“Paleo” Diet Best Left in Caves

The Physicians Committee
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“Paleo” Diet Best Left in Caves

No matter what you call the fad of eating more meat and less grains, beans, and other agricultural products—Paleo, caveman, Stone Age, hunter-gatherer—this diet is not going to support overall, long-term health.

Here are the facts related to preagricultural-style diets:

  • The Paleolithic era was not only a long time ago, ending approximately 10,000 years ago, but it spanned an extremely long period of time, starting more than 2 million years ago. Additionally, populations lived in a wide range of geographical areas throughout this span of time. To pinpoint one diet for such a vast period of time and array of habitats is impossible.
  • DNA tests show that humans who lived during the Paleolithic era did consume grains and legumes.
  • The plants that were available during the Paleolithic era were much different than the plants available to us now.
  • The animals consumed during the Paleolithic era were quite different from what you see on a “Paleo” dieter’s plate today. Game, rodents, and other wild animals were on the menu, not cows and chickens.
  • Many hunter-gatherers were smaller and less well-nourished than people today.
  • Modern-day hunter-gatherer tribes are less healthy, and infections related to eating raw meat (e.g., hookworms) are common.
  • On the upside, “Paleo” diets do discourage processed food products and dairy products. But a couple of steps in the right direction cannot overcome the giant pitfalls that result from eating high-fat, high-cholesterol meat products and avoiding nutrient-dense plant foods like beans and whole grains.

Cerling T. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. June 3, 2013.

Riehl S, Zeidi M, Conard NJ. Emergence of agriculture in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains of Iran. Science. 2013;341:65-67.

Thompson RC, Allam AH, Lombardi GP, et al. Atherosclerosis across 4000 years of human history: the Horus study of four ancient populations. Lancet. 2013;381:1211-1122.

Hurtado AM, Hill KR. Seasonality in a foraging society: variation in diet, work effort, fertility, and sexual division of labor among the Hiwi of Venezuela. J Anthr Res. 1990;46:293-346.