Paleolithic diet

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As consumed by contemporary[1] humans, a Paleolithic diet consists of items of foods selected from the types or groups of foods consumed by ancestral humans who lived during the Paleolithic age, or Old (paleo) Stone (lithic) age, predominantly in Sub-Sahara Africa, beginning approximately 2 million years ago (2 mya)[2] and ending with the introduction of agriculture approximately 10,000 years ago (10 kya).[3] [4] The term applies also to the diet consumed by those Paleolithic human ancestors.

Nature is the cure of illness. Leave thy drugs in the chemist’s pot if thou can heal the patient with food.
  —Hippocrates of Cos (460-370 BCE)

Interest in the Paleolithic diet by nutritional scientists stems from the argument that humans adapted their biology (physiology and metabolism) through evolutionary processes operating for millions of years before adopting a dramatically different diet following the recent inventions of agriculture and husbandry, and the industrial and fast-food revolutions, creating a mismatch between evolved biology and diet, a mismatch deleterious to health.[3]

Thus, Evolutionary biologists, S. Boyd Eaton and Loren Cordain argue:[5]

[The above premises] lay the foundation for two propositions. First, we now eat substantially smaller amounts of the foods for which evolution has attuned our biochemistry and physiology. This is because we consume less energy overall, in line with our reduced physical exertion, and because we have developed and/or adopted a variety of new energy sources, foods which were not available (or at least little utilized) by human ancestors and which displace original, fundamental foods from our daily intake pattern…Second, the 'new' foods, which make up over half of what we now eat, include cereal grains, dairy products, prepared/processed foods, alcohol, separated fats, commercial meat, free salt, refined flours, and sweeteners. These collectively alter the mix of dietary constituents in ways detrimental to human health. That is, in addition to their passive effect of displacing much of the food which comprised nearly all Paleolithic human nutrition, the 'new' foods have an actively adverse influence resulting from constituents which have been shown to be harmful.[5]

This article will elaborate on those themes.

The paleolithic paradigm

References and notes

  1. 'Contemporary' at this writing refers to early 2nd decade of the 21st century.
  2. Harris JWK, Williamson PG, Tappen MJ, Stewart K, Helgren D, de Heinzelin J, Boaz NT, Belloma RV. (1988) Late Pliocene hominid occupation in Central AfriCa: the setting, context, and character of the Senga 5A site, Zaire. Journal of Human Evolution 16:701-728.
    • From Abstract: Dating estimates based on fauna1 correlation indicate an age of about 2.0-2.3 million years B.P. [before the present] making it the earliest archaeological site of its size and state of preservation currently known in Africa. As the westernmost Oldowan site known in Africa, Senga 5A significantly expands our knowledge of the geographic range of early tool using hominids.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Eaton SB, Konner M. (1985) Paleolithic nutrition. A consideration of its nature and current implications. N Engl J Med 312(5): 283-289.
    • Abstract: A detailed literature survey reviews and discusses nutritional aspects of the diets of historical paleolithic societies and their nutritional adequacy in light of current nutritional knowledge. Topics include the evaluation of food consumption habits, ranging from hominids (about 24 to 5 million years ago), through the appearance of archaic homo sapiens (about 400,000 years ago), to the twentieth century; dietary habits of recent hunter-gatherer societies with respect to meat and vegetable consumption; the probable nutrient intakes of paleolithic humans for specific nutrients (energy; fat and fatty acids; cholesterol; sodium and potassium; calcium; ascorbic acid; fiber; and other nutrients), and evidence for nutrient shortages; and a comparison of the late paleolithic diet to the current U.S. diet and the current U.S. dietary recommendations.
  4. In 'mya', 'm' stands for 'mega-'=million; in kya,'k' stands for 'kilo-'=thousand. In both, 'ya' stands for 'years ago'.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Eaton SB, Cordain L. (1997) Evolutionary Aspects of Diet: Old Genes, New Fuels. Nutritional Changes Since Agriculture. In: Simopoulos AP (ed): Nutrition and Fitness: Evolutionary Aspects, Children's Health, Programs and Policies. Series: World Rev Nutr Diet. Basel: Karger, vol 81, pp 26-37.