- Paleo means bridging the gap between evolution and modern life, not mindlessly imitating cavemen.
- Paleo means more than just food – and if “diet” means “something you do for 2 weeks and then quit,” there’s no “diet” involved.
- Paleo means active engagement with your own health, not just passively sitting back and eating whatever you see advertised on TV.
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Putting Paleo in the Right Context
In the developed world today, we have the safest, most consistent food supply in human history. Diseases of malnutrition like scurvy, pellagra, and rickets have all but disappeared from industrialized nations, and on a global scale, famine and malnutrition are slowly becoming less prevalent. So why is our food making us fatter and sicker with every passing year? From a Paleo perspective, the answer lies in evolution. For the 2.6 million years of the Paleolithic Era, humans were steadily evolving to eat animals (including their fat, organs, bones, skin, and eggs), wild-growing plants when they were in season, and small amounts of other foods like nuts and seeds, when we could get them. That was the original “Paleo diet.”
Relatively recently, the Agricultural Revolution brought about a drastic shift to a diet based on grains and legumes. The sudden increase in this reliable supply of food gave rise to a population and technology explosion that brought us the Roman Empire, followed by the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and all the technological, cultural, and scientific advances of modern civilization.
But all this progress came at a cost. From fossil evidence, we know that human health took a sharp downturn with the advent of agriculture. We found ways to minimize the damage by preparing our grains in certain ways, but we still didn’t regain our pre-Agricultural health.
Over the past 100 years, we’ve gone from bad to worse, forgetting even those traditional preparations in favor of refined grains, industrially processed seed oils, lab-created fats, and increasingly rapid advances in plant breeding, like the genetic changes that brought our unsuspecting guts an entirely new species of wheat in the 1960s.
Most recently, we’ve been suffering from the low-fat dogma: whole foods that have nourished healthy societies for generations are stigmatized, but all kinds of processed corn, wheat, and soy products get the stamp of approval. Never mind that traditional cultures around the globe eat plenty of saturated fat and cholesterol, without a hint of heart disease, and forget the fact that these foods are some of the most nutrient-dense choices around. Egg yolks are out; bran flakes are in.
Under this barrage of nutrient-poor junk food, our bodies have simply started to break. Obesity rates have soared, and “lifestyle diseases” like diabetes and heart disease are now the rule, not the exception. But there is a way out.
The basic principle of Paleo nutrition is to figure out which of these dietary changes have been harmless (like potatoes, in most cases) and which have been deadly (like the switch to vegetable oils). This isn’t about imitating cavemen. New foods aren’t automatically bad, but evolution gives us a useful framework for tying it all together and making sense of the scientific data. Using our evolutionary history as a guide, we can reclaim our bodies, our health, and our lives.