While there are over 10,000 Paleo cookbooks, diet books, and food products such as paleo pizza crust, paleo apple crisp granola, and paleo wraps available on Amazon.com, can we really follow the Paleo diet that our Stone Age cousins were consuming?
“Probably not,” according to Dr. David Katz, the founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, “because the plants and animals that our ancestors were consuming are now extinct. More importantly, they definitely were not processed.” There goes the Paleo pizza crust. The Paleo diet is based on eating only the foods presumably eaten by our hunting and gathering ancestors.
Katz spoke this week at the Whole Grains Breaking Barriers Conference sponsored by Oldways. “The meat that our ancestors hunted for was much leaner, lower in heart unhealthy saturated, and higher in healthy omega-3 fatty acids than what is available today in our supermarkets. They were not hunting for pastrami and salami,” noted Katz.
In reality, our Stone Age ancestors gathered whole plant foods and ate them without added sugar or salt. In other words, the apples were plucked and consumed right off the tree, not sliced, tossed with sugar, and baked smothered with a buttery crisp topping. Forget adding the à la mode part for obvious reasons.
According to Katz, our Paleolithic ancestor consumed about 100 grams of fiber daily. Since carbohydrate-rich fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds can only provide about 2 to 6 grams of fiber per serving, this meant that they had to have consumed a lot of plant foods to rack up that much fiber every day. A study in Spain looking at Neanderthals’ remains and soil samples of their bodily waste products has dug up evidence that their diet contained a routine amount of plants, such as berries and nuts. In essence, the vintage Paleo diet appears to be plant-based, a tenet of what we know to be a healthy diet today.
In addition to the roughage, these plant foods also added a bushel of health-promoting antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals to this Paleolithic diet. “While agriculture wasn’t available in the Stone Age, adding whole grains to the diet of Americans can inexpensively add fiber, healthy nutrients, and other compounds,” states Katz. Currently Americans are consuming only 16 grams of dietary fiber daily, on average. The recommendation is to consume 20 to 35 grams daily.
The vintage Paleo diet, with tons of plant foods and the consumption of only lean meats, does contain many healthy attributes. “The problem is that most Americans don’t have time to hunt and gather their foods in the wild and are eating Paleo-like processed foods instead. These foods were not part of history,” notes Katz.
Photo credit: USDA