Is the Paleo Diet just another Fad Diet?
Although dietary patterns varied from region to region, people usually hunted many different species of wild game, including mammals, birds, reptiles, and even insects. If they lived near the coast, their diet likely included fish and seafood. And contrary to the popular image of cavemen gnawing on huge chunks of meat, many hunter-gatherers supplemented their diets with large quantities of vegetable foods, including the leaves, stems, and roots of many plants.
Grains, which form a large part of the modern diet, were mostly absent from the paleolithic diet; people did not begin baking bread until the advent of modern agriculture around 10,000 years ago. Refined sweeteners such as sugar and corn syrup were yet to be invented, although some people collected honey by raiding wild bee hives--a laborious and painful undertaking!
The Theory Behind the Paleo Diet
The paleo diet is based on the idea that many chronic diseases--from cancer to diabetes, heart disease, and even tooth decay--are caused by a mismatch between our genes and our environment. The 10,000 years that have passed since the invention of agriculture may seem like a very long time to us, but it is a mere blink of the eye compared with the millions of years during which our genes evolved.
Therefore, proponents of the paleo diet believe that humans have not had enough time to adapt to dietary changes which began with the invention of agriculture. Grains such as wheat and barley began to be ground into flour for baking and fermented to make beer. Another major change was the domestication of livestock, which led to increased consumption of milk and other dairy foods.
The human diet was transformed again by the Industrial Revolution, which started in Britain in the eighteenth century and eventually spread around the globe. New inventions led to greatly increased consumption of sugar and white flour. Other technological changes led to a decline in home cooking and a corresponding rise in fast food meals, TV dinners, and packaged snack foods.
Benefits of the Paleo Diet
At least five studies have been conducted on the paleo diet. Results have been favorable, with participants experiencing significant weight loss and reductions in risk factors for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. However, all of these studies were small, with a sample size of between nine and 29 participants.
Another way to predict how you might fare on the paleo diet is by looking at differences in disease patterns between hunting-and-gathering societies and Westernized ones. Many chronic diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, are rare in hunter-gatherer societies. This could mean that you will reduce your risk of these diseases by following a similar diet.
Criticisms of the Paleo Diet
The paleo diet is controversial, in part because it contradicts mainstream dietary advice to eat more whole grains while reducing consumption of red meat and other sources of saturated fat. Although proponents of the paleo diet believe that the diet is an effective way to prevent heart disease and other chronic diseases, critics contend that not enough research has been done to prove that the is diet safe and effective. They warn that the paleo diet may be ineffective, and even dangerous if it causes people to consume more foods that are high in saturated fat.
Some critics have challenged the claim that the pace of evolution is too slow for people to have adapted to the modern diet. For example, in paleolithic humans, only children could digest lactose, a sugar in milk. Yet in response to the domestication of cattle within the past 10,000 years, a genetic mutation that allows adults to digest lactose has spread to nearly half the world's population.
Advocates of the paleo diet point to archeological and anthropological evidence that hunter-gatherers rarely suffered from cancer, heart disease, and other chronic diseases. That's true, critics say, but only because they died young from other causes, such as hunting accidents and infectious.
Author: Joshua Beidler, United States
Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )