The Paleolithic Diet
By Bob Hodgen
Updated July 18, 2001
I started the Atkins diet in July 1999. I lost weight quickly and easily at a rate of a half pound per day. Curious, I began reading other low-carb diet books and started searching the Internet. Online, I ran across something called the Paleolithic Diet. There were a lot of references to "NeanderThin," a book by Ray Audette. I bought the book and became a convert. To date I have lost a total of 50 pounds, feel great, and have a lot more energy than before. My wife, Karen, has lost 20 pounds on the diet and suffers from her allergies much less often. Our children are calmer and more focused when they eat paleo. We even have fewer ants and bugs in the house now! No more bread crumbs laying around.
Here are the obligatory before-and-after photos:
What is the Paleolithic Diet?
For most of the million or so years our species has existed on Earth, we have been hunter-gatherers. Our ancestors hunted game and ate lots of meat. They also gathered whatever fruits, vegetables, nuts, and berries were in season. Being nomadic, they followed the sources of food and did not grow crops. Over many hundreds of thousands of years our ancestors became superbly adapted to this diet and lifestyle.
Studies of 19th and 20th century hunter-gatherers show that they ate a lot of meat. On average, two thirds of their calories came from animal sources. Our early ancestors probably ate at least as much meat. They produced many cave paintings and pictographs of the animals they hunted and carved animal figures or totems. I can't remember seeing any cave paintings of fruit, grains, or vegetables. Among the oldest man made objects are stone spear points knives and axes. The evidence shows that they followed the herds and their lives revolved around hunting.
The agricultural lifestyle came along about ten thousand years ago and spread around the world. In terms of genetics and our body's ability to adapt to dietary change, this is a very short time. The archeological record shows that there was a sharp decline in stature and health that went along with the change to the agricultrual diet and lifestyle. Early hunter-gatherers were 4 to 6 inches taller than early farmers. The hunters had stronger bones, fewer cavities, and, barring accident, they lived longer. Hunter-gatherers were rarely obese and had low rates of autoimmune diseases like arthritis and diabetes.
In spite of overall poorer health the farmers took over the world. How did this happen? Hunter-gatherers have children, on average, only every 3 to 4 years, while farmers have theirs every 11 months. Hunting and gathering only works for small groups of people. Chiefdoms, kingdoms, and states only arose after the advent of farming. A few people could produce food for many. Those freed up from the day to day search for food could become artisans, soldiers, and bureaucrats. A thousand soldiers supported by ten thousand slaves toiling in the fields became the new super weapon. These guys could whip any band of hunter gatherers! The old time hunter-gatherers were simply out-organized and out-bred. As more and more land was converted into crops, the animals and those who still followed them were driven off and marginalized. By the 19th and 20th centuries we could only find hunter-gatherers in the deserts, jungles, and remote places like the arctic.
In spite of civilization and ten thousand years of farming all of us still have the old hunter-gatherer DNA. There has not been enough time to adapt to our new diet. Studies of mitochondrial DNA show virtually no difference between the most diverse populations on the planet--groups which separated long before agriculture.
We are not adapted to eat many of the agricultural foods in our present diet. Foods like bread, corn, beans, and potatoes. As a result many of us eventually become obese or become more likely to suffer from autoimmune diseases like diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and allergies. We probably never will adapt because most of the time these ill effects hit us in middle age--after our children are raised.
The ecological consequences of large scale agriculture are severe. Forests are cut down to make room for crops. Topsoil is washed or blown away. Today fertilizers and insecticides are dumped on the land by the ton to improve "yield." Runoff from the fields turns our rivers and bays toxic. The wild animals that once lived on the land are disappearing with nowhere left to go.
The rules of the Paleolithic Diet are simple: Only eat what was available to the early hunter-gatherers. Foods which are edible raw. All other foods should be avoided. In effect this is the factory specified diet.
Do Eat: Meats and Fish, Fruits, Vegetables, Nuts, and Berries.
Do Not Eat: Grains, Beans, Potatoes, Dairy, Sugar.
On this diet you don't count calories or carbs. You eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full. I snack all the time on nuts and fruit. Any food of any kind from the "Do Eat" list is OK. All foods from the "Do Not Eat" category are strictly forbidden--no exceptions! It takes some will power at first, but after a week or two the cravings for the old foods go away.
This diet pretty much turns the old "food pyramid" upside-down. But, it works. Look at the growing popularity of Atkins and other low carbohydrate diets. In spite of what the media pundits are saying, people are losing weight and feeling good on these diets. All of these diet plans restrict high carbohydrate foods like bread, refined sugar, and pasta. I think the Paleolithic Diet is what ties all the low carb diets together. It explains how they work from the perspective of evolution and genetics.
It's hard to convince people that what they've been hearing about nutrition all their lives is wrong. Face it, we live in an agricultural society, and what we eat is a big part of our culture, politics, and even religion. This diet involves seeing the world from a new point of view. When you begin to question society's basic assumptions about food just about everything else deserves scrutiny. For us it's been a liberating experience.
We can never return to the old hunter-gatherer lifestyle--I don't think many of us would want to. What we can do is learn to look at our diet from an evolutionary perspective. Decide which foods and practices we keep and which we throw away. It will change your life.
I highly recommend getting a copy of "NeanderThin" by Ray Audette. You can order it online from Amazon or it can be found in most large bookstores.
UPDATE, JULY 2001:
This month marks the second anniversary of my starting the Paleo Diet. The weight I have lost has not come back. I still feel great.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that this diet is a permanent change to your lifestyle. It takes a commitment from the start. You can never go back to the old way of eating.
After the initial periord of adjustment it has been easy for me to follow the diet and not "cheat." I have no desire to go back. Now my cravings are for juicy hamburger meat, berries, and nuts.
Below are some links that will help you learn about the Paleolithic Diet.
NeanderThin Home Page
Soy Online Service Home Page
Bad news about Soy
The Oiling of America
Why Vegetable oils are bad for you.
The Guppy Homepage
This is a page devoted to our Willard 30' trawler with links to trawlers and our human powered hydrofoil.