Patrick A.

McCoy
ANTH 127
9/1/2016
The Paleo Diet: An Analysis
The Paleo Diet, a low carb, low fat, high protein based diet, is one of
the more interesting diet to come out of the early 21st century. While similar
in structure to any of the low carb movements, this one has the peculiarity of
claiming to be over ten thousand years old. Dr Loren Cordain, the architect of
The Paleo Diet, claims that our bodies evolved to conform to the huntergatherer diet our genetically identical Paleolithic ancestors thrived on over
three hundred generations ago. He backs his claims with a body of research
he made on over two hundred modern hunter-gatherer cultures. In his first
book, Cordain gives us a promising image of Paleo man, munching on
delicious lean meats like turkey, chicken, omega 3 enriched eggs and lean
beef. Nutrient dense leafy green vegetables like asparagus and broccoli, as
well as sweet and juicy fruits like bananas and strawberries were frequently
gathered by our cave man ancestors. These mighty hunters roamed the
ancient landscape, being long lived and disease free.
Was this a genuine image of Paleolithic humans? Of course not, and to
his credit, Dr. Cordain did try to reign in this romantic exaggeration in his
revised materials. But by then the damage was done, and people flocked to
this new age lifestyle based on Cordain’s stylized version of events. The

to put the brakes on weight gain and the development of chronic diseases of civilization. It is true adopting a low carb diet is extremely well suited for people with obesity or metabolic conditions like diabetes. and having people demonize bread or pulling cars to simulate dragging mammoths our ancestors hunted. The Paleo Man became a mascot of all things we are supposed to be doing to live healthier lives. to humanity’s original. author of The Paleo Diet. It is the closest approximation we can make. Just because the Paleo Diet is more fad than fact. with people filling blogs with low carb recipies and exercise tips. evolved over millions of years. The Paleo Diet is more than a blast from the past. does not mean that some of the basic principles of the diet are not beneficial. and according to his website the leading authority on the Paleolithic diet: We are returning to the diet we were genetically programmed to eat. It’s the key to speedy weight loss. lifelong health. universal . but its fundamental principles indicative of a low carb diet shows favorable overall improvement to human health. The Paleo Diet enlists the body’s own mechanisms. given the current scientific knowledge. The Paleo Diet however has too many inaccuracies and contradictions to be accepted as a Paleolithic diet model.Paleo Movement was well entrenched. and above all. According to Cordain. effective weight control.

This means that the genome makeup of Paleolithic people is virtually identical to our own” (Cordain. Game meat such as venison. humans have hardly changed at all to be specific. but he makes no connection with the Paleolithic diet. The Paleo Diet has a basic structure. (Cordain. squirrel and reindeer are highly recommended.02 percent in 10. 2002). He is quite fond of Omega-3 eggs.diet – the easy-to-follow. “My research demonstrates that although there was no single Stone Age diet. 60% of your intake is lean protein. animal food was always favored over plant food. The Paleo Diet supposedly is returning to the diet anatomically modern humans ate in the Paleolithic era.000 years ago. grass fed. DNA evidence shows that genetically. He fails to mention why exactly he makes this particular distinction. 2002). quite a bit. wild boar. Our analysis of 229 hunter-gatherer societies showed that animal foods composed about 60 percent of the total daily caloric intake” (Cordain. “What do Paleolithic people have to do with us? Actually. with animals only from free-range. Simply stated. . satisfying program that nature itself has devised. approximately 10. cravings-checking. and only suggests only eating Omega-3 enriched eggs. Also included by Cordain are Omega-3 enriched eggs. but it should be noted that enriched eggs are not only unnatural. 2010). 2002).000 years. This is important because Cordain asserts that our DNA has evolved little from our ancestors “a mere 333 generations ago” (Cordain. the human genome has changed less than 0. or pasture raised.

“Paleolithic people ate no dairy food. Imagine how difficult it would be to milk a wild animal. even if you could somehow manage to catch one” (Cordain. He ties his claim of the dairy ban with. most are known to raise cholesterol” (Cordain 2002). corn. Cordain eliminates several food staples from his Paleo Diet. He also eliminates all legumes. he really makes no mention of calorie limitations and only suggests to have just over half your calories come from meat. with the exception of corn or potatoes. He makes no mention of the high caloric fructose content in fruits. and anything with a high carbohydrate profile. “Saturated fats are mostly bad. He gives little limitations on vegetables. unless there is the presence of a . They’re found in meats and whole dairy products. and in fact heavily criticizes fructose in a different section of his book. 2010). “If you love fruit and are convinced it is making you fat. This also includes potatoes. even in unlimited amounts” (Cordain.The balance of the Paleo Diet is made up of an indiscriminate amount of fruits and vegetables. beans and lentils. It won’t make you fat on this diet. autoimmune or metabolic issues related to their consumption. Other than the modern nutritional issue of high glycemic. 2002). but allows limited quantities of yams or red potatoes. he claims. don’t worry. including peanuts. these foods were rarely on Stone Age menus (Cordain. including any cereal from the agricultural age. oats. In fact. as well as fatty meats. 2002). This is also his reason for removing dairy from his Paleo Diet. such as wheat. The central themes of Cordain throughout both his 2002 book and the updated material in his cookbook are that.

