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Can you explain to me the rationale of paleo/primal diets?

post #1 of 83
Thread Starter 

I'm on a traditional foods diet, pretty much. I eat what people have been eating for centuries, not any newfangled foods that are recent developments. (Or at least thats what I strive for, my eating isn't perfect.)

 

What I want to know is- 

Someone I know is on a primal diet. She said she isn't eating any grains, legumes, nuts, sugars, and only minimal dairy. She said she is eating a diet modeled after the hunter gatherers, because that is what man is supposed to eat, how we were made.

 

Ok, anyhow, I'm not going to debate whether or not its a good idea to eat what hunter gatherers, early man ate, as I realize there's pluses or minuses in both directions.

 

What I want to know is, how does the no grains, no legumes, and no nuts fit in with what hunter gatherers really did? 

I read the clan of the cavebear series, which they say was done with lots of historical research about what people really ate, etc... 

And I also am a forager; I gather and eat wild foods.

 

Grains grow wild.

So do legumes.

So do nuts.

Sweeteners are found in the wild.

 

I would be pretty sure that even before the rise of agriculture, man, the hunter gatherers, would be gathering wild oats, wild barley, wild wheat, wild lentils, wild peas, wild nuts. They'd be collecting honey from hives, and possibly making their own carob syrup and maple syrup. They'd be eating sugar canes.

 

Yes, the large portions of their meals were probably vegetables and meats, as nuts, legumes, grains, and sweeteners are harder and more time consuming to gather, but I don't really buy it that hunter gatherers didn't eat any legumes, grains, nuts, or sweeteners.

 

So where does this concept of the paleo/primal diet come from that eliminates foods that I am sure that early man ate, based on my own experiences as a "hunter gatherer"?

post #2 of 83

This is directly from the Paleo Diet website:

 

 

Quote:

Remember that the Paleolithic period extends from the first appearance of stone tools (2.6 million years ago) until the beginning of agriculture 10,000 years ago. As I have stated in a number of publications, cereal grains are minimally digestible without milling (grinding) and cooking. The milling serves to breakdown the cell walls and cooking gelatinizes the starch thereby making both the starch and protein within the grain digestible inside the human GI tract.

 

Although a recent report suggests that hominins may have controlled fire by as early as 700,000 years ago, the best direct evidence for controlled fire use (hearths) do not appear regularly in the fossil record until ~250,000 to 300,000 years ago. Hence, for ~ 90% of the time hominins were present on the planet, cooking would not have been possible and accordingly cereal grains would have been minimally digestible had they been put in the mouth raw.

 

More relevant is the first appearance of the primitive stone processing tools (saddle stones, mortars, grinding holes etc.) in the fossil record. It has been generally known that these grinding tools first appeared in the upper Paleolithic (40,000 to 10,000 years ago), however until the Nature report, their function had not been directly linked to processing cereal grains. In fact, the evidence shows that in Europe these tools were used to grind soft stones to make ochre (a red dye).

 

I had trouble finding out specifics about legumes on that site, but other sites lead me to believe that legumes are out for much of the same reasons that grains are....they require a lot of cooking and are hard for the human gut to process.

 

I think your friend left out nuts just because she wanted to. Nuts don't appear to be forbidden on a paleo diet.

 

As for sugars....if all you're eating is fruits, vegetables, and meat/seafood, what would you be sweetening? Making syrup means boiling, right? Limited use of fire would prevent that. A couple of other sources say that sugar cane originated in New Guinea and has only been known by humans since about 6000 BC.

post #3 of 83
Thread Starter 

I hear you. So the Paleo diet is only what people would have been able to eat raw?

Then why aren't paleo/primal people raw foodists, eating raw meat, raw eggs, raw seafood, raw veggies ONLY?

Because if its what mankind evolved to be able to digest, if they weren't able to eat all those cooked for all those millions/billions of years, then why eat it cooked now? 

 

Just noting that peas, fava beans, chickpeas, and string beans are all legumes that can be and often are eaten raw. 

So that wouldn't seem to fit that theory.

post #4 of 83
Thread Starter 

And where does limiting fruit come in? Do people really think that early man didn't eat the fruit that were in season?

 

And yes, why not sweeten meat? Meat tastes terrific with a sweetener. So do some veggie salads. 

post #5 of 83
Thread Starter 

Basically, my question is- is the diet really supposed to be only what early man ate, or rather is it based on that, and the other aspects involve different health concerns, and even if early man might have eaten those things, they're still eliminated?

post #6 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by PennyP View Post

I hear you. So the Paleo diet is only what people would have been able to eat raw?

