The Paleo diet is based on the evolutionary discordance hypothesis, according to which departures from the nutrition and activity patterns of our hunter-gatherer ancestors have contributed greatly and in specifically definable ways to the endemic chronic diseases of modern civilization. The assumption is that during the Paleolithic era — a period lasting around 2.5 million years that ended about 10,000 years ago with the advent of agriculture and domestication of animals — humans evolved nutritional needs specific to the foods available at that time, and that the nutritional needs of modern humans remain best adapted to the diet of their Paleolithic ancestors. Today’s humans are said to be not well adapted to eating foods such as grain, legumes, and dairy, and in particular the high-calorie processed foods. Proponents claim that modern humans’ inability to properly metabolize these comparatively new types of food has led to modern-day problems such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. They furthermore claim that followers of the Paleolithic diet may enjoy a longer, healthier, more active life.
The Paleo Diet is alleged to work by two fundamental principles:
- Put the optimal nutrition into your body.
- Reduce or eliminate toxins and “interference”.
And what are the results, as claimed by those who promote (and profit from) the Paleo diet? The alleged benefits include:
- Leaner, Stronger Muscles
- Increased Energy
- Significantly More Stamina
- Clearer, Smoother Skin
- Weight Loss Results
- Better Performance and Recovery
- Stronger Immune System
- Enhanced Libido
- Greater Mental Clarity
- No More Hunger/Cravings
- Thicker, Fuller Hair
- Clear Eyes
Critics of the Paleo diet point towards abundant evidence that paleolithic humans did, in fact, eat grains and legumes. They also stress that humans are much more nutritionally flexible than previously thought, that the hypothesis that Paleolithic humans were genetically adapted to specific local diets is unproven, that the Paleolithic period was extremely long and saw a variety of forms of human settlement and subsistence in a wide variety of changing nutritional landscapes, and that currently very little is known for certain about what Paleolithic humans ate.
So, the theories behind the Paleo diet are flimsy and naïve; the most crucial question, however, is does it work?
Overall there is little solid evidence; unsurprisingly, some studies have shown that cardiovascular risk factors can be positively influenced, for instance, in patients with diabetes. But the more specific claims, like the ones above, are not supported by good clinical evidence.
It seems that, yet again, less than responsible entrepreneurs have jumped on a popular band-wagon to exploit the often hopelessly gullible public.