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Paleo is not a real diet, say experts

MH17 plane lost in Ukraine
MH17 plane lost in Ukraine
Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images

The Paleo Diet, also known as the caveman diet, is based on what ancestors of humans, assuming there were some, ate in the Paleolithic Era, approximately ten thousand years ago. The diet is high in fat and protein and low in carbohydrates and sodium. Foods that are allowed to be consumed on the diet include fruits, vegetables, eggs, certain oils and nuts. The diet forbids dairy (except eggs), legumes (peanuts), wheat (cereal), rice, processed foods and corn.

S. Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner proposed the "evolution discordance hypothesis" in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1985. They argued that the diets of hunter-gatherers were healthier, and evolution to a contemporary diet has caused a discordance that causes chronic disease. The counter argument is that people who lived in the Paleolithic Era lived about only thirty years, not long enough to develop chronic disease(s). Eaton and Konner released an article in 2010 entitled Paleo Nutrition: Twenty Five Years Later in which they determine that their original research still holds true.

Marlene Zuk, professor of ecology, evolution and behavior at the University of Minnesota, disagrees. She states, " It is a fantasy to construct what early humans were eating." People of different times and, especially different places, were eating different things. Do we follow the diet of early people living in Ethiopia, Nassau or Siberia? Obviously, they were not eating the same foods.

According to Zuk, even if we wanted to eat a paleo diet, we could not because the food does not exist. Food from long ago was more densely nutritious than it is today, and it has changed over the years. For example, ancient wheat, known as Einkorn, contained fourteen chromosomes. Today, wheat contains forty two chromosomes.

" 'Paleo' doesn't mean much from a scientific point of view." says Prof. Zuk. She suggest that humans have adapted to their environments. We all have an amylase gene. Amylase enzymes break down starches. Where starches are consumed the most, people have developed more amylase enzymes.

Interestingly, fossilized grains have been found in ancient teeth and eating tools suggesting that human ancestors were consuming grains, contrary to Eaton and Konner's original study.

Schardt. Pondering Paleo: Channeling your inner caveperson. (2013) Nutrition Action Health Letter

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