On Paleo Diet Pretenses: Serving Mastodon, Anyone?

April 6, 2015 in Foodland, Health Claims by Joyce Bunderson

A draft sitting in queue but never published. Too bad.


Things are pretty busy around the holidays; I probably don’t need to remind you. But the evidence in myself is found in how easy it is to make me laugh. I guess it’s some kind of hysteria. On second thought, after reading the Wikipedia post on hysteria, I’m guessing that it’s not really hysteria. But especially if you’re a women, don’t miss reading the post on hysteria – oh wow! Now back to what caught my attention and made me laugh.

I just stumbled upon an article written by Nathan Gray titled; Researchers poke holes in modern ‘Paleo’ diet. Gray was reporting on research done at Georgia State University and Kent State University and published in The Quarterly Review of Biology by lead researcher anthropologist Owen Lovejoy. I must admit that I don’t pay much attention to each and every new diet craze that becomes popular – simply a function of insufficient time. I didn’t, however, really realize that anyone was still trying to stick to a Paleo diet. It’s probably my dietitian humor, but that seemed a bit funny. It seems as though some of us will try anything unusual; any superficially clever thing someone thinks up.

If you have a sense of humor like me; and if you just like fun facts, you may enjoy a little departure from the hustle and bustle of the holidays. The Paleo diet offers some real fun twists to appear scientific.

  • Who exactly is saying what the early peoples of earth ate. Let’s face it they ate what was available; wherever they were. In the January issue of National Geographic, page 132, Glen Hodges reports that some of the first Americans were big-game hunters. They followed mammoths and other prey out of Asia, across a land bridge. Later in that same article, Hodges says other groups settled n favorable locations and lived a hunter-gatherer existence. Based upon some pretty direct evidence, some were eating parsley seeds and roots. The evidence is found by analyzing coprolites – fossilized human feces – OK, I am too old to laugh at learning that there is actually a word for ancient excrement, but I still have grandchildren at that age; I’ll have to remember to share that word with them. In the pre-Clovis occupation in North America about 14,000 to 15,000 years ago some of the people living in what is now Texas were eating desert parsley, a tiny plant with an edible root hidden a foot underground. Others probably came down the coastline and we know they were eating a lot of seafood. Of course, the northwest Native Americans still do. Bottom line – humans are omnivores. As a distinguished anthropologist said some of the early hominids were dietary “jacks-of-all-trades.” Lovejoy, the researcher says that there is very little evidence that they had very specialized diets. Lovejoy’s report says that our ancestors lived in a wide range of environments. That certainly makes the foods different in different locations. In the northern climates, they likely relied almost exclusively on animal-based diets; and in the south they probably relied heavily on plant-based resources; along the coasts and rivers, fish.
  • The second major issue is that the plants and animals of today are; well, different from those of the Paleolithic era. Mastodon and parsley roots are not widely available at the market. Perhaps like their prey, the mammoths, the large bodied aggressive men with the many fractured skulls and limbs (described in the National Geographic article), and their small women whose remains showed signs of abuse, died out themselves after they made their prey extinct. So the hunter-gatherers who lived on a mostly plant diet would have been the ones to survive and pass on genes to the Native Americans.
  • Based upon the fact that the Paleolithic peoples did not live a long lifespan, Lovejoy questions that the early humans had a healthier diet than modern man, who lives much longer.
  • If you’ve been inclined to take the Paleo diet seriously, think about your sources of information. Dr. Oz, for example, has been recently reviewed by Canadian researchers, who say that only one-third of the recommendations made on the program can be supported by medical evidence, despite his MD background. Ouch!
  • Milk products, legumes and grains, foods eschewed by Paleo diets are food groups that have been consumed for millennia. One Paleo spokesperson on the Dr. Oz show said that dairy, legumes, and grains cause inflammation. If the Paleo diet is supposed to be healthy, it’s hard for me to understand why eating cleanly produced whole grains and legumes would be harmful. Certainly, there is a body of research that supports whole grains and legume consumption to decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes, which is correlated with inflammation; thus grains and legumes can reduce the risk of inflammation.
  • If we want an ancient writer witnessing to the error of Paleo diet putting meats over grains and legumes, (since the advocates of Paleo Diet pretend to know what the ancients ate) read the Old Testament Book of Daniel, Chapter 1, which tells the story of Daniel and three other Israelite youth refusing to eat the king’s diet; rich in meats like the Paleo. Instead they ate “pulse,” and thrived better than the youth who ate the king’s meaty diet. Pulse is a Hebrew word meaning seeds, and is understood to contain grains and legumes. The Hebrew captivity was about 2400 years ago, so it is not Paleolithic (before ~ 10,000 years). But the Babylonians and Hebrews were descended from those whose ancestors ate cultivated foods – plant and animal – in so doing they survived until historical times.

Paleontology is fun and interesting to me and to many of us. So is poking fun at fad diets and the tenuous scientific foundations. My wish for you is to find something to lighten your season and enjoy it with friends and family; along with some nice choices from a Mediterranean diet. Cheers.