Paleo Diet and Paleolithic Lessons

Paleo Diet and Paleolithic Lessons

An evolutionary argument for a plant-based diet is presented, in contrast to paleo fad diets.

A review published recently made an evolutionary argument for a plant-based diet, given the fact that we apparently evolved eating huge amounts of whole plant foods. 200,000 years ago it’s estimated that we consumed 600mg of vitamin C a day. That’s the amount of vitamin C found in 10 oranges, the amount of vitamin E found in 2 cups of nuts, the amount of calcium found in 5 cups of collard greens—and they weren’t milking mammoths or anything. That came from all their wild greens. 100 plus grams of fiber—now we’re are lucky if we get 20 in day.

In fact, we were exposed to such a quantity of healthy whole plant foods, we as a species lost our ability to make vitamin C. We still actually have the vitamin C gene in our DNA, but our bodies just junked it because why bother? Why waste the energy? We’re getting massive doses all day every day. The problem is now what happens when you take our evolutionary heritage, fine-tuned over the millennia and plop it down into meat and potato chip country?

Advocates of the so-called Paleo diet are certainly right in railing against refined and processed junk, but may just use it as an excuse to just eat loads of meat that bears little resemblance to flesh of prehistoric wild animals. Just the contaminant issue alone. Recently in the journal of the American Meat Science Association, a review was published cataloguing the laundry list: arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, preservatives, and veterinary drugs, like the antibiotic residues. Given what’s now in fish, for example, “it would be impossible to follow the Paleolithic diet while avoiding the risks associated with consuming mercury in amounts in excess of the suggested EPA threshold.”

The paleo diet patients I saw in my practice weren’t consisting on weeds and eating a 100 grams of fiber a day. They were eating burgers, not bugs. Based in part on our evolutionary history, “Sufficient scientific evidence exists for public health policy to promote a plant-rich diet for health promotion.”

Sources Cited:

Andrée S, Jira W, Schwind KH, Wagner H, Schwägele F. Chemical safety of meat and meat products. Meat Sci. 2010 Sep;86(1):38-48.

Benzie IF. Evolution of dietary antioxidants. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2003 Sep;136(1):113-26.

Jew S, AbuMweis SS, Jones PJ. Evolution of the human diet: linking our ancestral diet to modern functional foods as a means of chronic disease prevention. J Med Food. 2009 Oct;12(5):925-34.

Benzie IF, Wachtel-Galor S. Vegetarian diets and public health: biomarker and redox connections. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2010 Nov 15;13(10):1575-91.


Dr. Michael Greger


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