When it comes to eating habits, it’s clear that most Americans are doing it wrong.
A growing chorus of people say modern and processed foods are to blame, insisting that we should instead take an “evolutionary approach” to our diets and turn to foods that were eaten by our Paleolithic ancestors. Critics have responded by proclaiming it a misguided step in the wrong direction. Either way, Paleo eating has become a major lifestyle.
In short, humans are best suited to a meat-centric diet.
There’s no question that something’s terribly wrong with the way we eat. Nearly one in three Americans is overweight or obese, and rates of diabetes continues to rise. These conditions, along with steady rates of heart disease, cancer, and inflammatory problems, have led some to predict that the young generation now growing up will the first ever in our history to have shorter lifespans than their parents.
It’s been said that nothing in biology is worth knowing outside of the context of evolutionary biology. Human nutrition is no exception.
The human genome has remained relatively unchanged for the past 120,000 years – a lengthy expanse of span of time during which our Paleolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors primarily ate meat, with some vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Evolution ensured that humans were well adapted to eat those types of foods, and their bodies were happy to receive them.
It’s only been in the last 10,000 years, however, that humans have started to engage in agriculture, a technological and sociological development that has resulted in increased reliance on grains, legumes, and dairy — what are now Neolithic staples. Trouble is, our bodies haven’t the foggiest idea what to do with these foods, and in some cases, they’re actually toxic.
Shockingly, it’s been over these past 10,000 years that humans have become significantly shorter, fatter, less muscular, and more prone to disease. It’s this realization that has led some thinkers like Jared Diamond to proclaim that agriculture was the worst mistake our species has ever made. While it’s been great for society as a whole, from a health perspective it’s proven catastrophic for individuals.
Consequently, a new approach to eating has emerged called the Paleolithic Diet, or simply “Paleo” for short. Advocates of this diet focus on eating unprocessed foods like lean meat, seafood, roots, tubers, fruits, and vegetables. Not only are these foods comprehensible to the human digestive system, they pack much more nutrition per calorie than typical Neolithic and processed foods.
In terms of what not to eat, followers of the Paleo diet refrain from eating grains, legumes, and dairy — each of which contains toxic elements that our bodies have never had a chance to adapt to. These foods fatten our physiques and shorten our lives. Paleo advocates claim that by avoiding these foods, and eating more along the lines of how our ancestors ate, we can stave off such problems as obesity, diabetes, cancer, and cardiac disease.