Our Genetic Predisposition for the Paleo Diet

two cavemen are eating chicken and meat
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Sitting atop the food chain, we humans can eat pretty much anything we like. While our digestive systems are not as efficient as they probably could be, there are not too many things the human body has trouble digesting.

This varies from person to person, obviously, but if we discount personal food preferences and individual digestive disorders, the world is pretty much our oyster, strawberry or sirloin steak.

The Paleo Diet, which consists of foods alleged to have been available to our hominid ancestors, calls for the elimination or reduction of grains, dairy and any foods that would not have been around prior to the agricultural revolution.

It also recommends consumption of wild game, grass-fed beef, seafood and plants that have been around since the dawn of time.

But what does evolution tell us? Are we genetically wired to eat like our forebears did? Is there something truly unnatural about downing a burger, fries and a cola?

Unlike obligated carnivores (felids and sharks) or true herbivores (rodents and equines), primates—and humans in particular—are nicely placed between the two extremes and a bit more to the herbivorous side.

Our dentition is designed to cut, tear and rip food (incisors and canines) as well as grind it (premolars and molars). This gives us a distinct advantage over carnivores whose dentition is designed to simply tear flesh.

That’s a good thing, because we do not possess the short intestinal system that goes with being a carnivore. The human body has trouble digesting copious amounts of protein which end up simply being passed through the body as waste.

Indeed, to aid in the process of digestion and elimination, the human body requires consumption of dietary fiber, such as that found in leafy greens, legumes and other fruits and vegetables, from eggplant to bananas and raspberries to cinnamon.

No doubt we have adapted over time to our changing food supply, sources and preparations. But our bodies have not evolved sufficiently to overcome certain in-born traits, such as the speed at which we metabolize various foods.

For example, our bodies break down the complex carbohydrates known as starches much more slowly than the simple sugars found in fruits. Similarly, we are designed to store fats and not proteins.

That explains why we feel full or “satisfied” when consuming batter-fried chicken, potato wedges, chocolate cake and soda pop as opposed to grilled salmon, steamed broccoli, pineapple and pure water.

On the other hand, a strictly Stone Age diet does not come without its drawbacks. Lack of calcium, over-consumption of saturated fats and low energy levels could be among them.

Most researchers say humans are not “predisposed” to following a particular diet, but clearly some eating habits are healthier than others. We could do far worse to our bodies than “eating like a caveman” and far better than relying on highly processed “fast” foods.

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Lex Cavemen

LEX is the scientist. He is obsessed with understanding why and how the world around him works the way it does.

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