The Science Behind Paleo: Fact or Fiction?

Paleo diet and science

Paleo diets are becoming increasingly popular. In fact, the recent boom in popularity has resulted in the introduction of many paleo specialty shops and restaurants. However, there are still many people who question whether the science behind a paleo lifestyle is fact or fiction.

What Is A Paleo Diet?

The main idea behind a paleo lifestyle is that we should not eat foods that our ancestors didn’t eat. Following this type of diet requires the exclusion of many modern food choices. Many paleo diets also require you to adopt a grain-free or gluten-free lifestyle. In general, if a caveman could not have eaten what is on your plate, you should not be eating it either.

Paleo diet and science

 

When choosing foods for a paleo diet, you are required to ask yourself whether or not a caveman could logically eat the food you are consuming. This means avoiding all processed foods, as well as foods that are prepared using methods or ingredients that would not have been available to your ancestors.

While your goal should be to eat like a caveman while on a paleo diet, this does not mean that you need to live like a caveman. With many restaurants and specialty shops selling paleo diet meal, it is quite possible to still enjoy many modern conveniences while still taking a natural approach to your diet.

Paleo diet and science

 

Why Does The Paleo Diet Exclude Processed Grains And Dairy Products?

The reason behind these exclusions is quite simple. A paleo diet is based on the belief that the human body is not designed to eat and digest these foods. Furthermore, while we have intellectually evolved far beyond the capabilities of our ancient ancestors, the human body still functions in essentially the same way. Consequently, the foods we consume should closely mirror the foods consumed by people who lived millions of years ago.

Paleo diet and science

 

The Evolution Of The Human Race

The human race has been around for millions of years. During this time, the race has evolved dramatically from the very simple caveman to the complex beings we are today. For nearly the entire length of this evolution, humans did not eat grains, dairy products, refined carbohydrates, coffee, or alcohol. In fact, these modern substances have only been around for about ten thousand years since the introduction of farming.

Paleo diet and science

 

Those who live a paleo lifestyle believe that the human body is not built to properly digest modern substances such as those discussed above. It is believed that the inability to process these substances properly has resulted in a significant increase in allergic reactions and obesity. It is also believed that these substances result in a buildup of toxins in the body that can cause illness and inflammation.

Paleo diet and science

 

Palaeolithic followers assert that it takes tens of thousands of years for the human body to evolve. Furthermore, this evolution only takes place through the need for survival and the process of natural selection.

The basis of a paleo diet info is that you eliminate the foods that your body has not evolved enough to process, all of the problems that come along with these foods will magically disappear. Sound logical? Well the truth is, these facts regarding evolution may not be as straight forward as originally thought.

Paleo diet and science

 

Humans Adapt Much Faster Than You Think

Do you buy into the belief that it takes tens of thousands of years for the human body to evolve? If so, you may be surprised to learn that humans actually adapt and evolve much faster than anyone thought possible. In fact, recent research studies have shown that humans are able to adapt to new environments and diets in as little as one thousand years.

In addition to developing the ability to survive in a new environment, research has shown that human genes can undergo major changes in as little as 300 generations or approximately a thousand years.

Proof That Your Digestive System Has Evolved

If you are looking for proof that your digestive system has evolved, look no further than the study of 101 Bronze Age skeletons that was conducted using skeletons from all across Europe.

Paleo diet and science

 

The subjects used in this study lived about 3,000 years ago. According to a paleo diet, this is long before humans should have been able to evolve to the point of effectively digesting dairy products.

This research study looked specifically at a gene known as lactase persistence. This gene is responsible for controlling an enzyme in your body allowing you to digest milk and other dairy products after the age of 3 without becoming ill.

Currently, about 75% of Europeans have this important gene. These rates are even higher in North Europe with approximately 90% of people having the lactase persistence gene mutation.

Paleo diet and science

 

Prior to this study it was believed that the lactase persistence gene mutation started to dominate approximately 10,000 years ago with the growth of the farming industry. However, the results of the study show that only about one in every twenty Bronze Age people had this mutation. This means that the gene mutation began much longer than originally thought. More importantly, this means that the gene mutation spread much faster than originally thought, ultimately proving that humans can adapt to new food sources far more quickly than paleo diets would like you to believe.

Still Not Convinced? Here’s Some More Evidence

Paleo diet and science

 

Paleo lifestyles often focus strongly on the effect of grains in our diet. According to cheap paleo diet plans, eating grains results in a wide variety of health problems, including obesity. These diet plans go on to blame the digestion of grains for the growing trend of gluten intolerance.

Much like the digestion of dairy products, the effective digestion of starch in carbohydrates is controlled by a specific gene. This particular gene is known as the amylase gene.

Paleo diet and science

 

Recently, a worldwide study took a much closer look at the amylase gene. According to this study, individuals who live in areas where carbohydrates make up a large portion of their diet have actually evolved to have multiple copies of this important gene in order to allow for the most effective digestion possible.

In addition to the overwhelming presence of the amylase gene, this study also found that the presence of this gene mutation actually helps to protect against obesity. Furthermore, the presence of this gene can only be traced back over the last few hundred generations. This evidence strongly contradicts the facts used to back up a paleo diet.

