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Proponents of the Paleo diet follow a nutritional plan based on the eating habits of our ancestors in the Paleolithic period, between 2.5 million and 10,000 years ago. Most Paleo dieters of today do none of this, with the exception of occasional hunting trips or a little urban foraging. Almost equal numbers of advocates and critics seem to have gathered at the Paleo diet dinner table and both tribes have a few particularly vociferous members.
Most nutritionists consent that the Paleo diet gets at least one thing right—cutting down on processed foods that have been highly modified from their raw state through various methods of preservation.
Several examples of recent and relatively speedy human evolution underscore that our anatomy and genetics have not been set in stone since the stone age. Five roots, both bitter and sweet, are staples in the Hiwi diet, as are palm nuts and palm hearts, several different fruits, a wild legume named Campsiandra comosa, and honey produced by several bee species and sometimes by wasps. Also spread of pastoralism and milk-drinking and the origins of lactose tolerance in some human populations. There are real questions about how successful Homo erectus was at hunting and gathering, and whether or not human populations were successful in climates with long frozen winters.


Diet (food) is one of the direct interfaces between an organism and its environment, and therefore selecting, acquiring, ingesting, and digesting food are critical elements of an organism's survival, or adaptation (ecological niche). Considering primate and human propensity for learned behavior (culture) as a vital component of our adaptive mechanism, most diets we observe today require a complex mix of both biological and cultural explanation.
Examples include white bread and other refined flour products, artificial cheese, certain cold cuts and packaged meats, potato chips, and sugary cereals. Understanding how we evolved could, in principle, help us make smarter dietary choices today.
If we compare the diets of so-called modern hunter-gatherers, however, we see just how difficult it is to find meaningful commonalities and extract useful dietary guidelines from their disparate lives (see infographic). Such examination also makes obvious the immense gap between a genuine community of foragers and Paleo dieters living in modern cities, selectively shopping at farmers' markets and making sure the dressing on their house salad is gluten, sugar and dairy free. Their main sources of meat are capybara, collared peccary, deer, anteater, armadillo, and feral cattle, numerous species of fish, and at least some turtle species. Most recently, in her book Paleofantasy, evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk of the University of California, Riverside, debunks what she identifies as myths central to the Paleo diet and the larger Paleo lifestyle movement.


If humans and other organisms could only thrive in circumstances similar to the ones their predecessors lived in, life would not have lasted very long. Even though researchers know enough to make some generalizations about human diets in the Paleolithic with reasonable certainty, the details remain murky. The human body is not simply a collection of adaptations to life in the Paleolithic—its legacy is far greater. Chucking the many different hunter–gather diets into a blender to come up with some kind of quintessential smoothie is a little ridiculous. What we can say for certain is that in the Paleolithic, the human diet varied immensely by geography, season and opportunity.



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