat. The same is true for human beings. If we had adapted to the Paleolithic diet, which contains a lot of meat, we would not develop atherosclerosis when eating a more carnivorous diet. Generally, hunter-gatherers didn’t live long enough for their heart disease to become a problem. They died of warfare or other diseases before that.

Also, hunter-gatherers populations were probably more on the “gatherer” side, for the most part.
The biggest flaw in Paleo thinking is the idea that we are completely adapted to a Paleolithic hunter gatherer type of diet. It is not the case.

We ate a hunter gatherer type of diet for survival reasons, and not because we were adapted to it on a physiological level. Eating a hunter gatherer diet gave us a survival advantage but the goal, at the time, was just to pass on our genes to the next generation. We never lived a long life in such a diet.

Nowadays, Paleo writers have toned down their message a bit to appeal to the masses and therefore, their diet is more omnivorous type of diet that emphasizes protein and fats versus carbohydrates. This diet is certainly better than the standard American diet, which is composed of a lot of fat, a lot of carbohydrates and a good amount of protein.

The diet we’re truly adapted to, from not just the Palaeolithic period, but our entire 75 million years of evolution, from the early primates towards the human being, is a low fat plant-based diet.



Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.

Comments are closed.