Paleo Diet is a very special diet that has gained considerable popularity, especially in certain environments, in recent years. The basic objective is to return to a style of feeding similar to that of our predecessors hunter-gatherers, a style for which our body would be better adapted and that should allow to eliminate many of the problems related to modernity.
The first to talk about paleo diet was S. Boyd Eaton in a 1985 article titled Paleolithic Nutrition. In this work it was pointed out how the genus Homo, to which we belong, has evolved essentially as a hunter-gatherer, feeding on meat, that of the prey that could catch, fish, vegetables, fruit seeds, tubers. No legumes, no cereals, no milk, products that have become part of the human diet since just over 10,000 years ago and for which our organism would not yet be adapted. And the transition to a diet based on agricultural products, according to Eaton, would have caused the appearance of a series of problems related to the consumption of foods for which we are fundamentally maladapted. Eaton also examined the diet of the few surviving groups of hunter-gatherers, vague tribes that survive mostly in inhospitable and marginal environments, from the Kung of the Kalahari to the Hadza of Tanzania, to the Australian aborigines, more or less rich in meat and fish. but deprived of typical products of sedentary agriculture, to our current diet, for the truth to the tremendous diet of American friends, rich in refined cereals, fats and sodium, underlining how it could be the consumption of “modern” foods at the root of pathologies constantly growing like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer.
A few years later, Staffan Lindeberg, a Swedish doctor, in his Food and Western Disease increased the dose: based his studies on the inhabitants of Kitava Island in New Guinea, whose diet is based on tubers, fruit, coconut and fish, and whose health appears decidedly superior to that of the western average, Lindeberg pointed out that the foods we currently consume in large quantities are foods for which our body is poorly adapted, while the consumption of “ancestral” food would be the basis of the health of iron of the Kitavani. Lindeberg carefully weighed the data, which was in truth, related to the diet of our ancestors and then proceeded to examine the diseases of “modernity” in the light of the data collected, highlighting the important role that, in his opinion, the foods brought to the table from the passage to agriculture they would have played. Lindeberg then suggested a diet based on food of plant origin, meat, fish, seeds and tubers with the elimination of cereals, legumes and milk, without forgetting to underline also the potential problems related to paleolithic diet.
In 2002 the book The PaleoDiet of the American physiologist Loren Cordain came out, based on his many studies on the subject, he went back to underlining how the current diet is essentially “wrong” from the evolutionary point of view, being too recent: the human organism it would not have had materially the time necessary to adapt to the foods fruit of agriculture, foods to avoid in favor of meat and vegetables in quantity.
In these works we try to reason in the field of evolutionary biology, with the aim of finding a rational able to explain the progressive increase of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, degenerative and autoimmune diseases, so common in industrialized countries. Both authors point out that for most of the evolutionary history of mankind the diet was based on a few products, available through hunting and gathering. For the distant frugivorous ancestors, the foods of choice were mainly fruits and seeds, but over the course of two million years the various species of the genus Homo have adapted to the consumption of new foods, especially meat, fish in coastal areas, fruit, vegetables , seeds and tubers. The domestication of cereals, legumes and the first animals, which allowed the transition to an agricultural society, was, for our experts, a real disgrace: too recent, from 20,000 to 10,000 years ago, and too rapid for allow the species to adapt adequately. This resulted in catastrophic consequences: reduced average height, skeletal and dental problems, almost endemic spread of diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. A suggestive hypothesis that, however, as we shall see, presents several weak points.
The problem with the paleodieta is what happened after: on the wave of the carbohydrate phobia that grew up in the United States in the last decade, on the paleo wagon skids of all kinds are skipped, especially those related to particular sports environments, proposing variations in which there were industrial quantities of meat, fat at will and above all the inevitable bacon – a kind of bacon that clearly in the Paleolithic era was to be the main food of our hunting friends. All accompanied by the strict exclusion exclusion of cereals, legumes, milk and a plethora of other foods chosen based on tastes and idiosyncrasies of the subject who proposed his personal interpretation of the diet. A sarabanda that has unfortunately distorted and made grotesque a proposal that was not to be neglected, a confusion that eventually led to brandishing the Paleo as a fad diet, a trendy diet without scientific foundations. Fortunately, in recent years there have been many studies that have examined the effects of the paleo diet on various diseases with very interesting results.
Paleo diet: what do you eat?
Understanding what and how to eat in a paleo diet is not easy: our ancestors who hunted in the savannah unfortunately did not leave us books of recipes and the data we have are based on the collection and examination of the waste of ancient settlements, on relative deductions to the anatomical characteristics modified during the evolution, on the analysis of the diet of the few hunter-gatherer populations left in some remote corner of the planet.
