I don’t get the paleo diet. Someone explain?

Scientific American has (another) article up criticizing the paleo diet:

How to Really Eat Like a Hunter-Gatherer: Why the Paleo Diet Is Half-Baked

Ferris Jabr, Scientific American, June 3, 2013

We are not biologically identical to our Paleolithic predecessors, nor do we have access to the foods they ate. And deducing dietary guidelines from modern foraging societies is difficult because they vary so much by geography, season and opportunity

[Continue reading….]

While this article is insightful, it overlooks the racial differences in adaptation to carbs.  Some groups (e.g. Europeans and North Asians) have been in agriculture and eating carbs for roughly 10,000 years, while other groups (e.g. Africans and Amerindians) were engaged in hunter-gatherer lifestyles until fairly recently (in evolutionary terms). As Cochran & Harpending and others have pointed out, various human groups have undergone immense selection pressure (often correlated with continental races) over the past 10,000 years.

A question for paleo dieters:  Since I’m of European ancestry, and since my ancestors have been eating carbs for roughly 10,000 years and seem to be adapted to eating carbs, why would I want to switch to the paleo diet?

Please explain….


Mexico’s Diabetes Epidemic


I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but staple carb crops like wheat and rice and produce overwhelmingly more calories per acre than can hunter-gatherer diets. Obviously, it wouldn’t be sustainable for most people in the world to be on the paleo diet.  It would be a strange irony if those who seem more adapted to eating carbs (like Europeans) were to switch to a paleo diet, while those less adapted (e.g. many in the Third World) were forced to eat carbs.


24 thoughts on “I don’t get the paleo diet. Someone explain?

  1. Not an expert on the subject but I think the answer is that while you can eat carbs, with less ill-effect than they have on an Amerindian or African, they still aren’t an optimal form of nutrition.

  2. Because 10,000 years is a drop in the bucket in evolutionary terms. Having ancestors that ate it for that long does not mean you are adapted to it.

  3. I completely agree with this. I too am of European ancestry. My ancestors have been consuming carbs, esp. wheat, rye and barley for millenia. They have also been consuming these in their various fermented forms, including beer. Are they now suddenly supposed to be bad for me?

  4. Because 10,000 < 500,000.

    Andeans are better adapted to altitude than the Irish, but far less so than Tibetans. It's not boolean. There are always degrees of adaptation.

    Your point, that we euros have been eating wheat for 10,000 years, is valid. I would expect that we do a lot better on it than a Samoan would. But that doesn't mean we are anywhere near perfectly adapted to it yet. Adult lactose tolerance – the classic 10,000 year explosion trait – isn't even universal in euros.

    It hasn't been all that long yet. How long did it take for cats to become obligate carnivores? More than ten thousand years. So my guess is that paleo is oversimplified, but not pure hype. But the truth will be in the data, when we have enough of it. "Enough" is a lot, though – you could be pretty damn wrong about lactose if you had a small enough sample. Traits start in one individual and then spread. After only ten thousand years, a common trait will still not be universal.

  5. TED Fellow Christina Warinner is an expert on ancient diets. So how much of the diet phad the “Paleo Diet” is based on an actual Paleolithic diet? The answer is not really any of it.

  6. Before agriculture, our ancestors ate almost nothing but meat. We can determine this from the stable isotope ratios in their bones, which indicates the trophic level at which they ate. They ate at the same or higher trophic level as wolves, and I doubt that wolves ate too many root vegetables.

    For the past ten thousand years we have been adapting to a diet based largely on bread and butter. However, aging involves a general loss of of adaption, with the most recent adaptions being lost first. So if you are a teenager, can probably pig out on bread and thick crust pizza. If you are pushing fifty, grain foods are likely to be a problem.

  7. 1. Paleo diet isn’t synonymous with low carb.

    2. The dawn of agriculture saw severe pathological changes in humans, such as much shorter height, dental caries, arthritis, cancer, heart disease, etc. Most of this can be attributed to poorer nutrition by eating lots of grains.

    3. As some above have noted, adaptation doesn’t necessarily mean complete adaptation.

    4. The lactase gene is only one gene, and lactose tolerance is a simple mutation that allows a gene already there to remain “on” into adulthood. This is a very simple adaptation.The est of the digestive and other systems haven’t changed much, and are complex.

