Paleo Diet as Adaptive Diet

The Paleo or Paleolithic diet is generally thought of as the Caveman diet, a perhaps quixotic attempt to mimic the food of hunter-gatherers.

I prefer to think of it as the Adaptive diet: an attempt to eat foods that one’s body is adapted to, and to avoid things that it is not adapted to.

I see a spectrum of foods by how well we are adapted to them:

  1. True Paleo foods (such as fat, meat, fish, eggs, some vegetables). Everyone is well adapted to these.
  2. Pastoralist foods (dairy) and agriculturalist foods (mostly the starchy foods like grains, legumes, etc). Here there is probably quite a bit of human biological variation. Some people are likely fully adapted, some partially adapted, and some not adapted. These are the sort of foods that one needs to consider and experiment with.
  3. Recent introductions (such as sugar, processed seed oils, modern wheat). Nobody is likely well-adapted to these. They are the top priority to avoid.

Miki Ben-Dor of Paleo Style put it well:

ancestral really means going back just 50-60 years ago – bring back animal fat, ditch PUFA, sodium azide’s gluten [modern modified wheat] and too much sugar and cut the industrialized “strange” substances that sell for food nowadays.

Paleo or Adaptive eating is not a romantic attempt to be a caveman. It is a way of using the powerful Darwinian concept of adaptation as a guide to good eating. Using it, we can relish some things we have been told to avoid (such as animal fat) and shun some dubious things.

The term Paleo diet is here to stay. But I shall continue to think of it as the Adaptive diet.

A final thought: it is not just our own cells that are adapted (not not) to certain foods, but also those of the bacteria who inhabit our guts. Spare a thought for what our passengers have to eat!


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