Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Debunking and Deconstructing Some ‘Myths of Paleo’. Part One: Tubers

Glucose restriction represents not only the most crucial component of ancestral diets but is by far the easiest element to emulate.

The most profound consequence of the shift from foraging to farming for human populations consists of the introduction and subsequent dependence of our species on plant foods. This dietary change has since resulted in the greatest biological damage done to human health and longevity in the history of our evolution. This was brought about by reduction in the consumption of animal-sourced fat, protein, and marine foods; the consequent diminishment of critical micronutrients; but chiefly, through the infiltration of novel, insulinogenic, and glycating foods to which our biology was not even minimally adapted.

Bioarchaeological study of skeletal remains from Neolithic transitional contexts reveals that the introduction of starches and cultigens and the additional narrowing of dietary focus resulted in severe deterioration of health and longevity for most human populations within the last 10, 000 years.  This decline is indicated by the first incidences of – now-common – chronic and degenerative diseases, along with significantly elevated prevalences of various skeletal and dental pathological conditions and alterations in growth patterns in prehistoric cultivators. Ultimately, the shift from a more than 2.5 million year-long high-fat, hunting-based subsistence to a plant-based one, occasioned significant and widespread biological changes in numerous human populations, worldwide.
Ubiquitously, the starch-apologists of current paleo-circles seem to have conveniently forgotten the definition of the term ‘agriculture’. Agriculture includes broadly any type of plant cultivation practiced for dietary purposes. With the exception of Australia, centres of plant domestication can be found on all inhabitable continents within the last 10, 000 years. Major crops included wheat and barley in the Near East; sorghum, millet, yams, and dates in Africa; millet and rice in northern China; rice, taro, yams and sugarcane in Southeast Asia; squash, maize, and beans in Central America; and potatoes, sweet potatoes, and manioc in South America. Even the former inclusion of seed plants to the diets of human populations in North America instigated significant changes to human biology. Diachronic and comparative analysis of the skeletal data of human hunters and cultivators from across the globe has revealed that – prior to the onset of agriculture – carbohydrates must have comprised only a rare and occasional component of ancestral eating patterns. Furthermore, the impact of the introduction of carbohydrates to human diets was almost immediate in its deterioration of human health and biology.
Neolithic archaeological contexts reveal that the intensification of plant food consumption significantly increased incidences of tooth decay and other oral problems through the demineralisation of enamel, dentin, and other tissues, by the acidic by-products of metabolising dietary carbohydrates. Globally, the intensification of starch consumption amongst human populations saw an equivalent rise in the frequency of carious teeth. Similarly, the foraging-to-farming transition also resulted in reductions to the size of the face and jaws, to tooth crowding, malocclusions, reduced oral health, the reduction of tooth size, and consequently to diminished room for dentition.

The reduction in size and robusticity of the human skeleton is a clear temporal trend of newly agricultural communities. Diachronic skeletal comparisons reveal large-scale, significant reductions in growth rates. The average stature for men and women in the Palaeolithic has been approximated to 6 ft and 5 ft 6, respectively; however, by the late Neolithic, height had reduced to 5 ft 3 and 5 ft for both the sexes. Worldwide, numerous skeletal studies also reveal that agricultural populations had a much higher number of infections than communities still ensconced in hunting and foraging. Instances of porotic hyperostosis brought on by iron deficiency anaemia increased dramatically in agricultural settings. A greater focus on domesticated plant foods also resulted in nutritional deficiencies, due to the reduced availability of micronutrients exclusive to meat, such as iron, zinc, vitamin A, and B12.
Ultimately, these diseases and pathological conditions common to incipient farming communities subsisting on plant foods were, by and large, rare and exceptional amongst the preceding hunters of the Pleistocene. Moreover – even though many of these emerging agricultural groups continued to supplement their diet with hunting – meat and fat consumption alone was not sufficient to ameliorate the novel impact of glycation and heightened insulin-load from an increased consumption of carbohydrates. While the sources of cultivated starches varied worldwide – yams, dates (Africa), millet, rice (China) sugarcane, taro, yams (Southeast Asia), maize, beans, squash (Central America) potatoes, sweet potatoes, or manioc (South America) – they effected human consumers similarly biologically, and to their ultimate evolutionary detriment.

