The guiding principle of ‘paleo’ is to only eat foods that were consumed by our Paleolithic ancestors. There’s only one problem: almost everything we think we know about prehistoric humans’ diets is based on conjecture. (There were no caveman cookbooks or reality TV shows, sadly.) In other words, paleo “experts” like Pete Evans are guessing about the past.
As it turns out, a lot of this guesswork has been flat-out wrong. A new analysis of Neanderthal teeth uncovered in Spain and Belgium has discovered a lot more variation in Paleolithic diets than we previously thought. Here’s the evidence.
A new study of hardened plaque left behind on the teeth of five Neanderthal specimens has unveiled fresh insights into how our ancestors ate. In short, the “true” Paleolithic diet was just as varied as ours. (Well, minus the odd Coke and Kit-Kat.)
The scientists found that the so-called Paleolithic diet varied considerably depending on where the humans lived. What’s more, they would happily eat just about anything digestible, from sheep and rhinoceros to mushrooms and moss.
“We found lots of fantastic bits and pieces — animal hair, pollen grains, all this detail trapped in here that survived in the biological record,” Keith Dobney, one of the leading authors on the paper told Business Insider.
According to the study, some Paleolithic individuals ate mostly meat while others preferred plants. Genetic evidence from the teeth of the Spanish Neanderthals revealed they stuck to a diet of mushrooms, pine nuts and forest moss. In contrast, the Belgian Neanderthals had a taste for woolly rhinos, wild sheep and mushrooms.
The concept of the fighting-fit Neanderthal eating a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, nuts, roots and lean meats has therefore been turned on its head. This also effectively debunks the theory that the Homo genus started out as vegetarians – like most other omnivorous mammals, we have been eating meat from the dawn of our species.
With all that said, some of the guiding principles of the Paleo diet – particularly limiting salt, sugar and processed oils – are scientifically sound. It just has very little to do with what caveman did or didn’t eat.
You can read the full study in the scientific journal Nature.
[Via Business Insider]