Contributed by Esther Lee, Rina Lee, Jasmine Labarca, Heather Wang, Phoenix Phung, Enakshi Das
Did you ever wonder what our ancestors ate? I do! The Paleo diet, also known as the caveman diet, Stone Age diet, and hunter-gatherer diet, consists of foods that are assumed to have been available to our ancestors before the Agricultural Revolution began around 333 generations ago. Our ancestors mainly ate meat, fruits, and vegetables before agriculture was developed, but now the Western diet has expanded to include a high number of cereal-grains, milk products, sugar, sweeteners, separated fats and alcohols, which now make up around 70% of our diet (Cordain et al., 2005). These new food sources were made available by the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions.
During prehistoric times, our ancestors ate raw, unprocessed foods, which require much more energy to digest. Nowadays, cooking, through the process of heating and pounding, breaks down the food, so food is not only easier, but also more efficient to digest (Gibbons 2015). This transition underlies the expensive tissue hypothesis (Suburu 2013), which links changes in diet to evolution of the human brain. The hypothesis is that the brain and gut tissue both require lots of energy, so as our brains became larger, the gut size became smaller. Cooking also allowed us to absorb more energy from food, further shrinking our gut, and allowing us to expand our brain.
Some people think that the Paleo diet is healthier because it is what sustained our ancestors and it is what we are thus adapted to eat. Instead of getting calories from processed foods, “Paleo dieters” get their nutrients through meat and raw, unprocessed foods. Many critics argue that the Paleo diet lacks food variety and believe that humans are adapted to consuming a varieties of foods, including those available in our modern diet.
This presentation explores the pros and cons of the two diets:
However, neither diet may be optimal for all individuals because of variation in the human population. Each individual reacts differently to the foods offered in each diet (Wan). For example, based on your genes, you can have a sweeter tooth than your friends (Gibbons 2015). There will always be environmental and cultural factors that will determine which diet is the best for you!
For more information see:
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Boers, Inge, Frits AJ Muskiet, Evert Berkelaar, Erik Schut, Ria Penders, Karine Hoenderdos, Harry J. Wichers, and Miek C. Jong. 2014. Favourable Effects of Consuming Palaeolithic-type Diet on Characteristics of the Metabolic Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Pilot-study. Lipids in Health and Disease 13:160.
Burger, J., M. Kirchner, B. Bramanti, W. Haak, and M.G. Thomas. “Absence of the Lactase-persistence-associated Allele in Early Neolithic Europeans.” Absence of the Lactase-persistence-associated Allele in Early Neolithic Europeans. N.p., 27 Dec. 2006. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.
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Wan, Samantha. Evolution in the Processed Foods Industry: Exploring the Impact of the Health Foods Movement. N.p.: U of Southern California, n.d. Print.