Potatoes and other plant foods are neither ‘primal', nor do they promote health, leanness, or longevity.

For many reading this post, the application of an evolutionarily appropriate diet for the purposes of obtaining and sustaining health and longevity, is axiomatic. The need to engage foundational, evolutionary principles is rendered even more pertinent considering our severely depressed adaptation to the suboptimal environments, novel foods, lifestyles, and states of metabolic and endocrinological derangement in which we subsist. Far too little evolutionary time has passed for us to be successfully acclimated to the novel conditions of agricultural life. Consequently, modelling our current food choices and nutrient profile on food groups we are biologically attuned to, appears to be the most accessible and conceivable way of gaining and maintaining health in modern society.

However, paradoxically, many proponents of a ‘Paleo’ (i.e.: pre-agricultural) diet have promoted the use of tubers and other starches as – not only benign – but necessary health foods to consume for the correction of metabolic and endocrine disorders. Potatoes, rice, and other oxymoronically-labelled ‘safe’ starches, are being promoted in spite of the fact that they are exclusively Neolithic foods. Consequently, it is the conflation of starches, safe, and ancestral that I now wish to address, and hopefully correct.

Since the dawn of the Pliocene-Quaternary glaciation 2.85 million years ago, the world and its inhabitants have been subject to the cycles of ice ages. Spending most of our human history in glacial conditions, our physiology has consequently been modelled by the climatologic record, with only brief, temperate periods of reprieve that could conceivably allow any significant amount of edible plant life to have grown. Studies of human coprolites (fossilised feces) from three hundred thousand years to fifty thousand years ago reveal the distinct lack of plant material consumed by hominid subjects. Small, seasonal amounts of plants, seeds, nuts, and tart, low-sugar fruits certainly would have figured into the diets of early Homo; however, archaeology, anthropology, evolution, and genetics reveal such happenstances to be extremely rare throughout the entirety of human prehistory. Consequently, our adaption to some of these foods – especially the insulinogenic properties of later cultivated varieties – would have been minimal at most.  

In an attempt to reconstruct the diet of ice age hominids, a recent study analysed the macronutrient dietary composition of existing hunter-gatherer groups within latitude intervals from 41° to greater than 60°. All were characterised by a very low carbohydrate content (<15% of the total energy). Hunter-gatherers living in northern areas (tundra and northern coniferous forest) consumed very low quantities of carbohydrate, as did communities subsisting in ecological environments of temperate grassland and tropical rain forest. Only human groups from desert and tropical grassland zones consumed a moderate about of carbohydrate. Independent of the local environment, however, the range of carbohydrate intake in the diets of contemporary hunter-gatherers was markedly lower than the amounts currently recommended for humans in Western cultures.

Ultimately, the very low-carb diets of the northern indigenous communities corresponds most plausibly to what our hominid ancestors would have consumed throughout our ice-age past. Further information on the evolution of our diet can be garnered from the genetic data of present populations, which demonstrates the historically-late biological adaptation to less than minimal quantities of starch and to only few and specific starch compounds. This evidence is unsurprising. Ultimately, the evolution of early Homo cranial and gut features rendered contemporaneous storage organ species almost physiologically impossible to digest and metabolise. In fact, the large brain of our species developed directly as a result of the compensatory reduction of the human gut, which allowed for a significant increase in brain size while maintaining necessary metabolic rate. Resultantly, the brain became the most energy-expensive organ in the human body, consuming 25% of the adult and 70–75% of the newborn metabolic budget. The biology of H. sapiens is actually engineered against the consumption of starch and fibre, and in favour of fat and protein. As the large intestine was diminished to offset increased brain volume, humans were no longer able to transmute fibre into fat – as other primates can (consequently, they eat a high-fat diet) – through fermentation in the large intestine. Thus, replacement with nutrient-dense, more-bioavailable exogenous fat from animal sources would have been crucial to our success and evolution as a species.

Furthermore, the energy needed to be expended in the procurement of edible plant species would easily have exceeded their potential caloric value. The consequences of limited availability and time investment of edible Palaeolithic plant foods has been analysed by Stiner, who compared food class returns amongst contemporary hunter-gatherer groups. Stiner found the net energy yield of roots and tubers to range from 1,882 kj/hour to 6,120 kj/hour (not to mention the additional time needed to dedicate to preparation) compared to 63,398 kj/hour for large game.

