Back in 1985, a then-obscure physician published a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine titled, “Paleolithic Nutrition: A Consideration of Its Nature and Current Implications.” The author, Dr. Boyd Eaton, argued a simple yet elegant theory. To quote from a later review paper he authored:
“The nutritional needs of today’s humans arose through a multi-million year evolutionary process during nearly all of which genetic change reflected the life circumstances of our ancestral species. But since the appearance of agriculture 10,000 years ago, and especially since the Industrial Revolution, genetic adaptation has been unable to keep pace with cultural progress.”
Eaton argued that those last 10 millennia have produced little in the way of consequential genetic alterations of human physiology, such that we humans are still nutritionally best adapted to eat what our Paleolithic Age ancestors ate millions of years ago.
Which, to be sure, was a lot heavier on fresh meat and fish and a lot lighter on such vegetarian specialties of processed soy protein and jet-freighted fruits and salad ingredients.
That’s to be expected when you live in caves and spend your waking hours hunting wild animals with stone-tipped spears and sharpened sticks.
According to Eaton’s research, the Paleo diet not only contained plenty of meat, but also highly nutritional wild roots, greens and other “uncultivated” fruits and vegetables. Surprisingly—especially for the veggie believers who condemn any amount of meat-eating—the typical Paleo diet that sustained our earliest human ancestors, best as can be estimated, provided about 35% to 37% protein, about 40% Complex carbohydrates and no more than 25% fat.
Even by contemporary nutritional standards, that’s a pretty healthy, well-balanced diet, one that compares favorably with USDA’s current recommendations.
Not by diet alone
Fast forward a couple decades from Dr. Eaton’s groundbreaking study, and the Paleo diet appears to be making a comeback. In the midst of an unprecedented wave of rhetoric and advocacy for various vegetarian diets (and lifestyles) Paleo diet enthusiasts contend that a diet of meat, root and green vegetables and fish—along with lots of exercise—is the ticket to optimal health and well-being.
As part of its extended review of meat-eating in our modern age, National Public Radio this week featured John Durant, a Paleo diet enthusiast who is authoring a book on the diet. He told NPR that, “For millions of years, we didn’t have an obesity problem because we ate foods that our metabolism was adapted to. We were active and lived a healthy lifestyle.”