    5. Where did the obesity epidemic come from? Answers are disputed, but it seems likely that abundant simple carbs play a causal role. People didn’t get fat from eating meat and eggs and butter.

  8. You can’t focus just on high-carb/low-carb. The only reason paleo is associated with low carb is that most people get into the diet to lose weight and it just tends to cut your carb ratio down relative to the standard american diet. However, you can tank up on sweet potatoes all day long on the diet and be high-carb and paleo.

    Mostly the focus is on avoiding neolithic agents of disease. AKA: glutenous grains, excessive seed oils, and simple sugars. All of these are relatively new in our diets especially in the ratios we experience now. The latter two sugar and seed oils are very new.

    It helped me lose weight quickly and permanently. and now I’ve added in rice and some corn and kept my weight steady. This is the system I used: http://www.archevore.com/get-started/

  9. Pingback: PC Thought Police go after Geoffrey Miller | Occam's Razor

  10. 1) Assume that “Africans” means Negroes, not North Africans.
    2) Assume that “Europeans” means North West Europeans, not Greeks.

    Then agriculture is roughly equally old for (substantial parts of) subSaharan Africa and for NW Europe. Which rather knocks the original argument here on the head.

    • Agriculture is extremely recent in black Africa, generally within the historical memory of illiterate peoples. The Tutsi remember bringing agriculture to the Hutu. Academic piety to the contrary is political correctness.

      Agriculture arose somewhere near Lebanon, thus in Africa, but was not practiced by “Africans”

      There is no evidence of stone age agriculture south of the Nile. Agriculture in Africa arrived with people from the nile wielding iron weapons.

  11. It’s all about gluten and meat from diabetic animals. As Mangan said, check out paul jaminet’s work and all shall be clear. Dave Asprey is another name to google. Paleo is really not a great term, its about drawing together evolutionary insights and sifting through the mess of bad data and misguided conclusions to find the clinical research gems so that we have a user’s manual for the humanbody.

  12. Pingback: Go hog-wild with ‘Beyond Bacon: Paleo Recipes’ cookbook – Examiner.com | The Paleo Diet Recipe Cookbook

  13. To the pro-paleo people:

    “Twinkie diet helps nutrition professor lose 27 pounds”

    What is your explanation for the twinkie diet? In my own experience, counting calories always works, it just seems that nobody likes to do that. Which is understandable, but my gut impression is that atkins/paleo/low-carb eating is mostly about increasing satiety and therefore decreasing calories consumed without battling hunger pangs.

    These days, I just eat whenever I want. Whenever my belt starts getting tight, I cut the calories and up the cardio until my abs peek through again. Lather, rinse, repeat. (70 inches in height, weight fluctuation between 160-180, usually 165-175, WASP genes with a hint of juden.) I suspect that this approach would work for the vast majority of people given sufficient executive function.

    When I’ve done paleo et al, it always struck me as a reliable way to be not-fat, but at the cost of mental clarity (low-carb brain fog) and the inability to eat tiramisu and drink milk stouts.

    I think there’s a motivation to find frictionless living in humans in general. It’s more pronounced in nerds, and especially techno-nerds. Nerd-right types (and I consider myself of that mold) tend to be more self-aware of this, but I think we get caught on the paleo thing. Basically, I look at paleo as similar to GTD (the Getting Things Done “Productivity System”): there is a kernel of truth in there (refined carbs are one of the easiest ways to down excess calories, cutting them out is great — likewise, writing shit down is a great way to remember to do it later), but it gets blown way out of proportion when its used in an attempt to remove friction from life. God and Darwin agree: life is friction (or bloody upheaval, if you will). If you really want to escape it, be a Buddhist monk.

    One of the badass things about being human is our flexibility. We can eat just about anything we want, live just about anywhere in the world… hell we put people on the moon! Folks who drone on about our “ancestral environment” and how we are maladapted to modernity may have a point somewhere in all the tears, but mostly I think they’re pussies. Real men, like Marines, can improvise, adapt, and overcome.

    In conclusion, carbs really aren’t a big deal, just don’t eat too much. If reducing carbs (or GI or whatever) helps you to not eat too much because you are insufficiently evolved to have enough executive function to simply not eat too damn much, go for it. But if you’re white enough to write a book, perform an integral, build a house, etc, I would hope that the mere act of eating an appropriate quantity of food would not pose too much of a challenge.

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