The modern paleo diet seeks to mimic the diet of pre-agricultural hunter-gatherers. It attempts to conform to those foods available across the broad range of ecological niches frequented by paleolithic humans. For the purpose of practicality, it is based on commonly marketed modern foods. It includes cultivated plants and domesticated animal flesh and offal products, as an alternative to the wild sources of the original pre-agricultural diet.
Paleolithic man
With most modern paleo diets, lean meats, fish, vegetables, fruit, roots and nuts are the dietary staples, while cereals, dairy products, salt and processed fat and sugars are avoided. The underlying rationale suggests that foods available from the emergence of Homo habilis (2.3 to 1.4 millions of years ago) through the evolution of Homo sapiens (230,000 to 260,000 years ago) until the emergence of civilisation (12,000 to 13,800 years ago), are healthier than those recently introduced through farming trade. Our digestive and metabolic systems have not had enough time to genetically adapt to these farmed foods. Many recently introduced plants, such as grains, have bioactive chemicals that can harm human health.
In truth, the paleo diet is not strictly typical of a paleolithic diet—for it does not emulate the often desperate eating that our ancestors had to endure. During my time living with the Wik Aborigines on Australia’s Cape York Peninsula, hunger was a constant companion, with feasts and famines oscillating throughout the year.
Some current day versions of the paleo diet do not include breads made from either grass seeds or other flours. Corms, starchy tuberous roots (rhizomes), bulbs and legumes are also not included. Some paleo diet extremists even frown on yams and sweet potatoes because they are high in starch (even though our hunter-gatherers ate these). However bush-breads, in the form of dampers or seed-cakes made mostly from soft grass, acacia seeds, roots and corms (which Deeks Health Bakery emulates) are believed to have always been a part of traditional hunter-gatherer diets. They were considered secondary foods to be eaten when flesh foods (their primary foods) were not available.
On the other hand, paleo diets include vegetables that hunter-gather people did not eat such as asparagus, artichokes, beets, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, capsicum, carrots, celery, eggplant, onions, parsley, spinach squash, and zucchini. These are cultivated crops that have been selectively enhanced over hundreds, if not a few thousand, years to remove toxins and improve their sweet taste—they now make entertaining, nutritional eating.
Some paleo diets promote the use of modern processed oils that were not part of traditional hunter-gatherer diets—oils made from: avocados, coconuts, macadamias, olives and grass-fed cow’s butter. Australian hunter-gatherers ate types of linseeds that are very oily however they did not process these seeds for their oils.
In addition, most paleo diets embrace regularly eating modern fruits, such as: apple, avocado, banana, blackberry, blueberry, cantaloupe, fig, guava, grapes, lemon, lime, lychee, mango, orange, pawpaw, peaches, pineapple, plum, raspberry, strawberry, tangerine, watermelon. In Australia at least, fewer than 16 fruits were consumed across the country by traditional Aborigines. You will probably never see these fruits on supermarket shelves. They are tightly seasonal, make poor crops, most are not tasty and have to be prepared before they can be eaten. Since they were condiments for millions of years, humans now have a limited phosphorylation process to be able to process any significant volume of fruits. Supermarket fruits are now gathered from the four-corners of the world, making them available all year around. They are no longer seasonal, and no longer eaten as a condiment.
The paleo diet also accepts modern nuts such as: almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts and various seeds such as pumpkin and sunflower. They do not accept peanuts. Macadamia and pine are the only nuts documented to have been traditionally used by hunter-gatherers, but it is highly likely that some of the others may have been locally used in some parts of Africa before they were marketed.
So what really is the paleo diet? It can be considered a mishmash of ideas not really based on traditional hunter-gatherer ways of eating, but on modern tasty foods that conform to advanced nutritional ideas. The term paleo diet was coined by the noted and respected nutritional-exercise scientist Professor Loren Cordain, although many people (such as Weston Price and others) have proposed that the hunter-gatherer way of eating is the most healthy diet for modern humans.
So which diet should you follow for really good health? The modern paleo diet is a good diet for achieving generally good health. But consider it a base. If you suffer chronic or acute symptoms of ill-health as you age, conduct your own personal food trials and discover which foods are right for you to live a long healthy life. This is what Bill Giles Health Ecology specialises in and we can help you create your own Signature Diet.