Skip to comments.The Paleolithic Diet and Its Modern Implications
Posted on 03/07/2002 6:16:05 PM PST by Pharmboy
The Paleolithic Diet and Its Modern Implications
An Interview with Loren Cordain, PhD
by Robert Crayhon, MS
Reprinted by permission from Life Services
Can hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution be wrong? What are we really "designed" to eat? Are high carbohydrate "Food Pyramid" diet standards a health disaster? What do paleolithic fossil records and ethnographic studies of 180 hunter/gatherer groups around the world suggest as the ideal human diet? Find out in nationally acclaimed author and nutritionist Robert Crayhon's interview with paleolithic diet expert, Professor Loren Cordain, Ph.D.
Robert Crayhon, M.S. is a clinician, researcher and educator who was called "one of the top ten nutritionists in the country" by Self magazine (August 1993). An associate editor of Total Health magazine, he is the author of best-seller Robert Crayhon's Nutrition Made Simple and the just published The Carnitine Miracle (M. Evans and Company).
Dr. Loren Cordain is a professor of exercise physiology at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, Colorado, and is a reknowned expert in the area of Paleolithic nutrition.
Robert Crayhon: I'm very happy to welcome Dr. Loren Cordain. He is a professor of exercise physiology at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, Colorado, and an expert in the area of Paleolithic nutrition. Dr. Cordain, welcome.
Loren Cordain: My pleasure to be here.
Robert Crayhon: There has been in the past 40 years or so much interest in the area of low fat diets, and it seems that the media and USDA with its food guide pyramid is now convinced that a healthy diet is one that is predominantly carbohydrate, low in fat and protein. There is also little regard for the quality of the fat or protein. But are we really just in some great agricultural experiment? Has the last 10,000 years of agriculture really been the bulk of what the human nutritional experience has been? And is this grain-based, high carbohydrate diet truly ideal for humans?
Loren Cordain: There is increasing evidence to indicate that the type of diet recommended in the USDA's food pyramid is discordant with the type of diet humans evolved with over eons of evolutionary experience. Additionally, it is increasingly being recognized that the "food Pyramid" may have a number of serious nutritional omissions. For instance, it does not specify which types of fats should be consumed. The western diet is overburdened not only by saturated fats, but there is an imbalance in the type of polyunsaturated fats we eat. We consume too many Omega-6 fats and not enough Omega-3 fats. The Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio in western diets averages about 12:1, whereas data from our recent publication (Eaton SB, Eaton SB 3rd, Sinclair AJ, Cordain L, Mann NJ Dietary intake of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids during the Paleolithic Period. World Rev Nutr Diet 1998; 12-23) suggests that for most of humanity's existence, prior to agriculture, the Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio would have ranged from 1:1 to 3:1. High dietary Omega-6/Omega-3 ratios are associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease, some types of cancer, and tend to exacerbate many inflammatory disease responses.
Further, the USDA food pyramid places breads, cereals, rice and pasta at its base and recommends that we consume 6-11 servings of these items daily. Nutritionists at the Harvard School of Public Health (Willett WC. The dietary pyramid: does the foundation need repair? Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;68: 218-219) have recently publicly criticized this recommendation because it fails to distinguish between refined and complex carbohydrates and their relative glycemic responses. Dr. Willett further pointed out that there was little empirical evidence to support the dominant nutritional message that diets high in complex carbohydrate promote good health.
Both the fossil record and ethnological studies of hunter-gatherers (the closest surrogates we have to stone age humans) indicate that humans rarely if ever ate cereal grains nor did they eat diets high in carbohydrates. Because cereal grains are virtually indigestible by the human gastrointestinal tract without milling (grinding) and cooking, the appearance of grinding stones in the fossil record generally heralds the inclusion of grains in the diet. The first appearance of milling stones was in the Middle East roughly 10-15,000 years ago. These early milling stones were likely used to grind wild wheat which grew naturally in certain areas of the Middle East. Wheat was first domesticated in the Middle East about 10,000 years ago and slowly spread to Europe by about 5,000 years ago. Rice was domesticated approximately 7,000 years ago in SE Asia, India and China, and maize (corn) was domesticated in Mexico and Central America roughly 7,000 years ago.
Consequently, diets high in carbohydrate derived from cereal grains were not part of the human evolutionary experience until only quite recent times. Because the human genome has changed relatively little in the past 40,000 years since the appearance of behaviorally modern humans, our nutritional requirements remain almost identical to those requirements which were originally selected for stone age humans living before the advent of agriculture.
Robert Crayhon: What happened to our health when we switched from a hunter-gatherer diet to a grain-based one?
Loren Cordain: The fossil record indicates that early farmers, compared to their hunter-gatherer predecessors had a characteristic reduction in stature, an increase in infant mortality, a reduction in life span, an increased incidence of infectious diseases, an increase in iron deficiency anemia, an increased incidence of osteomalacia, porotic hyperostosis and other bone mineral disorders and an increase in the number of dental caries and enamel defects. Early agriculture did not bring about increases in health, but rather the opposite. It has only been in the past 100 years or so with the advent of high tech, mechanized farming and animal husbandry that the trend has changed.
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"If we examine the fossil record, it suggests that a number of environmental pressures may have forced humans to adopt agriculture, including increases in human population densities and the depletion of easily hunted game."
Certainly increases in population were a consequence of this transition, and not the cause of it. The reason that humans gave up the care-free and easy life of the hunter-gather for the boredom and drudgery of agriculture is that they had discovered brewing and wanted a stesdy source of grains for making beer. The transition is allegorically represented in the Bible by the story of the fall.
17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
Mine always seemed happy, not a bit of woe in the bunch.
Much more natural to eat lower carbs and eliminate cereals.
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I'm unaware of any data that shows their average lifespan was beyond 30 years. Care to share?
Besides, my point is not that they lived better or worse than Neolithic farmers. My point is they lived nothing like we do today. A diet suited for their lifestyle may not be well suited for ours.
I first heard this explanation for the transition to farming when I was in college. It made a lot of sense to me then, and I have yet to see anything to make me change my mind. All the other explanations lack this simple appeal to observable human nature.
I never heard those Genesis verses cast in that light however. Interesting perspective.
Interestingly, "bosom" also both has singular and plural usage.
23 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
I find these hypotheses amusing and posted more in a spitit of fun than anything else, so I hope you read my authoritative declaration that the explanation of the author of the posted article is wrong in that light.
When I started my lo-carb diet, I lost 15 lbs in around 4 months. But then I slowly gained 10 lbs back. It's been 1 1/2 years now, & I still wouldn't go back to my hi carb past. I was getting constant heartburn before, and the Zantac commercials were calling me. A month into the diet I realized it had stopped. Just for that reason alone I'll never go back.
"In addition to being at the heart of Mesopotamian culture, beer may even have been the foundation for the whole of western civilization. In the 1950s Jonathan Sauer, an American botanist, suggested that the original motivation for domesticating cereal crops (and thus switching from a nomadic to a settled lifestyle) might have been to make beer, rather than bread. The question of whether beer or bread came first has been debated ever since."
"Supporters of Sauer's idea have pointed out that many of the first cereals to be farmed were unsuitable for baking without tiresome preparation, but were suitable for brewing. Beer, they suggest, may have emerged in an attempt to make wild barley edible by mixing it with water and fruit. The thick beer produced in this way would be just as nutritious as bread, in addition to being slightly alcoholic."
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