The Paleo Diet Is Bullshit

The Paleo Diet Is Bullshit

the paleo diet is bullshit

Many critics have claimed that “The Paleo Diet is bullshit ” while many Paleo Proponents claim “Nobody has adapted to a Post-Agricultural Diet”. The question is, who is right?

If you ask me, the answer is neither. And if you are a firm ‘believer’ in evolution, you may come to the same conclusion. Allow me to preface this article in this way:

•  Evolution via natural selection is the central dogma of Biology.
•  The Paleo Diet serves as a logical framework based on evolutionary theory.
•  The Paleo Diet as an evolutionary template gives us the basis for testable health predictions.
•  The Evolutionary Theory is a good framework for hypothesis generation.

Now, It’s really not as far-fetched as one may think to apply the evolutionary theory to diet. Here’s a perfect example:

Evolutionarily and biologically speaking, I know that my cat is an obligate carnivore, and evolved to be that way over eons. Yet, I fed her Royal Canin Urinary SO for years because that’s what the veterinarian prescribed her for chronic urinary tract infections  (UTI).

Initially, I trusted the judgment of my vet, but my cat never improved. I postulated that my obligate carnivore of a cat was biologically maladapted to her prescribed diet of chicken, corn, rice, and soymeal, and I hypothesized that my cat would improve if I switched her to a raw cat food diet consisting of muscle and organ meat. Unwittingly, my cat Flip became a science experiment. Luckily, it worked for her, and she hasn’t had a UTI since the transition, over 5 years ago.

See, Not Horribly Outlandish. Read on.

The concept of the evolutionary diet, or “Paleo Diet” itself is applied with a similar basis, often for similar reasons, but to humans.  The theory is that the “Paleo Diet” is the one which humans are physiologically best suited for since humans (homo sapiens and homo sapiens sapiens) evolved following this dietary regimen. So, people across the world are testing this theory with an n=1 experimental design.

It’s a large-scale science experiment, and of course, results vary.  Some find after 30 days of eliminating grains, dairy, and legumes that they cannot reintroduce them well while some find that they do just fine. I think it’s good to know your personal limitations. In that capacity, the Paleo Diet is probably the best baseline to test your dietary limitations from.

We use evolution as a reason to adopt the Paleo Diet, but then we often forget that we have the incredible ability to adapt as a species under pressure to new environments. It is for this reason that I cringe when I hear I anyone say that “No one is adapted to grains and legumes and dairy.”  Trust me, I sincerely wish that were true (for agricultural reasons) but it likely isn’t.

the paleo diet is bullshit perfect hunter-gatherer dentition the paleo diet is bullshit dental caries from agrarian societyWhile researching insecticide applications on monocrops, I learned that with every new insecticide class, cases of resistance surfaced within 2 to 20 years — and that this type of prolonged exposure artificially selects for resistance. We saw the same thing happen with Methicillin-Resistant Staph.

Aureus (MRSA). This, as I see it, is part of the natural selection, adaptation, and evolution process. Species adapt, over time, to interventions that were designed to kill them…  Or in our case, prevent us from eating them.

If our ancestors were initially maladapted to their new agricultural diets—which is likely since early agrarian societies weren’t as healthy or robust relative to hunter-gatherer societies according to surveys of dental caries and associated pathologies by physical and forensic anthropologists— they would have experienced significant pressures to adapt.

If it takes 2 to 20 years for insects to adapt, it seems likely that over the course of 10,000 years, selective pressures from a Neolithic, agricultural-diet, would render some population of adapted humans.

As the hypothesis goes, populations who have a short agrarian history (having only a few generations pass since being hunter-gatherers) wouldn’t be well adapted, and those who have the longest agrarian history (having several hundreds of generations pass since hunter-gatherers) would have the most well-adapted populations.

This particular evolutionary hypothesis could help explain why studies of aboriginal populations indicate that they experience an abnormally greater rate of “diseases of civilization” when they adopt “Neolithic” diets.

It may also explain why some specific ethnicities experience abnormally greater rates of “Neolithic” disease and autoimmune conditions, as well. Perhaps not enough time has passed to exert enough selective pressure to manifest into adaptation.  It’s not a perfect explanation, but it does merit further inspection.

By that accord, it also makes sense that the longer your ancestors had adopted a Neolithic Diet, the greater your chances of being well-adapted are.

For example, there are entire populations of people who are seemingly impervious to the negative aspects of high-grain diets, like those who live near the Cradle of Civilization, or the Fertile Crescent, where the earliest known agricultural civilizations began.  Interestingly enough, those who live in the region also consume a “Mediterranean diet”.