Modern roots and tubers have been extensively modified throughout our recent agricultural history in order to reduce the presence of harmful compounds and increase the quantity of digestible carbohydrate. While legumes and underground storage organs would have been present in the parched savannah-woodlands of subtropical Africa, toxic alkaloids and digestion-inhibiting compounds would have almost exclusively restricted their use until the much-later advent of fire. Subsequently, extremely careful selection and preparation through extensive cooking would have been vital for plant toxins to be sufficiently neutralised for safe consumption. However, to this day, even in spite of cooking, many starches remain immunoreactive for many peoples. Even on occasions in prehistory when and where the habitual use of fire is known to have existed, it does not seem to have led to a discernible consumption of plant foods. Even in the temperate climates of France, Italy, Romania, and Croatia that boasted extensive vegetation in Upper Palaeolithic Europe, and at sites where the control of fire is clearly evidenced, nitrogen isotope studies reveal the consumption of a diet rich in animal content, rather than in vegetal foods.

The archaeological evidence for plant consumption by early Homo is virtually non-existent. I will concede however that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Proponents of the ‘starchivore’ hypothesis argue that this is due to the poor preservation of organic plant material in the prehistoric record. However, plants have been preserved in the Lower Palaeolithic, and they are used primarily for functional and material – rather than nutritional – purposes. Plants were used as bedding at Tautavel (France, Lower Palaeolithic), at Franchthi (Greece, Upper Palaeolithic), and the Mas d’Azil (France, Azilian). Similarly, at Lascaux, pollen was uncovered that was used as bedding throughout the Magdalenian. The famous Neanderthal grave at  Shanidar, Iraq, contained pollen traces of eight different types of flowers: small, brightly-coloured varieties, possibly woven into the branches of a shrub.  Pollen analysis of the particular flower types suggested to the researchers that they may have been chosen for their specific medicinal properties. Yarrow, Cornflower, Bachelor’s Button, St Barnaby’s Thistle, Ragwort, Grape Hyacinth, Joint Pine or Woody Horsetail, and Hollycock were represented in the pollen samples, all of which have extensive curative properties as diuretics, stimulants, astringents as well as anti-inflammatories. Possible evidence was found in Magdalenian/Azilian contexts which revealed quantities of acorns, nuts and perforated fruit-stones in a number of Pyrenean caves, however it is widely believed that all such finds were most likely attributable to the activity of rodents. Finds of legumes at Kebara cave may have been utilised as suitable fire starting material on account of their morphological characteristics. Other plants found at the site likely served medicinal – rather than nutritional – purposes. However, Kebara still presents the possibility that plant-foraging practices were undertaken at this site during the Middle Palaeolithic. This is unsurprising. The fact that omnivorous hominids may have supplemented their diets with low-glycemic plant foods when meat was scarce is neither a new nor controversial notion. It sheds little light on the greater historical context of human nutrition, and the best way to implement evolutionary principles for optimal health.

Similarly, arguments and hypotheses have been made that Neanderthals ate starch. Firstly, Neanderthals were highly carnivorous and physiologically inept at digesting plant foods. This can be measured using the megadontia quotient of Neanderthal postcanine tooth area in relation to body mass, which reveals that H. neanderthalensis must have consumed a greater than 80% animal diet. Nonetheless, the evidence of phytoliths and grains from Neanderthal skeletons at Shanidar Cave may reveal the rare consumption of starches in this singular context, but not the deleterious costs to the health of those that ate them.

The intake of plant foods by hominids was most plausibly and conceivably minimal. This is due to their limited, seasonal availability; the physiological ceiling on fibre and toxin intake; the biological evolution of early Homo physiology; along with the technological, spatial and temporal limitations of obligatory pre-consumption preparations. Consequently, evolutionary arguments for the consumption of what are quite blatantly Neolithic foods are rendered paradoxical and absurd. Starches are neither ‘Paleo’; nor does our evolutionary biology sanction them as ‘safe’. 



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  2. I really enjoyed this, thanks. I think far too much emphasis is placed on the occasional finds of starches/grains from Paleolithic sites. I wrote this about the Mesolithic finds from Starr Carr Animals predominate even in the temperate forests of Meslothic England.
    What do you make of the evolutionary significance of diets of people like the Hadza?

