WHAT IS PALEO?

‘In a sense we know much about the experience of the hunter-gatherer, since it is the experience that shaped us, and which lies interred like an archaeological stratum beneath the polished consciousness of civilised man.’

Roger Scruton: ‘Tally ho! Let the hunt remind us who we are.’ The Telegraph, December 2005.

 

Paleo, Primal, Ancestral – despite the variations in names and the minor differences between them, the overall approach of these lifestyles is basically the same. Their commonalities outweigh their differences by far and they share an important overarching philosophy.

As a species, we have become ill and weak. Soaring rates of obesity (one in four adults in the UK is currently obese (according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation) and the diseases associated with it, tell us that something is wrong. Yet we live in an age where health advice is dished out constantly. We are bombarded with recommendations from government, media, and healthy living ‘experts’, our food is labelled with a myriad of nutritional information and warning signals, magazines are filled with advice, newspapers heave with doom-laden predictions on the state of the nation’s health and yet it is not working. All those years of health advice and we continue to struggle.

What caused this monumental decline in our health? Dietary habits are labelled as one of the biggest contributing factors to the health of the nation. As  a species our medical achievements are breathtaking. We are able to tackle many diseases, treat infections, transplant organs and carry out complex brain surgeries. We can graft new faces and build robotic limbs but why is it that something as seemingly simple as our diet appears to have caused us enough trouble to stretch our health services to breaking point and is described by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges as ‘the greatest public health crisis facing the UK’? How did we get in this terrible mess and more importantly, how can we get out of it?

When animals are kept in zoos, we would expect them to be fed on a diet that they would eat in the wild, a diet that they have always eaten. Yes, perhaps they would need supplementation to counter the effects of zoo living but on the whole they are fed the sort of things that they eat when roaming the savannah or hopping around the Antarctic – the sort of things that they have been eating for aeons. We would assume that this is the ‘natural’ diet for them; a diet on which they would thrive.

What if we apply the same logic to us? What if we looked back in time to the diet which sustained us for millions of years before things started to go wrong? If we found the point at which our health started to deteriorate, and then looked at our diet preceding this, would it help us? Many people now believe this is the case. There is a body of evidence that points to the agricultural revolution as the point at which things took a turn for the worst regarding our health and diet. Obviously this differs from geographical region to region but it is agreed by many that the move away from hunting and gathering lifestyles to agriculture oversaw a decline in the health of our species from which we are still reeling.

The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race by Jared Diamond

A Body Sculpted by History: The Hunter-Gatherer

There is evidence to suggest that the transition from a hunter-gatherer diet and the ensuing dependence on cereals (sugar) rather than fats and proteins as nutritional sources may have initiated major diseases of civilisation – diabetes, Alzheimers, atherosclerosis, some types of cancer – that were virtually unknown in hunter-gatherer societies. By looking at the diets of such people – through forensic evidence and the study of present day hunter-gatherer societies – we can begin to construct a blueprint to help us. Of course variations occur due to climate and geographical factors but again, the commonalities far outweigh the differences. The ancestral health movement translates the hunter-gatherer template to modern times. Go to What to Eat and find out.

 Putting things into perspective…

  • ‘Paleo’ is short for Paleolithic era or STONE AGE
  • The Paleolithic Era spans round 2.5 million years ago to 10,000 years
  • ‘Palaios’ means ‘old’ and ‘Lithos’ means ‘stone’
  • The Paleolithic Era covers the period from the earliest use of stone tools up until the Neolithic (New Stone Age) period and what we call the agricultural revolution.
  • During the Paleolithic, we were cavemen hunter-gatherers
  • The earliest documented members of the genus Homo are Homo habilis which evolved around 2.3million years ago
  • Homo erectus and Homo ergaster were the first of the hominina to leave Africa, and these species spread through Africa, Asia, and Europe between 1.3 to 1.8million years ago. It is believed that these species were the first to use fire and complex tools. They also began to sleep on the ground rather than in trees. Cooking provided a higher quality and more digestible diet, which led to a smaller gut and a larger brain.
  • Neanderthals believed to have existed in Eurasia as early as 600,000–350,000 years ago
  • The exact date of their extinction is disputed, but a recent study has redated fossils at two Spanish sites as 45,000 years old
  • The first early modern humans to be found were the Cro-Magnons in Europe. Earliest known remains of Cro-Magnon-like humans are radiocarbon dated to 43,000 years before present

Since the emergence of human genus Homo about 2.4 million years ago – for approximately 84,000 generations and the majority of our time on earth – we have survived as hunter-gatherer cavemen

Understanding the diet of past human species closely related to our own will help us gain perspective on our evolutionary constraints and adaptability

Ainara Sistiaga

Geoarchaeologist , Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of La Laguna

  • Report June 2014
  • For original article see here.
  • Scientists found five samples of human fecal matter at an archeological site called El Salt in Spain
  • Found in floor of a rock shelter where Neanderthals once lived 50,000 years ago
  • Analysis provides new understanding of the diet of this extinct human species
  • Neanderthals were omnivores
  • Predominantly consumed meat
  • Significant plant intake
  • Remains suggest they hunted deer and horses
  • Also evidence of berries, nuts and tubers
  • “We cannot say anything about what kind of plants were actually eaten.”
  • We also know that cavemen ate fish and seaweed when they had the opportunity

Find out more about some of the leading figures in the ancestral health scene here

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