Paleo diet and science

 

Your Gut Can Evolve Even Faster Than You

If you are impressed by how quickly human genes can evolve, you will be shocked when you learn how quickly the bacterial genes inside your gut can evolve. While it takes thousands of years to cycle through just a few hundred generations of the human race, bacterial genes produce a new generation every half an hour. This allows these genes to evolve faster than you can imagine.

While bacterial genes may not be human in nature, they do play a very important role in how humans digest their food. This is because these genes make up the DNA of the microbes inside your digestive system. These microbes control how your food is digested, as well as producing many of the vitamins that your body needs to survive.

Paleo diet and science

 

In addition to evolving impressively fast, these bacterial genes also possess the ability to complete what is known as a horizontal gene transfer. This simply means that the genes swap themselves out in order to ensure survival rather than waiting for natural selection to eliminate the weaker genes. These gene transfers are completed on a regular basis in order to help combat new antibiotics. It is believed that these gene transfers can also be used quite effectively in order to deal with the demands of digesting new foods.

Paleo diet and science

 

Does This Mean A Paleo Diet Is Bad For You?

You may be surprised to learn that the answer to this question is an overwhelming no. In fact,paleo weight loss diet plans promote many healthy habits, including the consumption of much larger portions of fruits and vegetables. Consequently, it is quite realistic to believe that a paleo diet can result in short term weight loss. These diet plans can also result in the improvement of many health issues as you are encouraged to exercise on a regular basis and choose only the highest quality produce and meat products. However, do not be fooled into believing that these benefits are the result of some ancient wisdom our ancestors have to share with us.

Paleo diet and science

 

The truth is, the evolutionary explanations used to justify paleo diets is completed outdated. With the speed that human and bacterial genes can evolve, your body is far better suited to deal with your modern diet than you may think. In fact, including a diverse menu in your diet can actually help to keep your body healthier by promoting a healthy balance of microbes in your digestive system.

There Are Facts Supporting A Paleo Lifestyle

While some of the evolutionary assertions that are made by paleo diet plans have been proven false, there are still several facts that support this approach to eating. Unfortunately, these facts are often obscured by common misconceptions about eating paleo.

One of these misconceptions is that paleo diets require the complete exclusion of grains in your diet. However, the truth is, paleo diets still allow for the consumption of whole, unprocessed grains in moderation. What these diets forbid in the consumption of processed grains such as bleached white bread. While the exclusion of these products as part of a paleo lifestyle has drawn a lot of attention, the fact is, many diets frown upon the consumption of these products as they are quickly converted into sugar and stored as fat inside the body.

Paleo diet and science

 

When determining whether or not a product is paleo friendly, you simply must ask yourself if the product could be consumed without the use of a processing plant. In other words, could you find this product in nature? If the answer is yes, by all means enjoy.

Diet May Play A Much Longer Role Than Exercise

Another common argument against losing weight on paleo diet is that they do not focus strongly enough on the need for exercise. However, recent research has shown that exercise plays a much smaller role in the ability to maintain a healthy weight than diet does. According to these studies, the human body often adapts the physical demands that are placed on it. Consequently, an individual who exercises for several hours a day will have a similar caloric output as someone who exercises only a few times a week.

Paleo diet and science

 

What these research tells us is that food choice is the most important part of losing weight, as well as maintaining a healthy weight. Since paleo diets focus on making the best possible food sources for your body, it is logical to assume that these diets will prove far more successful than those that focus solely on burning calories through exercise.

Paleo diet and science

 

Paleo Diets Are Not The Same As Atkins

Another common misconception regarding the paleo lifestyle is that this way of eating is the same as an Atkins diet. This could not be further from the truth.

Atkins diets focus primarily on the consumption of meat and the exclusion of carbohydrates. Paleo diets on the other hand, focus on the consumption of all natural foods. This does include the consumption of meat, however, the paleo lifestyle does not promote the consumption of meat as the primary source of nutrition. Instead, this diet stresses the importance of eating large portions of fruits and vegetables while relying on grass-fed or free range meat as a protein source.

Paleo diet and science

 

So What”s The Bottom Line?

With so much contradictory evidence, it is no wonder that many people are struggling to answer the question whether paleo diets are based on fact or fiction. Well the answer is, a little bit of both.

While research is now proving that the human body is capable of evolving much faster than originally thought by those in the paleo lifestyle, there is still many benefits to be enjoyed by adopting a natural approach to your diet. After all, even if your body has evolved to the point of being able to digest lactose and grains, this does not take away from the fact that vegetables and low-fat meat sources are a better source of nutrition for your body.

Tom Convey

2 comments

  1. Been reading/studying about the paleo diet – wondering about the use of honey, bananas, coconut palm sugar, good quality chocolate, etc which the body converts to sugar and then to FAT. How do these foods affect someone who is prone to gaining weight from all avenues? These are things I have specifically avoided for years.

    Also, how much can be eaten on the paleo diet?

    Thanks-

    1. I think where people get away from a ‘healthy’ diet is eating too many ‘grains’ particularly the processed and heavily refined variety, or in combination with high amounts of processed fat (donuts, cakes, etc…). If you followed a diet, let’s say that included a 10-20% variance of grain products for instance, you’d probably remain fairly healthy, but this also depends on you as a person (it’s inadvisable for instance for a known celiac to keep eating grains with gluten in them). Some people report feeling a lot better without them, others may feel better including them; Remember that diet should be individualized.

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