Monday, 13 January 2014

So how much of the "Paleo Diet" is based on an actual Paleolithic diet?

Since I stilll have this conversation about this fad diet with someone at least once a week (sigh), here’s TED Fellow Christina Warinner, an expert on ancient diets, answering the question:

So how much of this "Paleo Diet" stuff is based on an actual Paleolithic diet?

The answer is not really any of it.

Who’s Christina Warinner, and what the hell would she know? Well…

Dr. Christina Warinner has excavated around the world, from the Maya jungles of Belize to the Himalayan mountains of Nepal, and she is pioneering the biomolecular investigation of archaeological dental calculus (tartar) to study long-term trends in human health and diet. She is a 2012 TED Fellow, and her work has been featured in Wired UK, the Observer,, Der Freitag, and Sveriges TV. She obtained her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2010, specializing in ancient DNA analysis and paleodietary reconstruction.


  1. Fascinating video.
    Great link flame93, I can just imagine Mrs Caveman whipping up a paleo lemon meringue pie.

  2. Nothing nonsense about the idea of eating a simple diet of quality meat, seafood, fresh veggies, nuts and fruit. Problem is the entire industry of cookbooks and blogs subverting the basic idea into cakes, chocolate bars and other baked treats using 'paleo' ingredients. Why eat a fresh salad when you can eat a 'paleo' energy bar made from almond flour, coconut flour, rasins and honey - just $2.99 per bar - approved by Conan the Barbiturate.

    - Tom

  3. "Nothing nonsense about the idea of eating a simple diet of quality meat, seafood, fresh veggies, nuts and fruit."
    Maybe not. But the case is not proven by founding it on a misbegotten argument about what caveman didn't actually eat.

  4. Well, I am half way through at the moment. I am not impressed with here characterization of the Paleo diet with a meat only diet. Vegetables are an important part of all advocates of this diet. However, I think she is dead right about tubers etc. While some Paleo advocates do emphasis the importance of these carbs (particularly high in resistant starch) most don't. Additionally, she makes a good point about regional differences, but this is well known among the paleo community.


  6. Very interesting talk - thanks for sharing Peter. This added to my understanding of what's likely to be good for us, but I don't think it entirely debunks the basic paleo diet principle - which is that we've evolved to do better with natural foods that are fresh and unprocessed as little as possible, and in particular don't have the high concentrations of sugar that refining allows (and which couldn't possibly be consumed by our paleo ancestors). We can't eat exactly what our paleo ancestors ate, and nor would I really want to - but by eating plenty of fresh vegetables, and limiting the amount of processed and high sugar food we're getting as close as we practically and conveniently can.

  7. the drunken watchman15 Jan 2014, 01:10:00

    haha.. unless you had a second conversation last week, i presume you are referring to ours.

    I should stress that my daughter was simply suggesting that there seemed to be evidence supporting a theory that in "paleo" days, the human body had had had no reason to develop a regulatory "off switch" for sugar, theory being that it was quite hard to get hold of enough sugar to have rendered one adaptive. She would add that whether there had or had not been enough time, evotutionarily speaking, to develop one in the meantime, it appears not to have been developed. So, while there is a "cue" or a "switch" within us which advises us that we have eaten enough potatoes, for example, (i.e you feel full), no such mechanism exists for sugar, which is now super-abundant and therefore consumed in correspondingly massive amounts.

    Remember, use of the dirty 'E' word, or the dirty 'P' word, in reference to human biology does not automatically mean the advocating of any particular diet. Simply trying to explain why some people have a problem with sugar :)

  8. the drunken watchman15 Jan 2014, 06:12:00

    I think some of you are muddled.

    Yes, Christina Warinner was attempting to debunk your “faddish Paleo diets”, but only on account of them not being REAL Paleolithic diets. The latter she was in fact clearly promoting as being more in sync with our biology than most modern diets.

    Some quotes:

    “Anthropology and evolutionary medicine have a lot to teach us about ourselves”.

    “by decoupling the whole food from the nutrients.. . we trick our bodies and override the mechanisms which we have evolved to signal satiation”

    “We evolved to eat fresh foods”

    “We evolved to eat whole foods”

    Listen to the speech again :)

  9. @DrunkenWatchman: Haha, no, I wasn't directly referring to that conversation -- it did start that way, or so I thought, but the conclusion I thought was really just saying what you pulled out above from Dr Warinner: i.e., eat whole foods.

    No, I really do end up having this conversation with some true believer at least once a week. Although Christmas time tends to bring down the average. :-)

  10. Interesting link and very good presentation

  11. the drunken watchman16 Jan 2014, 07:51:00

    @ PC

    ... but I gathered that you disagreed with the claim that a genuine paleolithic diet might better suit the human biology, for 'evolutonary' reasons, in which case you would seem to be at odds with your good Dr Warinner?

    Or is it just that you think that that the "fad paleo diets" are misrepresentative of a genuine paleolithic diet, meantime agreeing with Dr Warinner? If this is the case, then the "true believers" to whom you refer are simply guilty only of being duped into thinking that the "fad paleo diets" are representative of an actual paleolithic diet? For my part, in this context, I know nothing about "fad paleo diets". I also happen to agree with Dr Warinner. So I guess my question is, am I what you would refer to as one of the "true believers"? With whom you are reluctantly dragged into conversations such as I had with you last week? If this is the case, then as I agree entirely with everything that Dr Warinner said, then I presume you would also have to classify her also as a "true believer"?

    Or did you just stuff up by posting Dr Warinner's speech ? :)


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