Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Get on Your Loin Cloth and Eat Like a Cave Woman?

Approximately 10,000 years ago, humans ate a diet that most likely consisted of the following: animals (small ones, big ones), fish, fruit, root vegetables, eggs, nuts, and some wild grasses.  Humans that lived closer to the equator ate fewer animals and more vegetables and those that lived in colder climates ate more animals and less vegetables. In general, protein and fat intake was high and carbohydrate intake was low.

No one cared about this until 1985, when a Dr. Dork team named Eaton and Konner published a paper on the "paleolithic diet" or "hunter-gatherer diet".  They hypothesized that we have an evolutionary "mismatch" on our hands....in 2010, we have the same DNA as our ancestors from 10,000 years ago but we don't eat the same diets...and because of the mismatch, we end up with obesity, heart disease and diabetes.  

Is it true?  Well, it's hard to say. Scientists are still debating about exactly what humans ate 10,000 years ago.  They are studying 229 groups of humans from around the world, trying to reconstruct their lifestyles from fossils, DNA samples, old writings, etc.  It's not easy.  Plus, there appear to be differences between the 229 groups in terms of what they ate, so there may not be just one paleolithic diet but several.  It's safe to say that at the present time, there is no black and white evidence that we're suffering from obesity, diabetes, and heart disease from NOT eating the paleolithic diet.

Has the paleolithic diet been tested?  Yes, there have been several studies on the diet.  In almost all cases, the paleolithic diet reduces risk factors for heart disease and diabetes versus a typical American diet.  Plus, studies have shown that it's more satiating than other diets.  I think most nutritionists would agree that a diet containing only unprocessed, whole foods like in the paleolithic diet is a healthier approach than eating fast foods and highly processed foods like most Americans. 

Does the research suggest that dairy foods and cereal grains are bad since they are not part of the paleolithic diet?   No, not according to all the other research out there on diet and health.  Certain individuals might feel better by minimizing these foods in their diet whereas other people might feel horrible.  Even though we all have basically the same DNA, there are differences which make each of us as individuals respond differently to different diets. 

Should we all start eating a paleolithic diet?  My personal Dr. Dork opinion is that we all should be eating more whole foods, more vegetables, and more protein.  If you'd like to spend $10 on a paleolithic diet book, here's the one I recommend.  Otherwise, save your money and spend it on a jar of peanuts or brussel sprouts or spinach.    

One last comment...the paleolithic diet is very low in calcium and vitamin D, so if you consider such a diet for yourself, pay close attention to these nutrients so that you're consuming adequate levels...especially vitamin D in the winter if you live in cold climates.  

And congratulations to Annie, the winner of the Naughty Betty give-away!!!

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