April 18, 2012

The Paleo diet: Would you eat like your ancestors?

Have you ever wondered what our ancestors used to eat? How male bodies were fit and masculine and females were of medium weight yet healthy?
They never counted the calories, and they ate whatever they liked without any dietician dictating those annoying “No carb”, “No fat”, sometimes “No eating” diets! The notion of " nutrition" , "diet", " nutrients"  just emerged in the last century.
So how would the next human be like?

Why this change ?

Scientists claim that this pragmatic shift in human diets is primarily due to natural selection and the adaptation of humans. Human tools have been developed extensively from a simple wooden cutting tool to the nowadays multi-functional microwave oven.  Indeed, the tremendous inventions in agriculture and animal husbandry, and the technologies of food processing, packaging and distribution, have made food near and available all year around.
These adjustments are also attributed not just to the industrial revolution but also to the social changes that occurred along such as the change in family structures from a minimum of 6 members to two members only. Eventually, this affected eating rituals, such families sitting together on the same table and sharing a meal.  The changes in daily habits such as commuting and transportations have extremely affected the availability of food around us all the time, making it easier for us to grab our favorite meal whenever we are craving for it. Not to forget, how “sit-in” activities such watching TV or surfing the internet have developed bad eating habits such as nibbling.

Many researchers claim that  there are distinct differences between our contemporary diets and the paleolithic-type diets  due to these evolutionary forces that made our metabolism and physiology adapt  over a period of millions of years.  And this hominin evolution lead in a major or critical way to the pathogenesis of the "so-called diseases of civilization": cardiovascular disease and its sequelae, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, age-related sarcopenia and osteoporosis, hypertension and its sequelae, and some types of cancers....

And not to forget Obesity which is now considered by the world health organization as an epidemic disease, increasing the risk for gout, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, kidney stones and cancer.

That’s why some dieticians urge that the solution is following the diet of our ancestors.
This is the Paleo diet which is based on a simple notion that an effective diet is the one to which humans are best genetically adapted.

So what did our ancestors eat?  ( Resource : The Journal of World Prehistory)
  • They ate what they hunted and found: meat, chicken, eggs, fish, nuts, leafy greens, vegetables, tubers and roots, occasional berries or seasonal fruits, and seeds. 
  • Grains weren’t eaten till a thousand century ago. These grains have carbohydrates that cause body to store fat, proteins like lectins and gluten that the body can’t usually digest.
  • Dairy wasn’t in their meals as scientists assert that most humans are lactose intolerant and those who aren't have some kind of aversion to milk. This is observed by the fact that no animal drink milk beyond the infancy stage.

    ==>So, No dairy products, cereal grains, and refined fats . No sugar, candy, soft drinks, beer and this extra addition of salt.  And definitely Nothing processed!! 
Pros and Cons:

Alot of studies showed the health effect in improving the metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming this  hunter-gatherer type diet. According to the European Journal of clinical nutrition , this diet improves glucose tolerance, decreases insulin secretion, increases insulin sensitivity and improves lipid profiles without weight loss in healthy sedentary humans.


The diet is also shown to reverse the effects of several types of autoimmune disorders and diseases, including multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

The Paleolithic  diet improved glycemic control and several cardiovascular risk factors compared to a Diabetes diet in patients with type 2 diabetes..( More from  the research in BioMed Central)

Remarkably, scientists found that this " hunter gatherer" type of diet to be similar to the Mediterranean diet ( lean meat, fruits, vegetables and nuts ) and their effects are quite similar when it comes in reducing cardiovascular diseases.
Could this be due to a historical fact that most humans originated from the Mediterranean region?? Or could it  be due to the fact that Mediterranean kept their food rituals and menus for long time intact that were not affected by the industrial revolution? And thus avoiding becoming like the western diet which almost all health practitioners loath?

A much as this Paleo diet seem natural as much as it has received a bit of controversy.  Dieticians haven’t found yet any major backlash effect except the fact it is expensive compared to other diets.
However, as with any diet, the Paleo needs a lot of dedication to avoid grains,  dairy, sugar, and processed foods, a major part of our eating habits.

At the end, one has to question himself, do we think and act like our ancestors to follow their diet?  Haven't our genes mutated? Aren't our bodies adapted to this kind of sedentary lifestyle? We are no longer cavemen, and we are no longer hunting our food... Or perhaps  should we give it a try and continue in this ancestral legacy?



A part of this article also appeared in Outlook, AUB's student Newspaper, Volume 44 , Issue 19


1 comment:

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