As I’ve spent most of my morning link-chasing (definitely one of my biggest vices) through various Paleo blogs, I felt compelled to dispel one of the most persistent myths I’ve encountered about the Paleo way of eating.
I’ve probably read at least a dozen times today some variation on the following theme: “Our ancestors died young and led horrible lives, so why should we try to live like them?” Now a sane person may have simply stopped reading the internet musings of complete strangers, but I’m not a sane person, and I must address it.
The problem with the “our ancestors died young” argument is that it attempts to draw a straight line between longevity and health, as though they are somehow inexorably intertwined (my fun, eight-syllable way of saying “linked”).
First, the Paleo school of thought, of which I would say I am a part (though in the interest of honesty, I’ll say that I don’t follow as closely as I would like… damn pizza!), says that if my ancestors spent many millennia evolving to eat a certain way (hunting and foraging), then I’m probably best-served eating the way I’ve evolved to eat. It has nothing to do with emulating their lifestyle and everything to do with realizing we haven’t had time to evolve into creatures that can subsist on grain, corn and soy (which are in darn near everything we eat these days), so eating as much of those foods as most Americans do is probably going to make us fat and sick.
Second, and more to the point, is that living long doesn’t mean living well. It’s important to keep in mind that, while we do live a long time these days, we have the luxury of modern medicine. We have vaccines and treatments that allow us to scoff at diseases that can and did kill thousands of our ancestors. We don’t have to worry about a minor injury costing us our life. Most of us (especially in this country) don’t have to worry about finding enough food to survive. Poor hygiene is now nothing more than inconvenient (and in some cases funny), not a cause of death. Our ancestors didn’t used to die because they were morbidly obese and had heart attacks in their 40s – they died because, quite frankly, the earth was a really crappy and dangerous place to live back then.
I’ve seen no evidence that suggests our ancestors struggled with obesity, diabetes, metabolic disease or any of the other food-related issues we battle in our country. We’ve chosen to make the foundation of our diet stuff that our ancestors never viewed as food, and now we’re battling the consequences.
There are a billion studies done every year on food. Okay, that number may be a little high, but you get my point – we think nutrition to death. The problem is that there’s too many factors that go into any study involving what we should eat. What have the participants eaten the rest of their lives? Do they have pre-existing conditions that may affect the study? How do you isolate food as the cause of any changes in the study? I could go on.
The problem is that you don’t need a study to tell you we shouldn’t be eating a lot of grain or that dairy is weird, just common sense. Just because the USDA tells you to eat those things, don’t let them obscure what your gut tells you. Here’s what my gut tells me…
We’re the only creatures (including our ancestors) that have ever eaten foods like grain, corn, soy and dairy in anything remotely approaching the quantities your average American eats daily.
We’re the only creatures who have easily over half our population living well over our healthy body composition.
Grains fields like the ones you drive by in some parts of the country just don’t exist in nature – they’re only man made.
I can count on one hand the number of people I know who are allergic to meat, fruits and veggies, but I can’t even begin to keep track of all the people I know who are gluten/lactose intolerant or who have peanut allergies (fun fact – peanuts are legumes, not nuts).
Do I need to go on? You don’t need a some study funded by a medical journal to tell you what to eat. And just because our ancestors died, on average, younger than we do, doesn’t mean they weren’t healthier. In all likelihood, they were.
And hey, I know it’s not the most politically correct thing to focus on, but the smart money says that your average American’s distant ancestors would’ve looked better in a bathing suit than your average grain-consuming American. Just saying.
‘Til next time!