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The Paleolithic, or Paleo Diet

Updated: Mar 1, 2022

I‘m scared of trendy or catchy diets. I believe in reasonable and practical eating patterns, mostly those that have been proven by science to improve health and longevity. Where do we find the paleo diet on the spectrum of health, since it is one of the most googled diets ever.

The paleo diet gets a lot of things right. It tells you to ditch candy bars, doughnuts and processed junk. That's where we can agree. But here's where we don't. "Eat like a caveman" is the premise of this dietary pattern. I'm sure our paleo ancestors were the picture of health, considering the average life expectancy was less than 30 years. Cavemen didn't even survive long enough to suffer from chronic disease. So why are we promoting this diet and telling people it prevents them? In 2020, the paleo diet came in 3rd place among the most frequently googled diets. The keto diet came in first, and intermittent fasting came in second. I already summarized the science behind the keto diet and have an upcoming article on intermittent fasting. But for now, let's focus on paleo. In this article, instead of relying on recommendations from your latest guru, I'll deconstruct the paleo diet and detail what it is, if it's healthy compared to other diets and I'll break down the nutritional profile of this pattern of eating. In a nutshell, paleo diets have pros and cons.

What's A "Paleo" Diet Anyways?

Firstly, the term paleo refers to the paleolithic period, which ranges from 2.6 million to 12000 years ago. The paleo diet's premise is that for optimal health, we should eat like our cavemen ancestors did. They were more hunter gatherers than farmers, and so according to paleo proponents, our diets should rely on fruits, veggies, nuts, fish and meat. It also advocates for eliminating dairy, whole grains, beans and legumes, since these foods only appear with the advent of modern agricultural practices. Although it's logical to think that our body's nutritional requirements could have evolved according to foods we ate in the last 2 million years, why single out the last 2 million when we know that we've been evolving from our common great ape ancestors for the last 25 million years? Why focus on the last 10% of our evolution and ignore the first 90%? Data from various lines of evidence already support the view that humans evolved from a lineage of herbivores and so we were plant-based for more than 90% of our evolution. This might explain why we are so susceptible to heart disease, considering that in more than 90% of evolution, we didn't consume dietary cholesterol, since it's only in animal products. It doesn’t matter how much cholesterol you feed a carnivorous animal, say a lion or a dog