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Experimental data show that the popular Paleolithic diet modeled on the diet of our prehistoric ancestors does have positive effects on the metabolism and physiology of the body in healthy individuals as well as in patients with various diseases.

A series of evolutionary events that took place since the dawn of Homo sapiens are responsible for our present genomic composition. The genetic modifications that led us to the human form presently inhabiting the planet have evolved in a specific evolutionary environment of adaptedness (EEA). So-called discordance hypothesis states that environmental change has been rapid and there is a disjunction between the past environment and the present one. This rapid change resulted in our inadequate genetic adaptation and consequently "diseases of civilization", that is chronic diseases which did not appear in our ancestors but are very common now.

The Paleolithic era is the time when humans began to domesticate animals and started to grow plants for consumption. It began two million years ago and continued till 10,000 years ago, after which the Mesolithic period started. Our ancestors have lived their lives as hunter-gatherers and their diet was based on wild animal sources and uncultivated plants. Many studies have examined a diet imitating the diet of our evolutionary ancestors (popularly known as Paleo diets) and examining if any health benefits can be gained through their use.

Health concerns In The Modern Era

Industrialization and a food revolution have significantly impacted the diet of the modern era. Today, our diet primarily consists of refined and processed food: cereals, grains and hydrogenated vegetable oil, food which provides instant and heavy energy but is often poor in nutrients and suffers from a lack of variety.

As mentioned earlier, the changes in our dietary patterns were more rapid and drastic than the genetic adaptation of our physiology and metabolism. This mismatch has impacted health to an extent that maladies like: heart diseases (ischemia, and coronary artery disease), glucose metabolic diseases (diabetes mellitus (type2)), intestinal diseases like diverticulosis and colon cancers, lung diseases such as obstructive pulmonary disease, dental problems, obesity and hypertension are common in humans at present but were rarely seen in our ancestors.

Paleolithic Diet

The modern Paleolithic diet is, of course, an invention of dietologists. In this day and age, we aren't able to consume the same type and quality of food as our prehistoric ancestors did. Nonetheless, we can closely model their diet to see if it brings any benefits to modern humans

The real diet of the Paleolithic period lacked refined and processed foods. It was primarily based on plant sources (nuts and fruits), some insects and meat of land and sea animals. Total fat intake was around 20 percent out of which six percent were saturated fats. The hunter-gatherer diet contained around 480 g/day intake of cholesterol, carbohydrate comprised 35 percent to 65 percent of the diet (nearly 70 g/day) but almost all carbs come from fruits and vegetables, and the total fiber was 150 g/day. The ratio of sodium to potassium was found to be very low, and sodium intake was around 770 mg/day.

If a food pyramid is created to describe the diet of our ancestors, it would look rather different from the present day situation. A Paleolithic food pyramid would have fruits and vegetables on the bottom, followed by lean meat, fish, dairy (low fat), whole grains and fats, and refined carbs would be placed at the top.

Continue reading after recommendations

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  • ELTON, S (2008) Environments, Adaptation, and Evolutionary Medicine: Should We be Eating a Stone Age Diet? In: S. Elton, P. O'Higgins (ed.), Medicine and Evolution: Current Applications, Future Prospects. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press
  • FRASSETTO, L. A., SCHLOETTER, M., MIETUS-SYNDER, M., MORRIS JR., R. C., & SEBASTIAN, A. (2009) Metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 63, 947-955
  • KONNER, M. (2001) Evolution and our environment: will we adapt? Western Journal of Medicine, 174, 360-361
  • KONNER, M. & EATON, S. B. (2010) Paleolithic Nutrition: Twenty-Five Years Later. Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 25, 594-602
  • RAMSDEN, C. E., FAUROT, K. R., CARRERA-BASTOS, P., CORDAIN, L., LORGERIL, M. D., SPERLING, L. S. (2009) Dietary Fat Quality and Coronary Heart Disease Prevention: A Unified Theory Based on Evolutionary, Historical, Global, and Modern Perspectives. Current Treatment Options in Cardiovascular Medicine, 11, 289-301
  • JÖNSSON, T., GRANFELDT, Y., AHRÉN, B., BRANELL, U. C., PÅLSSON, G., HANSSON, A., SÖDERSTRÖM, M., LINDEBERG, S. (2009) Beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: a randomized cross-over pilot study. Cardiovascular Diabetology, 8, 35
  • JÖNSSON, T., GRANFELDT, Y., LINDEBERG, S. & HALLBERG, A-C. (2013) Subjective satiety and other experiences of a Paleolithic diet compared to a diabetes diet in patients with type 2 diabetes. Nutritional Journal, 12, 105.Photo courtesy of Ohsarahrose via Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/oh_darling/6759149085
  • Photo courtesy of Paleodulce via Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/paleodulce/10698767476

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