Which Makes Me Wonder…

Is there something inherently better about the Mediterranean Diet, or is it possible that we are just studying a population of people who are simply better adapted to a post-agricultural revolution diet? After all, they live in the Cradle of Civilization. If this hypothesis was true, they would have had the longest time to adapt.

Anyway, I see the Paleo Diet as another application of evolutionary theory to generate hypotheses, and a baseline to test adaptation from in lieu of knowing precisely who may be well-adapted, or maladapted. Which is why I find that believing that the “The Paleo Diet is bullshit” or that “Nobody has adapted to a Post-Agricultural Diet” for believers of evolution requires some substantial amount of cognitive dissonance.

Food for thought.




14 Responses

  1. Karen I totally agree with you. Traditional post agriculture groups get adjusted genetically to a specific diet and also develop their diet as a complete system as a results of hundred years of experience This explains the Blue Zones longevity. It has nothing to do with meat consumption only with staying close to traditional diet coupled with basic (antibiotics) medical treatment.

  2. I think this raises interesting questions about anal sex. I have been trying to get my girlfriend to indulge in this for a while to no prevail. Did cave men poke their partners up the bum. I believe the answer to be yes more so because i can imagine a caveman ramming it anywhere but human evolution in its clearest form would suggest no for obvious reasons. Is anal bullshit………..

  3. Makes sense, especially since those who are from those ethnic groups probably have varying amounts of AMY1 to enable them to consume carbs with little negative affects. Sadly, I did not inherent optimal amounts so I just get fat from carbs. If only I was asian or greek.

  4. I agree with everything besides, “the Paleo Diet is probably the best baseline to test your dietary limitations from since it is the original diet of our species”. Depending on the anthropologist or archaeologist you talk to, their answers to what our Paleolithic ancestors used to eat will vary drastically. Also, when you excavate it’s based on a lot of speculation.

    • Are any archaeologists under the impression that we ate post-agricultural revolution foods like grains and legumes pre-agriculturally?

      And if not mimicking a hunter gatherer diet, what’s baseline?

      • Hi I’m a bioarchaeologist so I thought I would correct you on this. You do realize that the process of domestication of plants and animals takes many generations. In order to domesticate a species you have to fully understand it’s life and reproduction cycle so that humans can overtake it. That does actually mean that people were eating and seeking out grains and legumes pre-agriculturally. We know from archaeological evidence that many species were attempted to be domesticated but it did not always work. Also pre-agricultural diets were not consistent at all, don’t imply that they were. They varied depending on the environment and what was available. In general though people ate what was availible and tasted good. That means they didn’t avoid grains or legumes if they were available.

  5. Jack,
    This magazine is run by the Paleo Foundation, a non-profit organization that certifies food. In order to be showcased or even allowed to advertise on this site, you would have to submit your product for certification. See for more information.


  6. So how did our ancestors manage to kill all this big game when they didn’t have guns? I mean a small flint arrow can only kill so much.
    The whole basis of Paleo is a fairy tale sold to the masses who can’t think for themselves.

    • How do a pack of wolves bring down a moose without guns?

      That’s right. No guns necessary. Just wit, and cooperation.

    • Ha ha ha! They hunted together, the same way other pack animals do it. Have you ever taken an anthropology course? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

      • Have you ever gone hunting before? You don’t just go out and get dinner in an hour. It typically takes 50+ hours to kill a single deer, moose, or bear with a high powered rifle and other modern equipment. It takes a while to find signs of where they live, figure out their patterns, set up blinds or stands and let the animals become comfortable with them, wait for a shot, track the animal down, skin it out, carry it home, prepare the meat, etc. The old running them to exhaustion method requires all of the above except once you see the animal, you have to run a marathon before throwing your weapon

        • Nevertheless Ellie… somehow the humans managed to kill off the vast majority of the wild predators after they crossed the Bering Strait. I take it you aren’t familiar with the overkill hypothesis, eh? That’s ok. Most people aren’t aware that the land mass of the Americas rivaled that of the African Savannah.

          The truth is, humans are the ULTIMATE apex predator. Look around you.

  7. Great article, I think that you could be generally right. I have been on the paleo and the weight fell off me, and yes eating grains after did make me feel bloated and rough. However I seem to be able to get over this feeling, so your hypothesis would be correct. Still like paleo and prefer the diet or more truthfully paleo lifestyle.

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