What is the Paleo Diet?

What’s it all About?

The Paleo Diet is one of the most interesting diets to gain popularity in recent years. Its revelations may seem new, but the formulation is actually based on the eating patterns of our most ancient hunter gatherer ancestors — the early humans of the Paleolithic (stone age) period, who roamed the earth millions of years ago.

Until about 10,000 years ago, all hunter gatherers had the same dietary approach – they consumed only those foods available to in their environment. They obtained their food from hunting wild game and gathering diverse fruits, vegetables, plants, nuts, and seeds; basically whatever mother earth provided them with.

Whilst over the years our diets have quite drastically changed, the foods our ancestors consumed remain to be the foods best adapted to our metabolisms today. Human genes have not changed enough over the last few thousand years to adapt to our new agriculture-based diet. In fact, our present gene set is still 99.99% identical in makeup to those of our Paleolithic ancestors.

Research shows that hunter gatherers were very healthy. They were taller, had more muscular builds and bigger brains. Although their life expectancy was shorter, deaths were often caused by extraneous factors such as extreme weather conditions, accidents, infections, and predatory animals. Chronic or degenerative diseases such as diabetes, cancer or heart disease were not present either. These diseases emerged only when modern man shifted to agriculture.  Modern diseases are the consequence of our changing civilization, the result of a mismatch between our genetic makeup and our lifestyles.

Paleolithic man was always physically active – hunting and gathering for food was part of his daily life. Their physical challenges were extreme, they raced to hunt wild game and once captured had a considerable distance to pack their bounty home. It is determined some hunter-gatherers would walk approximately 19km (12 miles) a day on average looking for prey. This included short bursts of activity and fast running speeds when a kill was spotted.

Humans have evolved to meet the challenges and opportunities of our natural environment, in other words we have become downright lazy. Our ancestors bodies where fueled by healthy primal foods, which allowed their bodies to work at peak efficiency, at all times. Their bodies were perfectly adapted to the food they ate, not for the foods modern technology has ‘designed’ for us.

The dietary habits of our ancient ancestors have been thoroughly studied in recent years and the phenomenal abilities of our ancestors are deeply rooted in the diet they consumed and the lifestyle they lived.

The Paleo Diet Basics:

The Paleo Diet mainly constitutes meat from wild game as well as fish, which provides lean proteins and essential fatty acids. Nuts and seeds provided oils and other essential fatty acids; fruits and berries packed with fiber for low GI carbohydrates and nutrients. They did not have any dairy products, grains or processed foods, as these foods only came with agriculture and the domestication of animals.

According to nutrition experts specializing in the eating patterns of the Paleolithic period, the average hunting gathering tribe had a diet that very likely consisted of one-third hunted food and two-thirds gathered food.

Meat comprised about 65% of our ancestors total energy intake. Meat from wild game and the meat we primarily consume today differs widely in its nutrient makeup. Wild animals produce meat that contains, on average, less than 10% total fat – our current domesticated cattle average about 30%. The quality difference in the fatty acid makeup of the animal is also very different – domesticated animals contain mostly fully saturated fats, where as wild game has a higher proportion of polyunsaturated fat. A large factor in this difference is what we feed our cattle.  Grain dominates the feed of modern cattle farming and requires less pastoral land for these animals to exist.  Consequently the meat they produce is four times less in the essential omega-3 fatty acids compared to wild or grass fed meat. Omega-3 fatty acids are very important in controlling our body’s immune response, which is the primary system associated with chronic or degenerative diseases.  Some of the nuts and seeds our ancestors consumed also contained omega-3 fatty acids, while they where consumed in raw form, the retention of these heat-sensitive fats was maximized.

related pages Getting Started With Paleo

Dr Loren Cordain:

Paleolithic nutrition researcher Dr. Loren Cordain, PhD, provides the following comparative daily nutritional intake of our ancestors and the common western diet.

[From The Paleo Diet (2002) by Loren Cordain]

“The availability of meat our ancestors had, was dependent on hunting success and the season. Since animal supply was not steady year round, the greater part of the food consumed often came from uncultivated vegetable foods gathered from the wild, such as berries, bulbs, seeds, fruits, flowers, melons, nuts, leaves, roots, stalks.

One important part about the diet of our ancestors is the fact that their foods could not be stored for a long time, so food was distributed and consumed fresh to the whole tribe after foraging or after the hunt.

Food was also very diverse and varied widely with the changing of the seasons and by the locality where our ancestors lived, allowing them to consume a great variety of foods.”

(% of diet) 

 

Paleolithic Diet 

 

Average Western Diet 

 

Protein 31 

 

16 

 

Fats 

 

38 

 

35 

 

Carbohydrates 

 

31 

 

49 

 

 

The paleo diet can be further characterized by the following:

• Caloric intake (around 65%), came from eating all the edible parts of vertebrate animals (wild game and fish).

• A significant part of our ancestors diet consisted of fresh fruits, plants, nuts, seeds, flowers, leaves, and bulbs. These were all consumed raw, which maximized the retention of nutrient rich content and disease- preventing compounds.

• Grains were not present in significant quantity. Even though they where around, the grains and small seeds were likely never milled or ground into fine particles and cooked in order to be consumed safely.

• Sodium salt, when present, was in very minimal amounts.

Important Notes:

Please note, both wheat and sugar are metabolized as glucose, and they induce an insulin spike.  Complex Carbohydrates (wheat, bread, pasta etc) are slow release (low GI) but they need insulin in order to regulate glycogen metabolism.  Complex Carbohydrates are only slightly different to Simple Carbohydrates (sugar), and it would not be inaccurate to call a slice of bread; “a slice of sugar”.

Primal man did not eat wheat.  This is a fact; grains have only been around for human consumption for 12,000 years.  Modern agriculture started at that time and is referred to as the Neolithic Revolution.  Before then, humans survived on Mother Nature’s finest; plants, game meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, berries, roots and tubers, etc.

Wheat was introduced (12,000 years ago) for the sake of economics, it was easy to grow and could easily be stored in case of famine or drought.  So it made sense for primal man to horde large amounts of grain.  However, they paid a price, that is; they got high calories in return for low nutrition.  Not only that, tribes became less nomadic and started to build walls around their wheat crops – and next came the first large scale wars.  The tribes that held the wheat were attacked for their bounty.

This was also the time that certain animals were domesticated; cows, bulls, mules etc.  Animal domestication along with Agriculture set the stage for modern civilization.  And although it originally started in the Middle East, it spread quickly, particularly along favorable parts of the equator where conditions were good for crop growing.  We can still see the effects of this today, but that’s for another story.

Today, modern man is fixated low-calorie foods.  But, in the days of Primal Man, calories were valuable, because they were hard to come by.  It’s important to understand that favoring low-calorie food is an unnatural phenomenon and is relatively new to the lifestyle of humans.  Low Fat food is also new to us, and so is high carbohydrate food.

Take a leaf out of our Paleolithic ancestors book and eat the way our genes were designed to; I guarantee you will feel much better for it.

Check out Getting Started With Paleo now.

 

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