I didn’t intend this to be a series, but it may be. I’ve looked into too many diets and tend to have strong opinions. My biggest thought on Paleo is this:
Humans did not stop evolving from paleolithic man.
I have a problem with people who push paleo as ideal for all and who poo-poo anyone who isn’t on it and insult grains and grain-eaters. I don’t have a problem with people who do well on paleo- there’s mounting evidence that I’d do better on a fairly paleo diet. That doesn’t mean everyone will, though, and I see a lot of paleo proponents insisting that anyone who says they’re doing well on grains are just ignoring the damage grains are doing to them. Not a viewpoint I’m a fan of.
Also, whether or not the diet is any good, the basis for it is pretty bogus. This article is pretty enlightening and actually refers to the work of an expert, but I’ll talk about it more anyways.
From what I can tell, Homo sapiens DID show up in the paleolithic age- but that doesn’t mean we stopped evolving. Evolution isn’t always giant, monumental changes. It takes a very long time to go from one species to another. A chihuaha is not a german shepherd, but they’re both the same species.
Now, no, humans haven’t developed quite that drastically- but we have changed. We spread and evolved to fit different environments. Some cultures traditionally had a diet totally devoid of vegetation, some cultures traditionally had a diet with very little (if any) meat, some cultures traditionally had a diet high in grain, some cultures traditionally had a diet without any grain. Their diets were often determined by their location, and people most certainly could evolve to better survive in those locations. It makes sense that we also would have evolved to do well on our new diets, at least to a point. A few people have pointed out that basically all of the most amazing achievements made by humans were done on a grain-based diet. We’re not doing that bad on it.
I do agree with the idea that the more recently a food was introduced, the fewer people do well on it. This isn’t a Paleo idea (at least not a paleo-specific idea), I actually read it in a book about going grain-free that suggested three levels for different needs: wheat free, gluten free, carbohydrate free.
Now, I am very well aware of the difference between a diet that you can survive on and a diet that you do best on. I could survive on gluten but I do best off it. A lot of history has been about surviving, not thriving. This was likely true even for the paleolithic age. There still almost certainly is and was some selective pressure that meant those who did well on the current diet would reproduce more and produce healthier, more viable offspring- but I don’t know how strong that pressure was or how much of an impact it would have made, it’s not something I’ve studied well enough.
Another thing, of course, is that our food has definitely evolved well beyond what it was at paleolithic time. In no small part due to humans. We’ve been artificially selecting traits for ages- creating different animals, different plants, different everything. Things have also naturally evolved since paleolithic time. There are still some foods that exist fairly close to the way they did then, but most of them don’t.
Again, personally, I think that something akin to paleo is what I’ll find I do best on. Dairy is iffy, even non-gluten grains aren’t great, sugar isn’t very good. I’m not opposed to the diet. I just don’t think it’s the ultimate diet that is best for EVERYONE.