The current consensus provides that a paleo diet is based on the consumption of these foods:
Evolutionary biology studies agree that the consumption of meat, a very dense nutritional food, has been crucial for the evolution of mankind. Obviously our ancestors certainly did not eat hamburgers or breaded chicken medallions. The meat consumed was that of wild animals, lean and with a composition of fatty acids decidedly different from that of today’s breeding specimens, with a high presence of stearic acid – which does not cause an increase in cholesterol – high presence of high-quality omega 3 and reduced presence of omega 6, potentially pro-inflammatory if in excess. So we suggest the consumption of meat from animals raised outdoors, with fodder -grass feed is the term for the most performing among you- and not with grains or worse feeds, game and wild animals. Let’s say that this is an approach that not everyone can afford and that certainly could not guarantee adequate consumption for the growing world population. Of course we do not talk about bacon, cold meats or preserved meat. Consumption should be about fresh meat, with frequent use of offal such as liver, heart and bone marrow. Eggs are obviously included, in quantities that certainly would make those doctors who forbid them due to cholesterol fall out: we speak 6-12 eggs a week, strictly from hens raised outdoors.
Along with the meat on the tables of the devout Paleo should not miss good fish, strictly wild, preferably cold or blue water. Alaskan salmon is the holy Grail but the list includes virtually all fish, shellfish and molluscs you can get your hands on. Obviously these are foods with an excellent nutritional profile, source as well as excellent proteins, also of good quality fats.
From the leafy vegetables to the common vegetables all the vegetables are well received on the paleotavola, abundant, raw or cooked, as long as they are in season and possibly at zero kilometers, or so.
Even for fruit there are no particular restrictions; with vegetables it is the main source of sugars in the diet.
Oil seeds and nuts
Nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds and oil seeds are generally considered excellent sources of protein and are rich in the right fatty acids. Obviously, moderate use is recommended, given the rich caloric intake.
Oils and fats
Among the recommended oils, the olive oil – which is so paleo is not – and the coconut one, between the fatty lard and butter: obviously in controlled quantities and not in buckets, as recommended in some adventurous interpretations of the Paleolithic diet.
In most cases there is no mention of percentages related to the various nutrients: the experience suggests that the income of meat and fish can range from 20 to 40-60% in different populations. Surely most of the dish should be planted, with a good supply of fruit and fat. Very different from the coals of grilled bison lined with bacon that often pretend to paleo while they are simple attempts to suicide overweight Americans.
In the end the idea is to have a good supply of high quality proteins, around 1.2-1.5 grams per kg of body weight against 0.8 g / kg weight of the guidelines, a good supply of carbohydrates – from 25 to 50% – coming mainly from fruit and vegetables, and from a fat intake between 30 and 40%, with a ratio between omega6 and omega 3 moved towards the latter.
Paleo diet: foods to avoid
The foods to avoid are those that have appeared on our table with the passage to agriculture, foods consumed in a very occasional manner in the Paleolithic, domesticated and become the cornerstones of the Neolithic diet.
Practically the source of all evil, the cereals must be eliminated in full: too rich in sugar, their consumption causes dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar, creates hormonal storms, sets the conditions for the accumulation of fat and the development is a pro-inflammatory state . In addition, cereals are rich in antinutrients such as phytates that inhibit the absorption of fats and vitamins, and obviously, at least some, contain gluten that can trigger severe immune problems.
Also included in the heap pseudocereal as amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat, also guilty, despite the significant and valuable protein intake, to be excessively rich in sugar.
The legumes would have the same dramatic effects as cereals, with an even greater antinutrient load: how to forget the lectins, certain oligosaccarians and some protease inhibitors. For the more fervent paleosostenitori consume a plate of beans is more or less equivalent to a death sentence, ultimately.
The situation here is more nuanced: Cordain condemns them without appeal, like bombs of sugar waiting to explode in the jars of the unfortunate consumer, while Lindeberg, strong of his studies on Kitavani, very large consumers of tubers, with an iron health, admits consumption. Maybe you should avoid potatoes, preferring more exotic products from sweet potatoes, to tapioca, to taro.
Obviously, in the original formulation, all kinds of preserved meat – including bacon, a blow to the paleo-enthusiasts of America – meat, industrial products of all kinds, sweets, with the exception of modest quantities, must be avoided like the plague. of honey, excess salt, vegetable oils and margarines.
Some of the closest observers also propose the elimination of some vegetables such as tomatoes and aubergines, rich in solanine, toxic substances that however are reduced with aging and are eliminated by cooking. Many are the tribes and many are the food taboo, with some concession to taste and palate related to “comfort” such as tea, coffee, chocolate – strictly melting – which are allowed in small quantities, as well as wine and spirits , which for some can be consumed, albeit with great measure.
Paleo diet: solid foundations or pious illusions?
