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The Paleolithic Diet

"Eating paleo" or following a paleo diet means eating the foods that the human race evolved eating. Humans have been on earth for about 2 million years in our present physical form. From 2 million years ago until about 10,000 years ago was what's called the Paleolithic Era, during which time all humans on earth lived in hunter-gatherer societies.

The Neolithic Era began about 10,000 years ago, and is when human began farming and raising animals for food, rather than gathering what appeared naturally in the world and hunting the animals we ate. For 2 million years we ate a very different diet, and that is what our bodies are still designed to process.

The human diet changed very drastically in the Neolithic Era, and 10,000 years is not long enough to adapt to such a drastic change.

Some researchers believe that Neolithic foods - the foods introduced into the human diet at the start of the Neolithic Era - are the cause of autoimmune disease. Loren Cordain's articles give details of the mechanism. The book NeanderThin is a case in point - written by someone with multiple autoimmune disease who was healed by a paleolithic diet.

Before the Neolithic Era, humans never ate anything made from the milk of other animals (no human had the enzyme to digest lactose after infancy), or grain, potatoes, beans, or refined sugar.

Even today, hunter-gatherer societies consider drinking the milk of other animals to be a perversion. Most people on earth have some degree of lactose intolerance because all humans on earth were lactose intolerant after infancy until the Neolithic Era. Also, dairy products cause excessive production of mucous.

Grain, potatoes, and most beans are toxic raw - either will give you a very serious stomach ache, or in the case of potatoes can kill you. Figuring out that toxic foods can become (relatively) non-toxic when cooked is a very sophisticated idea that came late in our evolution.

In addition to the outright toxicity, Neolithic foods - especially grains, beans, and potatoes - are unusually high in a substance called lectins, and this is believed to be the cause of autoimmune disease. The mild toxicity of Neolithic Foods even when cooked causes mild inflammation in the gut that leads to "leaky gut" - the contents of the gut leak into the body. When the lectins escape from the gut they are attacked by the body's immune system as foreign. But because lectins are very similar to the body's own tissue, this priming against lectins can cause the body to get confused and attack itself. When you stop eating foods that contain lectins, the immune response subsides.

There are many other problems with the Neolithic Diet in terms of its nutritional profile compared to the Paleolithic Diet. It's much higher in carbohydrates, and there is a strong association between this and the diseases of modern times such as heart disease (high carbohydrates increase cholesterol) and diabetes. Plus the increase in salt causes high blood pressure. And the balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is disrupted - we get too much omega-6 fatty acids from eating grain and grain-fed beef, and not enough omega-3 fatty acids. This, too, causes autoimmune disease.

Omega-3 fatty acids are important because they have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. In paleolithic times, our omega-3:omega-6 ratio was 1:3 or 1:4. In today's Standard American Diet (SAD), it's 1:30 or worse. That's why part of the paleo diet is to eat grass-fed beef, and IBD patients are advised to take omega-3 supplements such as krill oil. (Krill oil is better than fish oil because it contains antioxidants - also, it doesn't have that horrible aftertaste.)

Note that omega-3 supplements are not a cure-all. It's virtually impossible to get the proportion back in balance if you're still eating a lot of grain, grain-fed meat, fish, or poultry (yes, farm-raised fish are force-fed grain), or dairy products from grain-fed cattle.

References:

Introduction to the Paleolithic Diet (Dr. Ben Balzer)
Paleolithic Nutrition: Your Future Is In Your Dietary Past (Jack Challem)
The Paleolithic Diet and Its Modern Implications: An Interview with Loren Cordain, PhD (Robert Crayhon, MS)


 

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Last updated 11 Apr 09