Wouldn’t the world just be a better place if we all ate like cavemen and women? Only eating natural, organic, unprocessed foods. Not to mention loads of meat.
I’m dryly referring to the “Paleo Diet”, which has fast become the flavour of the year, especially in the health and fitness worlds.
Proponents of the diet claim that our hunter-gatherer genes are no longer in sync with our modern agriculture-driven diet. Mimicking the eating habits of our Paleolithic ancestors – who were living nomadically in the wilderness over 20,000 years ago – is viewed as the road to health.
I can kind of see how it works: enduring periods of famine (intermittent fasting) can be very beneficial to your health, and feasting on the internal organs of grass-fed beasts is very nutritious. Plus regularly dining on insects is not only sustainable but actually good for you too.
But there’s one problem: those following the Paleo Diet aren’t actually doing any of that. They do however restrict foods that are deemed a product of modern agriculture.
Here’s a quick rundown of what foods are forbidden:
• No dairy of any kind because dairy food is a product of agriculture.
• No grains (includes oats, corn and rice). Again, they are a product of agriculture.
• Sugar and processed food and drink are not allowed, including alcohol.
• Legumes (chickpeas, lentils, soy, etc.) and potatoes are dependent on interpretation, but the general consensus is that they are not allowed.
As you can see, it’s quite restrictive, leaving meat and fish as the staple foods for all meals.
The Undisputable Reason You Should Eat More Meat
Paleo Diet enthusiasts believe that you should eat meat because your ancient ancestors were having it. Are we really supposed to eat it all the time, though?
Well that’s what many choose to believe to justify their excessive meat consumption.
Truth be told we did not evolve to eat meat very often. In fact, our primitive ancestors were mainly eating grains, legumes and tubers, long before farms and fertilizers.
Dr. Christina Warriner (Ph.D. from Harvard University, specializing in ancient DNA analysis and paleodietary reconstruction) gave a TEDx talk in which she cites evidence that 30,000 years ago humans were using stone tools similar to a mortar and pestle to grind grains and seeds.
Further, numerous studies of fossilized human dental plaque have found remains of legumes, tubers and grains, which are all forbidden on the Paleo Diet.
If you just think about it for a second, we developed flat teeth for grinding, not sharp teeth for flesh.
What Actually Happens In The Real World?
Firstly, it’s not 20,000 BC anymore. Oceans aren’t saturated with succulent fish jumping up stream. Bison don’t roam freely over the highlands. Heck, carrots are no longer purple and watermelons don’t even have seeds these days (the wonders of selective breeding).
It’s not breaking news: the food system has changed.
Huge food shortages are on the horizon. Frequent meat and fish consumption are no longer sustainable.
Further, the idea that modern humans are stuck with Stone Age genes that aren’t made to digest dairy foods is just pseudoscience. Humans have become the only mammals to retain the enzyme lactase–the enzyme required to break down lactose, the sugar in breast milk–after weaning. Persistence of lactase emerged in humans 5-10,000 years ago and has just recently been characterized for the first time in humans. The study, focusing on the population of Ethiopia, is published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.
Today, 35% of the world’s population can metabolize dairy products, something our Paleo ancestors could not do.
(Unfortunately we’re now placing far too much demand on dairy industry, which is a discussion for another time).
The One Diet You Should Definitely Follow (And I Hate Diets)
I know it doesn’t sound as sexy as “Paleo”, but the Mediterranean Diet does actually work.
As the name suggests, it’s based on the eating habits of those who’ve grown up around the Mediterranean Sea. The diet can be characterized by a high intake of olive oil, fruit, nuts, vegetables and cereals, and a low intake of fish, meat and processed foods.
A recent milestone study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded that those following the diet had a significant reduction (30%) in the risk of stroke and other cardiovascular problems. The study, known as PREDIMED, began with 7,500 participants and is viewed by most experts as solid proof the Mediterranean Diet is in fact the best for overall health.
It’s certainly hard to argue with the diet given that these eating habits have been documented for over 2,000 years, as well as all the current measurable evidence continually emerging today. Best of all, it’s easy to make the Mediterranean Diet work for you.
Let’s encourage others to choose an eating habit that is unashamedly nutritious; organic and local produce-driven; heavily vegetarian putting minimal demand on already stressed food systems; wholesome and inclusive of all food groups; and even encourages a sneaky glass of red.
Or you can just eat like the Flintstones. Whatever.
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