Is The Paleo Diet “Paleofantasy”?

11 Mar

You might have noticed that I really like to ask rhetorical questions…and then answer them! But the title of this post is a genuine question. I honestly don’t know enough about the so-called “Paleo Diet” to comment on it, though I do tend to be wary of all things “trendy” – especially when anthropological knowledge is used to support/justify them.

The facts are: for the vast majority of our history and prehistory (prior to about 10,ooo years ago), humans didn’t rely on domesticated plants and animals as staple foods because we hadn’t created them yet.

Some have argued that a Paleo Diet (presumably one that tries to approximate a pre-Agricultural Revolution diet?) would be healthier for us. Sorry to be so vague, but I have not yet read The Paleo Diet Revised: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat, written by Dr. Loren Cordain (Ph.D. Exercise Physiology).

A counterpoint book Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live, by Dr. Marlene Zuk (Ph.D. Evolutionary Ecology) will be published next week. In the meantime, check out a summary of the debate here.

As someone with a background in evolutionary ecology, I’m initially biased toward Paleofantasy, but admittedly have much to learn, and plan to read both books as a starting point in my education on this subject. Regardless, I’m just happy to see prehistoric human subsistence getting media coverage.  Any readers familiar with the Paleo Diet and arguments for and against it? If so, please comment below!


16 Responses to “Is The Paleo Diet “Paleofantasy”?”

  1. kelsey 03/19/2013 at 12:04 pm #

    Loren cordain is not the authority on the paleo diet, I suggest you get a broader perspective

  2. bonesofculture 03/19/2013 at 4:55 pm #

    One of the big mistakes that trips us up in science (and economics, and so on.) is that we don’t distinguish “descriptive” from “proscriptive.”

    That is, when an evolutionary biologist, archaeologist, psychologist, or whathaveyou says “It looks like we’re designed to do X” (descriptive) we hear “Do X” (proscriptive). Biologically, we’re designed [pardon the word choice!] to survive lots of things and keep breeding.

    As a culture, we move immediately from descriptive science to proscriptive attempts to “act naturally.” And we believe that such behavior, somehow, will make things make more sense. It is the science equivalent of “this is true because my shaman-priests say so.”

    I could say it a thousand times. That’s not science. That’s culture! [There’s nothing wrong with culture. I study it myself. But trying to dress it up in science to give it validity and cultural weight is…well, bad science.]

    We all “know” it: science is using the scientific method to test hypotheses in order to discard them or reinforce them.

  3. Kelsey 03/19/2013 at 7:34 pm #

    Bonesofculture, I think you will find that the scientific literature will support the notion that humans are best adapted to eating the types of foods that our bodies have evolved and adapted with for ~2 million years.

    Unfortunately this type of research is seldom done because it doesn’t support the status quo and is not profitable.

    Here is one example:

  4. Paleo Diet Recipes 12/22/2013 at 10:15 pm #

    Next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesn’t disappoint me as much as this particular one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read through, nonetheless I actually believed you would have something helpful to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of complaining about something that you could fix if you were not too busy looking for attention.

  5. paleo diet foods 12/28/2013 at 2:16 pm #

    After I initially left a comment I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I receive 4 emails with the same comment. Perhaps there is a way you can remove me from that service? Cheers!

  6. paleo diet foods 12/28/2013 at 2:28 pm #

    Having read this I thought it was really informative. I appreciate you spending some time and energy to put this informative article together. I once again find myself personally spending way too much time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worth it!

  7. paleo diet recipes 12/29/2013 at 9:08 pm #

    Aw, this was a very good post. Finding the time and actual effort to produce a superb article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a whole lot and don’t manage to get nearly anything done.

  8. jayfancher 01/24/2014 at 9:53 pm #

    Michael Pollan comments on the paleo diet:

  9. newboy 12/24/2015 at 11:47 pm #

    i really love ur articles keep it up

  10. buscos pareja 09/20/2016 at 3:19 am #

    Hey! Thanks for this posting! I find it hard to stumble on decent facts out there when it comes to this blog posts. appreciate for the article!

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