Nine More Problems with Paleo

by Dr. Daniel J. Heller November 28, 2014

In the first post on the Paleo diet, I discussed how Paleo advocates don’t make a good case against agricultural-based diets. I’d like to have some fun here with the Paleo notion that a hunter-gatherer lifestyle is what humans are really evolved for. These are points you might want to keep in mind if someone tries to tell you that Paleo is the right way. And if you yourself are a fan of the Paleo concept, I mean no harm. Read on, and you might learn something of value.

  1. Hunter gatherers hunted and gathered everything they ate (they didn’t raise animals or crops.) So if you what you’re eating came from a farm, or a farmer’s market, or a ranch, or a dairy, or the grocery store, it’s not Paleo. Go out and catch yourself a rabbit and collect some wild sorrel—that’s Paleo.
  2. That cell phone in your hand? Everything associated with the technology/Information Revolution—and what isn’t, nowadays—which itself rides piggyback on the Industrial Revolution, is only possible because of the Agricultural Revolution that preceded them. If you really want to embrace the Paleo lifestyle, say goodbye to computers, cell phones, electricity, houses, cars, planes, trains, cotton and wool clothes, plumbing, medications, or medical care. Hunter-gatherers did not have jobs, and all their property was communal. There was no capitalism. In hunter-gatherer cultures, a fellow tribe member would refuse to eat unless you have also eaten an equal or greater amount, and would refuse to possess more material wealth than anyone else in the tribe. There’s no such thing as a wealthy hunter-gatherer, so to be truly Paleo you’ll have to forgo owning anything or having a bank account. Money, of course, came way after even the Agricultural Revolution, though it was made possible by the stored wealth that successful agricultural city-states were able to accumulate.
  3. There certainly was no religion, as we usually recognize the term, among Paleolithic hunter-gatherers. Their faith would have been more shamanistic and pagan, and full of superstition (coming, as it did, way before science). Obviously, there were no western monotheistic religions, nor was there Buddhism or Hinduism. All of these religions, like wealth and personal property, only became possible after agriculture allowed people to settle down and have the security that comes with large stores of grains and beans, and many heads of cattle, goat, sheep and the like. The same is true for art, literature, and what we call culture.
  4. Hunter-gatherers didn’t eat meat, or at least not the way we think of it. If they were lucky enough to catch a large animal, they feasted on it. But they didn’t value the nutritionally inferior muscle meat—they probably largely considered this scrap, and threw much of it to the packs of wild or semi-domesticated dogs that followed them. Be warned: you may not want to read this next part, especially if you’re squeamish or vegan. No, they ate the organs like the kidney, the heart, and the liver; they would have especially valued the fat-rich brain. And they cracked open the bones and sucked out the marrow. That is real Paleo. Steak and chicken isn’t actually Paleo.
  5. Realistically, not every hunter-gatherer culture would have been able to capture large game or animals like mastodons, or whales, or salmon, or moose, all the time. Some of the time they’d have had to make do with smaller game like lizards, moles, grasshoppers, grubs, termite mounds, and similar. And, in that case, they’d probably have had to eat the whole thing.
  6. Hunter-gatherers certainly had access to fire, but we don’t know that they cooked everything. They probably ate some of their food, including animal food, raw. True Paleo probably requires that you eat some raw animal-source protein, which we don’t suggest you do.
  7. Wild, gathered vegetables are very different from farmed vegetables. You’re not likely to find big, robust heads of broccoli, or lush kale leaves, or large yams growing wild. And gathered wild vegetables will be much more pungent and sour or bitter than farmed and store-bought. Try a (non-sprayed) dandelion leaf or dock leaf from your lawn if you doubt this.
  8. Almost all conceptions of Paleo Diet are based on information we have about select groups of temperate or cold-weather hunter-gatherers like Inuits and other Native Americans, or New Zealand Maori. The Paleo Diet of people living in colder climates was nothing like that of people living in tropical Africa or Central American rainforests. Those people were probably able to catch the occasional monkey or armadillo, but they would have lived on the starch-rich tubers and the sugar-rich fruits that Paleo advocates eschew. There was never any single dietary (or lifestyle) entity called Paleo. Different parts of the world, different climates, and different tribes had unrecognizably different ways of living, all of which were real Paleo.
  9. There were no couch potato hunter-gatherers, and their exercise was nothing like our treadmills, yoga, or even CrossFit. Exercising an hour or even two per day is far different from a true Paleo lifestyle.

Now, who’s Paleo? You can’t live a modern life and get anywhere close to being truly Paleo. If you’re reading this, you’re not Paleo. Paleolithic people didn’t have written language. Reading and writing only became common just before the Industrial Revolution.

Fortunately, you can have a healthy, sensible diet and lifestyle without inaccurately referring to it as "Paleo." My fun with this subject has gone on too long now. My next post will try to take a more constructive approach to the Paleo question.

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The PMS Comfort Blog is our informal way of keeping you up to date on women’s health issues that we think are important; timely; underappreciated; useful; or just interesting. And, we’ll admit, sometimes we can’t resist poking some good-natured fun at the way the mainstream media portrays health, natural health, and women’s health issues. As always, we’d love to hear from you and are interested in knowing what you think and feel about these or other topics. Leave a comment for us, we’ll always respond. And, if there’s a women’s health topic that’s of interest to you, or that you find confusing, let us know! We want this blog to be helpful to you.


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