Scientific Study: The ‘Paleo Diet’ Is A Load Of Arse

Scientific Study: The ‘Paleo Diet’ Is A Load Of Arse

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]


  • The problem with the Paleo diet, as I see it, is that its presented wrong. The intent is to get people to have a simple and healthy base to their diet, and to basically avoid modern processing where they can. Which is good advice. But in the rush to find something to base it on they’ve used a poor example.

    If Pete Evans had been presenting this as a Diabetic Diet instead of Paleo, the pushback on him wouldnt have been nearly so great. I dont prescribe to the Paleo diet in any way, like most others I think its a crock, largely for the reasons above – diet would have been based on location more than preference – but there are plenty of parallels with what diabetics should be doing that the basis behind it is still pretty sound.

    Reduce sugar, processed oils, and processed food in general, and you’re a long way to being healthier, no matter what they present it as.

    • The problem with Paleo stuff is that it proscribes certain things for really dodgy reasons, and promotes other things for equally dodgy ones. The massive amount of hate against everything that is or once was a grain for example (there are good reasons to avoid some grains and cereals for certain people, eg white rice for diabetics or wheat products for celiacs, but it’s not “because they’re grain”). Plus the idea that bacon is actually good for you (dark-chocolate dipped bacon as a snack, really?)

      • Good points, but I see that as something thats grown out of the original idea. The original idea wasnt so aggressive (it represented lifestyle more than diet), its just been the dodgy fanatics like Pete Evans that have turned it into what we have today.

        I wasnt really wanting to debate the paleo diet though, just pointing out that the highpoints mimic what diabetics should be doing. Diabetics (like me) still should be following a LOT of the paleo diet by default. Cut back sugar, avoid saturated fats, leaner meats, etc etc.

        Main differences being dairy, and similar stuff thats really less processed anyway.

        Was just trying to say that if Paleo Pete (and others) had decided to push similar as a Diabetic Diet, he’d have gotten the same benefits as the paleo diet, without most of the controversy.

        • Yeah but then you’d have far less uptake.

          Diabetic diet is great, for diabetics who can use paleo anyway.

          But it also becomes a I don’t need to do that it’s for diabetics, or are you really so fat you might get diabetes type talks.

          I don’t paleo, I did keto in the past and it was really effective, plus has cheese.

          At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter what paleo was founded on fundamentally so long as it works for the general health and well being of the person using it.

          And if you still want to harass people over their eating choices then, the real problem you have is the one you see in the mirror every morning.

          Because for all the shit I copped while Keto’ing or others when they are paleo’ing. Is insane when there was a point in my life where I was eating fast food everyday of the week.

          No one was criticising my diet choices then, at least not to my face. Lose 50kg and suddenly I should be worried about whatever casual knowledge they gained from the internet.

          You didn’t care months ago when I might have been risking heart attacks.

  • Well this is just click-bait, plain and simple.

    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.

    So you’re not denouncing the diet, just suggesting it’s incorrectly named?

    • It’s not *just* about the name. The whole idea of the paleo diet is that we are genetically adapted to eat specific foods based on the diet of our prehistoric ancestors. This evidence contradicts that theory.

      • My apologies, I obviously misinterpreted the heading to mean that the diet itself was a load of arse, not the naming convention used, whereas the article says that

        With all that said, some of the guiding principles of the Paleo diet – particularly limiting salt, sugar and processed oils – are scientifically sound.

        That’s my bad. Sorry!

  • People know what they need to do to have a healthy diet. They are just lazy and if they need a fancy named plan to eat healthy it’s probably not going to last anyways…

  • How about we take diet advice from actual nutritionists, not a crackpot celebrity chef for starters.

    • I totally agree.just a big money making scam for all the gullible people out there,so the latte set can brag about being on this unproven diet.The name sounds good-take another sip.

  • “The whole idea of the paleo diet is that we are genetically adapted to eat specific foods based on the diet of our prehistoric ancestors. This evidence contradicts that theory.”

    The studies are all a bit hit and miss though arent they?
    This was a tiny sample of just 2 by the way it reads, “Neanderthal teeth uncovered in Spain and Belgium”, so they may have had more or less variety at their places of origin and time of year before death, who knows.

    And were they just weirdos or crazys that just ate anything?

    “animal hair, pollen” – One of these specimens could have thought he was a wolf or even funnier, one of them tried to be a bee?

    Fact is natural food chemical free, is always going to be the best and paleo is a version of that that promotes healthy insides. But you do scratch your head when it is tried to be pushed because “Cavemen” or “Neanderthals” did it, as these particular groups were also said to have very short lifespans, so there’s that…

  • Geez chill out with this paelo bashing, it’s not meant to exactly replicate Palaeolithic man’s diet, it’s just a name, a starting point, a fun way to look at it. People getting so weird about the name “paleo diet”.
    It’s about eating vegetables and meat and not highly processed oil, sugar, and grain. You can’t tell me a chicken salad or steak and vegetables is bad for you.

