The Paleo diet (or Primal if you prefer) is based on the premise that we humans are genetically adapted to the diet of our ancestors. There is a heavy reliance on the explanation that Darwinian Evolution is at the root of this – that we have EVOLVED to eat this way. Now I consider myself an intelligent person. For what it’s worth, while far from being the universal designation of intelligence, I do have a couple of degrees from great universities. I like to examine facts and evidence and use logic in making decisions. But guess what? While I acknowledge adaptations and the like, I am not a believer in Darwinian Evolution and I am not alone. There are many other people like me. The point of this post is NOT to debate evolution or change anyone’s mind (please, let’s not go there). But I would like to explore why it is that I am a devotee of a diet and lifestyle that appears so rooted in something I do not embrace.
Instead of relying so heavily upon human evolutionary theory, the Paleo diet makes sense for other reasons. I believe the argument “cavemen did this so you should too” is illogical. Sure, I like the fun, iconic caveman as much as the next person. There’s no reason we can’t have fun with this, right? But I believe as Matt LaLonde, a biochemist with a Ph.D from Harvard and a strong interest in Paleo nutrition, stated in episode #68 of Robb Wolf‘s podcast, that looking at what our ancestors ate is instructional at best. It can point us in the right direction but does not rise to the level of a convincing argument.
In fact, LaLonde said,
“It really drives me nuts when people justify what I’ll [call] the Paleo lifestyle or way of eating, by stating that ‘cavemen and modern hunter-gatherers ate meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds and they did not suffer from the diseases of modern civilization, so you must eat this way too if you want to avoid this disease.’ That is indeed a logical fallacy…It can be used to generate hypothesis that should then be tested. But it does not establish cause and effect.”
This “testing” might take the form of formal scientific studies with well-developed protocols, examinations of biochemical processes, or anthropological studies that focus on the health of our ancestors or modern hunter-gatherer populations. It might simply be what is known as an N=1 experient we conduct on ourselves. (I recommend a Whole30 elimination diet for that, btw.)
Matt LaLonde went on to say,
“One argument actually that gets me even more worked up than the previous one is ‘our Paleolithic ancestors evolved over millions of years while not consuming grains, legumes or dairy so we should not consume these foods because we are not adapted to them.’ This is an assumption, and it is completely incorrect. The assumption that [a] species is not adapted to a food because it never consumed that food is completely false. There are plenty of examples throughout evolution where a species finds a new source of food and thrives on it.”
Clearly Dr. LaLonde is a believer in the theory of evolution. So the point is not that you have to be an evolution skeptic to find holes in this whole argument. He and others have pointed out there are many and varied reasons for eating a Paleo diet OTHER than because cavemen ate this way or because we evolved to eat this way.
One of the reasons the Paleo diet movement (or whatever we call it) is attractive to me is the intellectual curiosity of many of those at the forefront (Robb Wolf, Matt LaLonde, Mark Sisson and many, many others). There’s a willingness to challenge the status quo and question conventional wisdom handed to us by government and others with self-serving agendas. There’s an independent spirit that I admire. And as an official “nutrition nerd” I love the modern nutrition science studies and discussions on the biochemical processes in our bodies. I also like the simplicity of it all – the getting back to basics. It just makes sense to me. And most importantly, I like how much my health has improved as a result of eating this way.
It has always struck me as unfortunate that the Paleo movement focuses so much on the evolutionary component because it can be a real stumbling block for some people. There are many like me who do not believe in evolutionary theory as fact. There’s an impression out there among some Christians, and other believers in a Divine Creator or Intelligent Designer, that adopting this diet and lifestyle somehow puts a stamp of approval on something rooted in what might be perceived as an atheistic world view. Now, please, I am NOT saying that everyone who believes in evolution is an atheist or if you are an atheist that you militate against those of us who do believe in God. Not at all. I am simply pointing out there are many people who might otherwise benefit from this way of eating if they could get past the emphasis on evolution. And sad to say, I have also witnessed some hostility out there to believers in God. It’s as though some folks adopt the Paleo lifestyle as a way of justifying their existing atheism. I have heard people say that because the Paleo diet works so well that it PROVES we MUST have evolved. I could easily argue we were CREATED to eat this way and that is why it works.
For me, the word “PALEO” means something ancient – something simple, a getting “back to the basics”, a harkening back to a time before mankind started adding lots of “stuff” to our lives and to our food. I embrace that word. The name of this site is Paleo Spirit after all! I think there is common ground in this idea. It is possible to come together whether you believe we EVOLVED to eat this way or whether you believe God CREATED our bodies to function best eating this way.
What do you think? Do you know anyone who has stayed away from the Paleo/Primal diet and lifestyle because they were turned off by the emphasis on evolution?
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