Then why aren't paleo/primal people raw foodists, eating raw meat, raw eggs, raw seafood, raw veggies ONLY?

Because if its what mankind evolved to be able to digest, if they weren't able to eat all those cooked for all those millions/billions of years, then why eat it cooked now? 

 

Just noting that peas, fava beans, chickpeas, and string beans are all legumes that can be and often are eaten raw. 

So that wouldn't seem to fit that theory.

I wonder about this too.
Especially sweeteners. Modern (as in 50 000 years confirmed history in my country) hunter gatherers most definitely gather honey and I'm sure people have been doing it for an awful lot longer than that.
post #7 of 83
Ok so I googled hoping to be convinced of the logic and I found the paleo plan website with a picture of what is presumably a northern Australian indigenous man, only a few lines a way from a sentence claiming humans have only changed their diet in the last 10 000 years (uh, so let me point out that the people you chose to use a picture of have been living the same way for a lot longer than 10 000 years as I said in my previous post). Hmmm, I really can't come at claims that paleo people didn't eat any legumes. I know the Murri people of NSW did and here is an article about using a traditional food (legume) of a more northerly indigenous Australian tribe to grow food in degraded farmland.
[=http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/node/3884/full][/]
post #8 of 83
Thread Starter 

In the spirit of acceptance of different food eating ways that mothering.com requires, especially in this subsection (as per the rules), I wanted to say that I'm not questioning whether or not this is healthy, because I can definitely see why it could be.

My real question is, why claim this is the diet of early man, when from what I've read and discovered, it isn't?

Just claim "We're animal flesh and produce eaters only" instead of saying "Early man ate this."

post #9 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by PennyP View Post

I hear you. So the Paleo diet is only what people would have been able to eat raw?

Then why aren't paleo/primal people raw foodists, eating raw meat, raw eggs, raw seafood, raw veggies ONLY?

Because if its what mankind evolved to be able to digest, if they weren't able to eat all those cooked for all those millions/billions of years, then why eat it cooked now? 

 


Probably because most people do not raise their own food, and cannot be sure that the food they buy won't kill them with bacteria or parasites. Just today, 60,000 lbs. of ground beef was recalled due to E. Coli.

 

And yes, meat can taste good with a sweetener. However, I doubt that people who hadn't yet learned to cook over a fire would bother marinating their meat. Somehow, the idea of maple monkey brains or honey-coated entrails seem unlikely. People like to sweeten their salads in present day because modern people have largely been raised on sugar.

 

Those are my theories.

 

 

 

post #10 of 83

When the site says that controlled fire didn't appear until 200-300,000 years ago, you have to remember that the appearance of fire seems to correlate with some major evolutionary changes, including larger brain size.  Some anthropologists theorize that it was the cooking of both meat and roots that allowed hominids to develop larger brains, since cooking food makes many compounds much more bioavailable.    

 

Further, as far as people not eating grains -- if no one was eating grains, then they would never have been domesticated.   They just would not have been.  We didn't randomly point to certain plants and say "Hey, lets start making this grow close to our villages!"  The first plants to be domesticated were domesticated precisely because we were eating them, and in fairly large quantities.   The wild ancestors of wheat and barley and lentils all grew in huge amounts across the plains of the Fertile Crescent, and there is plenty of archaeological evidence of their collection and use before the domestic types appear.  The very fact that they were domesticated *is* the evidence that our ancestors were collecting the seeds of wild wheat in large numbers, taking it back to the village, and storing it for later use.  

 

post #11 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by savithny View Post
We didn't randomly point to certain plants and say "Hey, lets start making this grow close to our villages!"  The first plants to be domesticated were domesticated precisely because we were eating them, and in fairly large quantities.   The wild ancestors of wheat and barley and lentils all grew in huge amounts across the plains of the Fertile Crescent, and there is plenty of archaeological evidence of their collection and use before the domestic types appear.  The very fact that they were domesticated *is* the evidence that our ancestors were collecting the seeds of wild wheat in large numbers, taking it back to the village, and storing it for later use.  

 


Yes, that's apparent. It also still means that hominids have likely been eating grains for a very small portion of our existence on the planet. Nobody has said that ancient man didn't eat grains. What's being said is that grain consumption is a relatively recent event in human history.