He then supplements with modern hunter-gatherer data. Cordain’s Curriculum Vitae he cites Dr. Easton utilizes a combination of archaeological remains of animal bones and Paleolithic technologies to form a basis of his reconstruction of a Paleolithic diet.metabolic syndrome. Boyd Easton and his work Paleolithic Nutrition — A Consideration of Its Nature and Current Implications as his introduction to the Paleolithic hunter-gatherer diet (Cordain. 2010). Cordain an analysis of evidence of the Paleolithic diet is necessary to see what indeed humans are supposedly biologically compatible to eat. 65% plant based and only 35% animal meat. As the Paleo DietTM is purely the work of Dr. His findings show a more diverse selection of carbohydrates and starches than allowed on his Paleo Diet but still have the . 2016). Dr. as it provides the archaeological basis of our hunter-gatherer class. much as Cordain has contributed to several papers on the diets of modern hunter-gatherers (Cordain. In this way. “Potatoes are excluded because they maintain high glycemic loads that may adversely affect your blood sugar and insulin levels. Corn actually is not a vegetable. This is significant. Easton concluded the opposite of The Paleo Diet. In Dr. and like all other grains was not a staple component of preagricultural diets” (Cordain. but rather is a grain. this provides the scientific basis of incorporating modern hunter-gatherer data into Paleolithic diet models. It is important to note that Cordain does not provide a Paleolithic or huntergatherer reason why potatoes are excluded. 2010). Even Cordain’s own research of hunter-gatherers does not agree with the Paleo Diet.

Dalhousie University. high-energy liquid…This is because they carry a mutation that lets them continue producing lactase. and grass seeds. 2002). He proposes: Hereditary hemochromatosis and in particular the common HFE C282Y mutation may represent an adaptation to decreased dietary iron in cereal grain-based . According to a paper co-authored by Cordain.same health benefits. However. Such is the case of the assertions of C. we can see that our genetic structure adapts to many things. Naugler of the Department of Laboratory Medicine. the number of kilo-calories in grains and legumes is relatively large. the gut enzyme needed to break down the milk sugar lactose. 2009). and pine nuts were consumed in the amounts of 4000+ kilocalories (Cordain et al. but Cordain’s own research show hunter-gatherers not only have a higher intake of carbohydrates and frequently eat food banned on his Paleo Diet.000 years ago… milk drinkers became widespread in Europe only after dairy farming had become established there…Most mammals lose their ability to digest milk after being weaned. acorns. The actual research into the Paleolithic diet provide a good argument against the Paleo Diet. A more direct contradiction to Cordain’s assertion that our genetic makeup hasn’t changed since Paleolithic times exists in the form of our modern bodies’ ability to consume milk. including diet. A study on the origin of lactase persistence reveals: The vast majority of adult Europeans were lactose intolerant as recently as 7. Not only do they completely contradict each other. but they still manage to avoid many diseases and conditions Cordain attributes to those foods. but some humans can continue to benefit from the calciumrich. in adulthood (Itan. Starchy roots yielded 1200 – 6300 kilocalories.

000 and 13. Lessons from traditional Inuit culture indicate that time for adaptation. In a study of human remains from the late Pleistocene. Macrobotanical remains from occupational deposits dated between 15. Morocco. In fact. In a study of a low carbohydrate/ketogenic diet and athletic performance. show instance of dental caries in 51. optimized sodium and potassium nutriture.000 years ago. as our hunter gatherer ancestors went from a high iron diet in meats to a lower iron grain based diet. 2013).Neolithic diets. show systematic gathering and processing of carbohydrate rich plants such as acorns and pine nuts. there is strong correlation with tooth decay. a high prevalence of dental caries is accompanied by evidence of the processing and consumption of plants rich in fermentable carbohydrates. and those who wish to adopt the Paleo Diet as a low carb diet would be greatly benefited. These two mutations completely contradict Cordain’s assertions that our genetics have remained relatively stagnant since Paleolithic times. mutations show that even as recent as 6. 2007). “Impaired physical performance is a common but not obligate result of a low carbohydrate diet.2%.700 B.P. Cordain’s distain for starchy foods and the unhealthy conditions they cause are not entirely unfounded. the aforementioned mutation increased their stores of iron and prevented the iron deficiency disease of hemochromatosis. The evidence infers that a transition from hunter-gatherer food diet to food production of fermentable carbohydrates caused an early shift toward a disease-associated oral microbiota in this population (Humphrey et al. Studies of human teeth in a cemetery in Maghreb. Low carb diets continuously show benefits in studies. not only to the average person looking to maintain a healthy weight but also to athletes. and constraint of protein to 15–25 % of daily energy . our ancestors’ genetic predispositions to food evolved as our food sources became more abundant and diversified. For as long as humans have eaten starchy carbohydrates. Both homozygous and heterozygous carriers of the HFE C282Y mutation have increased iron stores and therefore possessed an adaptive advantage under Neolithic conditions (Naugler. Essentially.

beans. . found stamina in treadmill tests almost doubled and subjects lost an average of 10kg in six weeks. nor does it parallel the hunter-gatherers he claims to have the diet based.expenditure allow unimpaired endurance performance despite nutritional ketosis. as our digestive system will adapt to foods in agriculture. potatoes are all not what is on the menu. while his own research argues against it. the diet restrictions in the Paleo Diet appear largely arbitrary and even contradict each other.” (Phinney. He provides his own evidence that his Paleo Diet is not Paleo at all. He decides that legumes. there is no reason to eliminate certain foods even if Paleolithic humans didn’t generally eat them. pastoralism and horticulture. However. The fundamental low carbohydrate diet of which the Paleo Diet really is shows consistently to improve human health. mammoths and wild horses) contain more fat and less protein than smaller animals…you would not develop protein toxicity because you’d be protected by the deer’s [or mammoth’s] higher fat content” (Cordain. 2002). The inconsistencies of the Paleo Diet make it a fundamentally flawed concept. While a carbohydrate profile much lower than the Western American diet consistently shows vast improvements in health. he will explain “Large animals like deer and cows (for Paleolithic people. My overall opinion of the Paleo Diet is not very favorable. After athletes were given adequate time to adjust to the diet. 2004). While Cordain will demonize saturated fat as causing heart disease and eliminates fatty meats from his diet.

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