Did Paleolithic People Eat Cookies?
I spotted a “Paleo Baking” section while walking through the grocery store the other day and it made me question how the world of food has evolved. Looking at the ingredients on a box of paleo cookie mix, I found it difficult to believe that our Paleolithic ancestors had chocolate chips, refined coconut sugar and refined flour made from coconuts.
In 1985, Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine titled “Paleolithic Nutrition”. This article was the foundation of what has become the current Paleo Diet. Twelve years later they published a revised document. The articles describe what was believed to be the standard diet of our Paleolithic ancestors. It is believed that humans ate mostly plants during the first 80 percent of Paleolithic period; it was only in the last 20 percent that they became more omnivorous.
The Paleo Diet is in fashion, suggesting what humans ate in the wild is what humans are most suited to eat today. People in the Paleolithic period had not mastered agricultural skills, so they foraged for food. In some parts of the world, animals were more abundant than plants, while in other parts of the world plants were widely available. Geography dictated what foods were available, which tells me that there was not just one specific Paleolithic diet.
Paleo Diet advocates suggest animal flesh is the most important form of protein for human nutrition. The Paleo Diet also promotes high consumption of fruits and vegetables, with moderate consumption of oils, nuts, and seeds. Legumes and grains are forbidden, along with dairy and processed foods. I personally agree with many of the ideas behind the Paleo Diet, but I disagree strongly with the elimination of beans and grains, and I also disagree that animal flesh in today’s world is the best option for protein.
The healthiest and longest lived people in the world are in locations called the Blue Zones. The common theme among people living in the Blue Zones is that they rely heavily on legumes for their daily protein, and these populations frequently eat grains. Paleo advocates state that legumes and grains contain a high amount of harmful “anti-nutrients” called “lectins”, and they are correct. What they fail to mention is that cooking grains and legumes eliminates the harmful lectins. The key to eating healthy grains and legumes is to eat whole grains and beans that have been properly cooked. For more about lectins, you can watch this video from Dr. Michael Greger to understand the scientific evidence regarding lectins in beans: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/are-lectins-in-food-good-or-bad-for-you/
The meat from your local grocery store is considerably higher in saturated fat and cholesterol when compared to the wild game hunted by our ancestors. Today’s farmed meats and seafood are raised quickly, fed a diet that is not natural for the species and the animals are pumped full of antibiotics and hormones to quickly increase their growth. The FDA recently published a report stating that 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are fed to farm animals. I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to avoid eating animal products.
I believe it is more important to focus on what the Paleolithic people didn’t eat. Processed foods, refined flours and sugars were non-existent in Paleolithic times. Refined oils and fried foods were not a part of the Paleolithic diet, and fast food restaurants were not on the corner of every trail they crossed while foraging for meals. Domestication of animals hadn’t begun, so Paleolithic people didn’t drink the milk from other mammals.
The scientific evidence is apparent when you break it down, and the Paleo Diet fad of today is not as close as you might think to what our Paleolithic ancestors ate. For a great analysis of the true Paleo Diet, view this video from Brenda Davis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qap62-_nhaQ Brenda Davis is a very well respected Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist. For another great video regarding the Paleo Diet, I would like to refer you to Dr. Michael Greger. Here is the link: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/the-problem-with-the-paleo-diet-argument/
Michael Pollan, the author of In Defense of Food and Omnivore’s Dilemma is quoted as saying “If it comes from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t!” This statement speaks to more than processed/packaged foods. When you think about it, all animal products you buy in the grocery store, including organic dairy, poultry, and other meats come from a manufacturing plant and are processed.
But chicken is healthy, right?
The chicken you buy today has more calories from fat than it does from protein, and it is typically pumped full of salt water to increase its moisture content, the shelf life, and weight. Chicken isn’t a healthy alternative. Dr. Michael Greger uses scientific data to briefly explain the issue with chicken consumption in this video: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/does-eating-obesity-cause-obesity/
I know many people in the United States are not ready to make major changes to their lifestyle and habits in order to improve their overall health. For most people, taking medication seems to be the solution to the problem. In my view, medication only reduces the symptoms and does not resolve the cause of the chronic disease. My mission is education; I choose to educate people on the positive and negative effects of the food they eat. I strive to provide knowledge that will help people understand what they put in their mouth will ultimately affect their health. It is up to each individual to decide what consequences they are willing to accept.