Should we be eating a Paleolithic diet?

Here’s what the University of California, Berkeley, March 2011 Wellness Letter had to say about the Paleolithic diet:

Evidence about early diets is very fragmentary

The Paleolithic era lasted many millennia, and early humans lived in ecological niches with widely varying food sources. They ate whatever they could kill or lay their hands on.

Few of our Paleolithic forebears had heart disease or cancer—but that was because they rarely lived long enough to develop such chronic disorders

Paleo diet plans have some good aspects…but they also rule out some healthy foods, such as whole grains, dairy products, and beans.

Promoters of the Paleolithic diet say that for millions of years people ate lots of fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, fish, and meat.  Therefore, we still ought to be eating caveman food and avoid grains, legumes, and dairy products.

Why a ban against carbohydrates? The Paleolithic diet had a lot of carbohydrates.  Acorns are 40% carbohydrate. In California, half of the calories people ate came from acorns in much of the state.  Acorns were a staple food in Europe, Asia, and many other parts of the world as well before agricuture.

There’s a new field called nutritional genomics, which may someday prescribe the best diet for individuals based on their genes. This new medical specialty arose because cultures are adapted to eat what grows locally, so the ideal diet for a long, healthy life varies depending on who your ancestors were.

If your ancestors came from any of the great civilizations that arose from growing grains like rice, wheat, barley, or corn in Europe, the Middle East, China, and so on, then you are almost certainly adapted to eating whole grains.

Are we still cavemen?  Apparently not. Within the past few years, scientists have discovered that human DNA has evolved a hundred times faster in the past 40,000 years (Hawks 2007) than the millions of years before that.  The agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago accelerated this even further, with most of the changes occurring in the genes to digest starch, dairy products, tolerate alcohol, and fight off diseases that became common after people lived in villages year-round.

Tolerance of alcohol evolved because water was so filthy from humans and animal herds that anyone who could tolerate alcohol had a huge advantage over others, because alcohol protects against waterborne diseases.

As for grains, in all of the agricultural civilizations people evolved to have multiple copies of a starch-digesting enzyme to adapt to the new diet.

But not one of us is adapted to eating white flour, white rice, and other grains stripped of their germ and bran which have most of the  fiber, vitamins, minerals, and essential healthy fats.

In the movie “Supersize Me”, Morgan Spurlock eats only McDonald’s food for just a month, and by the end of the month he gained nearly 25 pounds, had irreversible heart damage, and a higher cholesterol level.  So now we’re selecting for couch potatoes who can survive on fast food and donuts, and their children shall inherit the earth.

But for the rest of us, high-starch and sugar diets of white flour, corn starch, and white rice are killing us.   We’re eating nearly pure starch, which is converted to sugars so fast it they may as well be raw sugar.  One in every five health care dollars goes to diabetes, and a diet without enough whole grains, vegetables, and fruit also kills us with heart disease, cancer, strokes, hypertension, and other diseases.

If you or your ancestors were rainforest or arctic hunters, then you probably should be eating a Paleolithic diet.


Hawks, J., Wang, E. T., Cochran, G. M., Harpending, H. C., & Moyzis, R. K. (2007). Recent acceleration of human adaptive evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104, 20753-20758.

About Alice

I've milled and baked with whole grains for many years, because whole grains are delicious, and white flour is missing the nutrition that protects you from cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetes and many other diseases. Plus it's a good emergency food.
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