(The above title needs to be sung to the tune of “Let’s do the Time Warp” from the Rocky Horror Picture Show.)
This post is not what you think it is.
Because the Paleo Thing, is not what you think it is.
Bear with me. It will all become clear.
The Paleo Diet is dead…
If you are even remotely interested in health and fitness, you have heard of the Paleo Diet by now.
Most likely than not, what you think you know about it, or what you have been told, is false.
How can I make such a bold statement? Very simply:
1) For starters, we don’t know for sure what our ancestors ate on a daily basis.
What we have is a picture, incomplete at that, of their overall dietary intake. We get this from the analysis of archeological sites dating back many thousands of years, and of human remains when they are available (and often much more recent if they are complete enough to provide information).
To a lesser extent, we get some data from the current diets of so-called “primitive” people that somehow manage to exist in this day and age. So we have bits and pieces, hints scattered all over the place. And we “reconstruct” the most likely scenarios based on that.
But the complete, precise picture will elude us until we have time travel capabilities. (As a physicist, I feel pretty confident about making the equally bold statement that we never will.)
2) More importantly for this discussion, there is hardly any food nowadays that are still exactly the way they were when our ancestors of the Paleolithic were around.
Over thousands of years of selecting, breeding, and, yes, engineering plants and animals, you can be certain that what you eat nowadays is related, but not the same, as what our ancestors ate.
And if you go out of your way to select foods that have not been changed in some way, you are back to the first point I made: chances are very slim that those food items were actually eaten by our ancestors. You can be pretty sure that our ancestors, smart as they were, picked the foods they preferred when they started domesticating things. They would not have spent what little energy and time they had available on the things they did not enjoy eating.
So what you eat nowadays, no matter what anyone tries to sell you, is not what our ancestors ate. It is not, therefore, “Paleo.”
This idea of “eating a Paleo diet” must die once and for all. (Yeah, I know, good luck with that.)
…long live the Paleo Lifestyle
Now, given there is no such thing as a “Paleo Diet”, what is the big fuss about?
There is another reason why adherent to the “Paleo Diet” get it wrong: They pretty much get stuck on the notion that diet is the key to healthy living.
But our ancestors of the Paleolithic had something else going for them that makes all the difference:
They moved more than we do. A lot more.
Just eating well, whatever you call the diet, is not enough if you are entirely sedentary.
On the other hand, moving a lot, even if your diet is less than perfect, makes a huge difference in your health and fitness to survive in this world.
That’s why instead of a “Paleo Diet,” we had better embrace a “Paleo Lifestyle.” A lifestyle that puts emphasis on what contributes most to our health: movement.
So I’m arguing we should embrace the “Paleo Lifestyle” by exercising and moving all the time.
That’s a lot more reasonable that pretending to be eating what our ancestors were eating while taking our cars to the corner store to buy some meat…
But, what about diet? you ask
The “thing” in the “Paleo Thing” of the title is that when I talk about lifestyle, I do mean making choices about diet that make sense as well.
Without being “Paleo,” the diet part is actually quite simple, and something our ancestors were indeed doing: eat real foods, mostly from plants, and as close as possible to the way they are found in nature.
To put it another way: seek foods that are not processed, or that have been processed as little as possible.
By the way, that does not mean raw food. Our ancestors had discovered fire for cooking well before agriculture. It also does not mean vegetarian or vegan, though there are excellent ethical and philosophical reasons to embrace such diets.
But keep in mind that we are still physiologically very much like our ancestors. Incidentally, they were opportunistic omnivores, and ate just about what they could find as they moved about and over the seasons. That included roots, fruits, animals, plants, and even insects. At least, that’s the part of the picture that scientists are pretty sure about.
Therefore, the “Paleo Lifestyle” I’m suggesting consists of moving a lot more, on a daily basis, and eating unprocessed foods. (Though I’m still not touching insects.)
I realize that even that, given our current society, is like turning back the clock on a lot of modern comforts and energy-saving technology. It is not easy.
But does it make any more sense than pretending to be eating what our ancestors ate?
At least we know for sure how our ancestors moved: they used their feet!
Pictures from Pixabay.