With the New Year already in full swing, many Americans have turned to diets and supplements to help ease their way into a healthier lifestyle. One such diet is the Paleolithic diet.
This diet, also known as the Paleo or caveman diet, follows a simple eating plan: plants and animals. This weight-loss craze is one where consumers eat like early humans did during the Stone Age, giving modern calorie-counters tremendous freedom since ancestral diets likely differed greatly over time and space.
According to researchers at Georgia State University and Kent State University, there were many more than just one Paleo diet. The findings, published in The Quarterly Review of Biology, state there is very little evidence that any early hominids had specialized diets.
Dr. Ken Sayers, a postdoctoral researcher at the Language Research Center of Georgia State, said “Some earlier workers had suggested that the diets of bears or pigs — which have an omnivorous, eclectic feeding strategy that varies greatly based on local conditions — share much in common with those of our early ancestors. The data tend to support this view.”
The research offers several key points that should be taken into consideration before jumping aboard the Paleo wagon:
- The Paleo diet is a difficult one to characterize. Advocates suggest eating certain types of foods and a percentage of energy that should come from protein, carbohydrates and fat. But these recommendations are based largely on estimations from only a limited number of modern human hunter-gatherers. The diet of all early humans was certainly a much broader palate.
- Early humans lived in varied environments, which would have affected the type of food made available. Those living in a northern climate, for example, may have had an almost exclusively animal-based diet; while those near the equator might rely heavily on plant-based resources.
- Today’s food is not the same food as yesteryear. In the paper, Sayers says the produce we buy in supermarkets has been specially selected for certain qualities, such as being large and sweet.
“The foods that we’re eating today, even in the case of fruits and vegetables, have been selected for desirable properties and would differ from what our ancestors were eating,” Sayers said.
- Our ancestors had shorter life spans, therefore making it difficult to prove if their diets were truly healthier. The study suggests that because early humans had shorter life expectancies, they didn’t see diseases come about that were linked to high-fat or high-sugar ratios. Simply put, the reason consumers today are experiencing these diseases are because we are around long enough for it to affect us.
- Lastly, our ancestors were focused on one thing: survival.Researchers claim that eating a balanced diet was probably the last thing on early humans’ minds, as their true concerns were more than likely how to stay alive.
“Throughout the vast majority of our evolutionary history, balancing the diet was not a big issue,” Sayers said. “They were simply acquiring enough calories to survive and reproduce. Everyone would agree that ancestral diets didn’t include Twinkies, but I’m sure our ancestors would have eaten them if they grew on trees.”