I just saw an article on HuffPo that said scientists now believe that cavemen actually ate less meat than previously believed. I immediately ran over here to bang out this post. Did the Paleo Diet people get it wrong? Some anthropologists now conjecture that our ancestors ate a lot more fruits and veggies and a lot less meat protein than initially thought.
Using nitrogen isotopes, scientists had extrapolated that the typical diet 12,000 years ago was 60% to 80% protein. This is much higher than the average of our modern diet intake of about 45%. Some scientists thought the math might be wrong, and using different techniques, they have come up with a caveman protein number of between 40% and 50%, about the same as what we eat today.
The dates being studied are actually the neolithic era, when people had just started farming, but scientists also think that Paleolithic man also ate more fruits and veggies too, depending on the region they lived in.
Hunh. Okay, I admit it, I had to giggle … For the most part, I’m eating Paleo these days … minimal added sugar, almost no starches … but every time I have tried to push the protein amounts above 50%, I feel physically ill … I’ve been keeping my intake below 50 grams of protein a day, which feels right for my body.
This brings me back to the question I always ask myself about the Paleo diet. See, different regions of the world ate differently and this detail is not reflected in the diet’s guidelines. For instance, the tribes in what is now Alaska ate a heavy fish-based and protein-based diet. Makes total sense as there aren’t a lot of veggies to be had in January. But the tribes meandering around, say Costa Rica, had a ton of fruit to choose from, so I’m sure they ate plenty of pineapples in addition to wild game and fish. Their percentages were probably quite different from those pre-Alaskan tribes.
Generally speaking, if you ditch processed foods and added sugars from your diet, you’re going to be a lot healthier. I think beyond that, the balance of proteins vs. carbohydrates vs. fats (macronutrients that make up our food supply) is guided by our DNA and our lifestyle choices. This means there’s a bit of trial and error to find the diet combination that works best for you. Experiment a bit and check in with your doctor to make sure you’re heading in the proper direction.
Personally, I think Paleo works so well for people primarily because they are ditching a lot of crappy food and replacing it with healthier stuff like lean proteins and lots of roughage. If you feel a bit off, though, when you’re on Paleo, try to adjust your proteins down a bit and your veggies up and see if that helps. Or maybe (gasp!) add a serving or two of whole grains a day.
The point is to find a balance that works best for you. Shouldn’t that be the point of any lifestyle change?
If textbook Paleo works best for you, great! If you need to tweak it a bit to make you a happier person, go for it … Like I said earlier, if you and your doctor are happy, then you’re doing just fine.
photo credit: Stefan Kloo