 

post #12 of 83
Thread Starter 

I still haven't gotten why paleo/primal people cook things, as it changes the nutritional value, and isn't how early man ate for a vast majority of his existence.

Nor do I understand where limiting fruit plays in.

post #13 of 83

I'm paleo (for almost two years... and in the best health of my life!) so I can tackle this one! The idea is to eat the diet we evolved to eat. For me that means meat, vegetables, fruits, good fats, and nuts (I don't eat dairy because I'm intolerant, but many "primal" people do, as most Europeans have evolved to digest lactose - it's still a no-no for traditional paleo) and no grains, processed foods or added sugars. Paleo has been co-opted by the low-carb crowd, which is where the "no fruit" declarations come in. Nuts are generally considered okay in moderation - they are high in omega-6s, and we want to reduce omega-6 in favor of omega-3. I eat a couple of serves of fruit a day and often 1oz of nuts, and that seems pretty common with the paleo people I know, so I wouldn't take the very low carb people and zero nuts crowd as the typical paleo eaters.

 

There was a lot of variety in traditional diets and there were some ancient grain eaters, but there is evidence that eating grain was fairly rare on a worldwide level until about 10,000 years ago. We haven't yet evolved to eat grain - unlike ruminants (cows, etc) we don't have the basic biological/physical tools necessary to get good nutrition from grains. Grains don't want to be eaten! The part you eat is the reproductive system of the plant, and unlike fruits, being eaten doesn't help a grain spread its seed. Quite the opposite. So grains have all kinds of antinutrients - phytates, lectins, etc - as an evolutionary strategy to avoid being eaten. There is strong evidence that the few ancient grain eaters knew this and used all kinds of methods to remove the irritants in grains before eating - sprouting, fermentation, etc. Plus, ancient grains were not the concentrated sources of gluten and other irritants that today's grains are, not to mention that many grains these days are GMO.

 

I went paleo because it made sense to me... even if you don't believe grains are harmful, it's hard to argue that they are a good source of nutrients. Replacing grains with more nutrient-dense foods helped me greatly with depression, general energy levels, and cured a lot of stomach issues/eczema/inflammation that were humming along on a low level when I ate grains. I've never had a weight problem, but most of my paleo friends originally came to it as a diet... it's a very filling, satisfying way to eat, and really helps level your blood sugar. You can feel very full on low calories... it's a problem for me now that I'm pregnant and trying to up my calories, paleo food is hard to overeat!

 

I think the caveman thing can be overblown. We love olive oil, for example, which is a "new" food. The idea is not so much to adhere completely to any single ancient diet (modern paleo eaters have so much more variety than a hunter-gatherer in a localized area would have had) but to avoid the harmful "new" foods we haven't evolved to eat.

post #14 of 83

As for the raw thing... raw is actually pretty big in paleo. Eating raw vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish and dairy (if you do dairy) is very much encouraged. I think not eating meat raw is just a realistic response to the way meat is raised/handled in this country. Most paleo people are very outspoken in favor of grass-fed, local, organic, anti-factory farming, sustainable, etc.

post #15 of 83
Thread Starter 

Ok, so if someone did have a good source of healthy, non tainted meat and fish, would a paleo diet actually think its better to eat that raw?

post #16 of 83
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by paleohailey View Post

I'm paleo (for almost two years... and in the best health of my life!) so I can tackle this one! The idea is to eat the diet we evolved to eat. For me that means meat, vegetables, fruits, good fats, and nuts (I don't eat dairy because I'm intolerant, but many "primal" people do, as most Europeans have evolved to digest lactose - it's still a no-no for traditional paleo) and no grains, processed foods or added sugars. Paleo has been co-opted by the low-carb crowd, which is where the "no fruit" declarations come in. Nuts are generally considered okay in moderation - they are high in omega-6s, and we want to reduce omega-6 in favor of omega-3. I eat a couple of serves of fruit a day and often 1oz of nuts, and that seems pretty common with the paleo people I know, so I wouldn't take the very low carb people and zero nuts crowd as the typical paleo eaters.