    So you can prove the diets of Palaeolithic man varied greatly from region to region, therefore the “paleo diet” is nonsense? Therefore eating a chicken salad instead of chips and gravy is ‘arse’?

    This is something good in a world of obesity and illness and you’re just being a dick about it, Chris. If you want to put more of your amazing journalistic powers into this then test whether the actual food eaten by paleo diet enthusiasts is healthy or not, because that’s all that matters.

    There is nothing wrong with eating vegetables, salad, and meat – it’s premium fuel.

  • It’s important to realize the true meaning of a paleo lifestyle. This diet reinforces a true paleo lif style that I’ve followed for the past 3 years and have completely changed my life. More energy, better sleep, and all my vitals are where they need to be. 3 years ago I was 342 lbs with BP 220/109, sleep apnea, and was constantly tired. Now, I am 198, 119/82, no snoring, I soundly sleep 8 hrs, I’m able to workout moderately because I have the energy, cholesterol is normal… and the list goes on. When you look at a basic synopsis of paleo, you see lots of meat, certain fruits, no grain, lots of fat, and certain veggies. Not the case. Check out full write ups on paleo and in particular, check out information from Chris Kresser. You will see that many ancient grains… especially flax are recommended. It also suggests that gluten free grains in moderation are good because our genome has changed. As far as fruits and vegetables are concerned, they are all on the table. The only limiting factor is season. I was taught to eat what’s in season because that’s what they would have done with rudimentary preservation abilities. So, the real paleo lifestyle… eat what is available that time of year, eat whole natural foods (not riddled with dyes, artificial flavor, preservatives, etc). If you’re going to eat grain, eat in moderation because nobody needs that much sugar, and gluten is truly harmful for the body (and inflammatory). Make sure you get plenty of fiber from whole veggies and seeds, and limit dairy because yes… you are lactose intolerant to a degree. You may not realize it, and you may not be as intolerant as some… but we all are to an extent. Depends on how much lactase enzyme your body produces. In any case. Milk was designed for infants of that breed. Cow’s milk is meant for calves in the same way human breast milk is meant for human babies. I have more info on that if anyone is interested.

    So yes, paleo is a real thing, and those following the actual principals already had it correct. It’s the people that tried to make paleo living even healthier that went off the charts as far as what to eat and what not to eat. Paleo is very sustainable. It is not low calorie, low fat, or low carb. It simply promotes healthier eating, whole and real foods, balance, and the intake of forgotten micronutrients. If these concepts are in your meal plan, you’re probably eating closer to paleo than you think.

  • There’s several pieces of important information either missing or misunderstood. First off, here’s a couple important quotes from the actual article …

    “It’s nice that the different types of data appear to match,” says Anne Stone from Arizona State University. And that’s important because “I don’t think we really understand how dietary DNA is incorporated into plaque.” Do some types of food get incorporated more than others, or is it random? How much do you need to eat of something before it shows up? “We don’t know if we’re looking at their last meal or random food debris from the last ten years,” Weyrich admits.

    So you can see right there that this isn’t meant to be the final step, providing some all encompassing information. This is one more small piece in the vast sea of the unknown.

    Second, the Paleo diet is not supposed to some rigid religion, its a blueprint. You want to eat lots of pastured meat? Great. Prefer wild-caught fish? Fantastic. Lots of fruit? Go for it. How about primarily vegetables? Sounds perfect. The original Paleo stated no dairy, white potatoes, or salt, but there are plenty of Paleo followers today that have become much more lenient on that. Its more about avoiding the toxins than one set standard way to eat.

    Third, this is quite the comment in the article, “In short, the “true” Paleolithic diet was just as varied as ours.” I’d argue the Standard American Diet is not all that varied. Its 70% wheat, filled in with some vegetable oils, sugar, and processd/CAFO meat. Most Paleo followers have a very diverse diet.

    Finally, and this one is more personal opinion than speaking for other people following Paleo, but it’s not surprising in the least bit that they ate grains. Of course they ate grains. They were nomad omnivores that fought for survival every day, they would eat anything they could get their hands on. However, do you think they ate mostly grains with all meals consumed? I doubt it. It was most likely a small portion of an incredibly diverse diet. Hundreds of different species of vegetables and fruits, large animals (yes, red meat, to feed a large pack of homo) for meat as a source of high quality calories, and filled in with some nuts, seeds, and yes, grains when they could get their hands on it. But they didn’t have fields and fields of grains to fill up on, and I therefore believe it made up a relatively small portion of their overall diet.

  • Their diets were varied, but they were not consuming grains or dairy. No evidence for hunter-gatherers eating agricultural foods!

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