The theses on which the Paleo diet is based are undoubtedly suggestive, but not very solid and based on little precise and often questionable assumptions. First of all, the affirmations concerning the diet of our ancestors are difficult to verify, they are at best well circumstantiated hypotheses, while the few surviving tribes of hunter-gatherers present food regimes very different from each other and strictly dependent on the nature of the territory.
As for cereals, some findings show that the cultivation and consumption of wheat are not as recent as hypothesized but could date back to over 100,000 years ago, with the use of flour of various types already widespread in Europe over 30,000 years ago . Legumes have also been part of the human diet for much longer than it was supposed to be.
Many studies show a positive contribution of cereals, whole species and legumes to a good state of health. On the other hand, the deficiencies due to phytates and other antinutrients present are rare, which can become significant only in very limited diets with reduced consumption or complete absence of food of animal origin. And it makes little sense to say that consumption of cereals and legumes by itself causes inflammation and therefore is at the root of all evil. Inflammation in general is a symptom not a disease, and numerous studies have shown that while exaggerated consumption of refined grains may contribute to a systemic inflammation state adequate consumption of whole grains seems to have protective effect.
It should be noted that the much feared and demonized gluten causes real problems, and well diagnosed, to a very small percentage of the population, probably less than 1%, while it is still unclear whether or not gluten hypersensitivity exists which in any case would affect at most 10%. And it seems useless to point out that there are cereals and pseudo-cereals that are completely devoid of gluten, from rice to quinoa.
Regarding lectins and saponins, the fearsome poisons of legumes, which in the opinion of detractors would reduce to a sieve the wall of the intestine, causing leaky gut syndrome, these are statements that have not been extensively investigated with appropriate studies , and it is therefore difficult to support correctness.
The other great accused in the paleo-supporter’s court is milk, with all its derivatives. Let’s start from the basic observation, the classic “only man consumes adult milk, and moreover of other species”: evidently these gentlemen have never seen dogs or cats in the presence of milk and especially, in nature, different species work to recover milk from other animals.
Equally unfounded are the claims that milk is an “acidifier”, milk and dairy products do not in fact produce acidic or metabolic acidosis, or cause osteoporosis, as proven by a large number of controlled studies. Among other things, the fact that a large part of the Western population, from 50 to 95% in Europe and North America, maintains the activity of lactase, an enzyme essential for the digestion of milk even in adulthood rather than losing it in childhood, as is still the case for most of the African and Asian populations, it is a very evident proof of how evolution and selection operate extremely rapidly in the human population, much more quickly than supposed by the paleo diet theorists who would like our genome frozen in some point of the remote past, 100 or 200,000 years ago. The domestication of dairy animals and the use of milk and its derivatives have led to such an obvious advantage in the populations in which they occurred, to determine an effective selection of those individuals who retained the ability to digest these foods as adults. Individuals who then transmitted this character to their numerous offspring, determining a notable diffusion of these traits in the human population, relevant among those peoples for whom the consumption of milk was essential for survival in decidedly hostile environments: ask the Scandinavian friends.
For what concerns the fatty acids, certainly the research shows the importance of a good consumption of omega 3, but there are no specific ratios or doses. Indeed, many of the warmly recommended foods in the Paleo diet, such as coconut oil or almonds, have an omega 6 content – so dangerous for Paleo theorists – dramatically elevated compared to omega 3. Even here consumption is more important attentive and varied, rather than a strenuous search for values that are little more than hypotheses.
And finally no, gentlemen, sugar is not a deadly white poison, refined and lethal ready to disintegrate the wall of your vessels. As always is the dose that makes the poison and if you like a teaspoon of refined sugar in the coffee, which of course is not paleo since there were no espresso machines in the savannah during the Paleolithic, use it. If you consume industrial quantities of desserts, make an examination of conscience, but not because you eat non-pale foods: simply because you eat too much and badly.
These observations have the sole purpose of highlighting how some “theoretical” bases of the paleo diet are not correct and derive from non-demonstrated axioms or even in contrast with the available data. This does not deny that some assumptions are interesting and that indeed the modern Western diet is unsuitable for our lifestyle, but more for reasons related to excess and poor quality of food than to the specific type of food consumed. Certainly we are not well adapted to our current lifestyle, as the biologist Daniel Lieberman writes in his The History of the Human Body, but the situation is much more nuanced and complex than painted with rather imprecise brushes by the supporters of the paleo diet.
And I do not want to talk about the grotesque market of paleo supplements based on milk proteins or maltodextrins that should perhaps replace fresh but very forbidding foods, a veritable fair of bad faith. Always be wary of diets that require you to permanently renounce whole food groups, tracing a clear line between good and bad foods. Man is an omnivorous and much of his evolutionary success is due precisely to his ability to adapt to diets and deeply different foods. Except the hemlock, which hurts even if it is natural.