I read a great article by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker recently, titled “How The Paleolythic Diet Got Trendy”, in which she went into quite a bit of detail about the evolution of the Paleo diet. I found it interesting so I thought I’d share the highlights for now, as I work on putting together some great Snack Revolution Bar recipes for you to try.
What Do You Eat On A Paleo Diet?
The Paleo diet is based on the principle that Agriculture was not a healthy evolution, so we should be eating in a way more similar to pre-agricultural days. According to Sarah Ballantyne, the author of “The Paleo Approach,” a Paleo diet consists of “meats, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.” Some Paleo purists eschew seeds – personally I eat lots of seeds.
The list of non-paleo foods to avoid is quite a bit longer; it includes grains like wheat, corn, and rice; pseudo-cereal grains like amaranth and quinoa (I do eat some quinoa, it’s my lifeline to sharing a house with non-paleo people!); legumes, dairy products, most vegetable oils, sugar, and of course anything that contains corn syrup or artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. Basically, the Standard American Diet – or SAD.
The Neolithic Revolution
To figure out what our stone age ancestors ate, we have to dig up their bones and study the wear patterns on their teeth, and comb through their refuse to analyze their prehistoric poop. The things we have learned which Paleo aficionados try to apply to their lifestyle goes beyond food to include paleo fitness, paleo sleep, and even primal parenting, which may or may not include eating your baby’s placenta.
When archaeologists talk about human history, agriculture represents the breakthrough that allowed humans to move beyond survival. They became merchants and priests, artisans and bookkeepers, started working metal, invented mathematics, and developed into the modern society we are now.
The Neolithic Revolution is seen as a critical event leading to modern society. What Paleo folks are not so sure about is whether it was a good idea.
Were The Cavemen Really Healthier?
“The adoption of agriculture, supposedly our most decisive step toward a better life, was in many ways a catastrophe from which we have never recovered” is Jared Diamond’s dour assessment, offered in an essay titled “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race.”
Early farmers had worse teeth, up to six times worse than their non-agricultural ancestors. They also suffered from increased rates of anemia and infectious disease. And during the Agricultural Revolution, the stature of early Europeans went down – it took them till the 20th century to catch up in height to cavemen.
In addition to the health implications of a grain diet, once people established towns and cities,“crowd epidemic diseases” like measles could flourish. Not to mention the diseases that developed by jumping from livestock to humans when they lived under the same roof.
Daniel E. Lieberman, a professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard and the author of “The Story of the Human Body,” stated that “farming ushered in an era of epidemics, including tuberculosis, leprosy, syphilis, plague, smallpox and influenza.”
And These Days, Are We Better Off?
During the past few decades, rates of obesity, hypertension, fatty liver, and Type 2 diabetes have soared, not just in the US, but worldwide as the Standard American Diet of soda and fast food spreads. Lieberman calls conditions like Type 2 diabetes “mismatch diseases.” Our ancestors hunted and gathered; we drive to Shake Shack. The result is a “mismatch” between our genetics and our life styles.
“I don’t think it is possible to overemphasize just how important mismatch diseases are,” Lieberman writes. “You are most likely going to die from a mismatch disease.”
So Is Paleo A Fad?
Paleo may look like a food fad, yet you could argue that it’s really the reverse. Humans go back about two million years. On the timescale of evolutionary history, it’s agriculture that’s the fad.