 

There was a lot of variety in traditional diets and there were some ancient grain eaters, but there is evidence that eating grain was fairly rare on a worldwide level until about 10,000 years ago. We haven't yet evolved to eat grain - unlike ruminants (cows, etc) we don't have the basic biological/physical tools necessary to get good nutrition from grains. Grains don't want to be eaten! The part you eat is the reproductive system of the plant, and unlike fruits, being eaten doesn't help a grain spread its seed. Quite the opposite. So grains have all kinds of antinutrients - phytates, lectins, etc - as an evolutionary strategy to avoid being eaten. There is strong evidence that the few ancient grain eaters knew this and used all kinds of methods to remove the irritants in grains before eating - sprouting, fermentation, etc. Plus, ancient grains were not the concentrated sources of gluten and other irritants that today's grains are, not to mention that many grains these days are GMO.

 

I went paleo because it made sense to me... even if you don't believe grains are harmful, it's hard to argue that they are a good source of nutrients. Replacing grains with more nutrient-dense foods helped me greatly with depression, general energy levels, and cured a lot of stomach issues/eczema/inflammation that were humming along on a low level when I ate grains. I've never had a weight problem, but most of my paleo friends originally came to it as a diet... it's a very filling, satisfying way to eat, and really helps level your blood sugar. You can feel very full on low calories... it's a problem for me now that I'm pregnant and trying to up my calories, paleo food is hard to overeat!

 

I think the caveman thing can be overblown. We love olive oil, for example, which is a "new" food. The idea is not so much to adhere completely to any single ancient diet (modern paleo eaters have so much more variety than a hunter-gatherer in a localized area would have had) but to avoid the harmful "new" foods we haven't evolved to eat.


You gave me a very good answer with a lot to think about, so thanks.

What I don't get, from that post, is what about legumes?

 

post #17 of 83

On a related note, given that people whose ancestors domesticated dairy animals have evolved the ability to eat dairy, I don't see why 10,000 years of agriculture isn't enough for us to have become accustomed to other 'new' foods as well?

post #18 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by mambera View Post

On a related note, given that people whose ancestors domesticated dairy animals have evolved the ability to eat dairy, I don't see why 10,000 years of agriculture isn't enough for us to have become accustomed to other 'new' foods as well?



Yep -- and the closer your ancestors lived to the center of the Fertile Crescent, the higher the liklihood of being gluten tolerant, too. 

 

I do understand the argument that "we haven't been eating X for very long," but I certainly don't think it holds in the case of raw vs cooked, as we have been cooking food for longer than we have been modern humans.   To say that because hominids have been around X years, and the 200K we've been cooking is only a small percentage of that?    200,000 years is long enough to evolve from hominid forms that were probably incapable of speech and may have been incapable of creative thought.   Why should it not be long enough to evolve into a species that eats something different?  

 

If you're going to make the "percentage of time our ancestral forms ate a certain diet" argument,  the weight of the evidence will be on plants more than meat, in any case, as most of our primate ancestors were herbivores.

post #19 of 83
Quote:
Originally Posted by mambera View Post

On a related note, given that people whose ancestors domesticated dairy animals have evolved the ability to eat dairy, I don't see why 10,000 years of agriculture isn't enough for us to have become accustomed to other 'new' foods as well?


Many people also have the ability to eat Twinkies and hot dogs. That doesn't mean those things are happily accepted by the human body. There are lots of people whose ancestors domesticated dairy animals who are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy.

 

Of course humans have become accustomed to modern foods. Societies all over the world eat grains in bulk. People who follow the paleo diet simply believe that those things aren't good for you. That's my understanding, anyway.

 

Savithny, I think most of our primate ancestors were omnivores. I'm sure insects, grubs, and eggs were eaten when they were found. Even present day primates eat the fleas they pick off each other. "Gathering" also means eating off carcasses left behind by carnivores.
 

 

post #20 of 83

Ummmm....think there is actually a lot of scientific evidence to show that eating paleo is better for the human body than grain-filled diets in general. First of all, the advent of agriculture brought us a whole store of new diseases and a SHORTER life expectancy than pre-ag peoples. Rotten teeth, osteoporosis, cancer and diabetes are side-effects of grain-filled diets. Grains are not nutrient dense foods - they are fillers and they allow us to feel full without receiving enough nutrition. Grains also lower the pH of our bodies which necessitates that our bodies release calcium in order to buffer the acidity, causing skeletal degeneration. Oils rendered from vegetable sources (except olive oil) are high in Omega 6s, which actually cause infammation in our bodies. Omega 3s, mostly from animal sources reduce inflammation. There is so much other scientific backing to show the healthful qualities of this type of diet - it isn't only that some people happen to believe it.

 

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