  3. Yes, the Hadza are interesting. However, a lot of the fruit they consume is quite high in fat, and their staple tubers are composed mostly of indigestible fibre. Surprisingly, little research has been done into the macronutrient profile of wild tubers vs cultivated ones. Hadza tubers provide approximately half the energy of cultivated tubers - for instance - a 1 kg tuber contains only 80 g of edible dry fraction yielding about 400 kJ. The absolute amount of digestible carbohydrate in the Hadza tuber is significantly lower than in agricultural varieties. This translates into much lower energy returns from each kg of collected Hadza tuber when compared to cultivated types.

  4. It is great to have a paleo-blog which doesn't advice eating tubers!

    1. Thanks, Galina! For me, Paleo and Low-Carb are synonymous ;)

    2. Nice post, thanks.
      I prefer that take on things as well. You don't "need" taters to make the diet bona fide Paleo. And LC is perfectly fine without LC processed foods, even if they are technically "low net carbs."
      best, Bill

  5. Good to see a real post here, been checking every once in a while when your name popped up in comments elsewhere as the tags were quite inneresting!

    My main exposure to anthropology and the like is through jared diamond's stuff so I'm kind of a newb but I'll try and keep up.

    Anyway, thanks for the post, looking fwd to more!

  6. This is fantastic Anna.
    Welcome to our coven.
    I cant wait to read more!

    1. LC bitches witches' coven FTW!111

    2. +1 (for guys too, right? or would that make us warlocks?)

    3. Absolutely. I wouldn't mind being a warlock as well, though. Or a sorcerer (sorceress?)

  7. Great post Anna. Blog going into my favourites. Welcome to our coven, yes.

    1. Danke! So glad to have Ad Lib back, Sid. :)

  8. Hello I wrote a bit about the hadza's diet a while a go
    the link to the study is at the bottom. Hadza are probably quite poor analogues for paleolithic humans, I am a bit of a carb agnostic but do naturally tend to eat a low/vlc diet. Thanks for the info on the Hadza fruit I've eaten plenty of the wild tubers available here in Northern Europe and they are mostly pretty unpalatable, I was thinking today that the plants eaten by the neanderthal and aveline's hole humans might represent the last starvation meals of desperate folks. As could the dandelion roots (without butter gah!) from Dolni Vestonice.

    1. "plants eaten by the neanderthal and aveline's hole humans might represent the last starvation meals of desperate folks"

      Couldn't agree more

  9. Thank you for such an interesting and encouraging post. The topics for future posts also look great.

  10. Thanks for a great first blog post. Looking forward to Part 2 :)


  11. Great post, Anna! -- and please forgive the length of this comment, coming as it is, from a total stranger -- For me, your essay agrees with pretty much everything I think and do now after 5+ years of "paleo" so I'm definitely a new fan/apostle. One of the points that you may have considered and decided not to address or, if not, will likely be presented with in the future, is the prevalence of the amylase gene in humans. To many of the gotta-have-starches camp, it is a complete and simple "proof" of the ubiquitous and plentiful starch consumption of humans (which it may well be). But, I wonder if it is safe (pun intended) to consider the possibility that this high repetition of the amylase gene is actually a defensive or protective response in our genome triggered by the increase in starch consumption that occurred after the emergence of agriculture, or maybe even as far back as from the control of fire? This is a possibility I have not come across in the many discussions I have yawned my way through, yet I find it plausible. i.e., that we convert the starch to glucose as soon as possible so that it can be assimilated quickly, or else it will increase fermentative reactions in the lower small bowel, and lead to other bad stuff (scientific term). Similarly, something that has not been considered, to my knowledge, regarding the magical race of Kitavans, is whether it might be something in their diet that is actually protective against the otherwise deleterious effects of their high starch intake (and their smoking!). For instance; what about the coconut?! All of the most healthy and robust Pacific peoples that Weston Price visited, save for the "eskimos" of Alaska (all of whom were accorded the status of "most healthy and robust of all" by Price) relied heavily on coconuts in their dietary, and it has been extensively thought of as a virtual cure-all in many different dietaries and life-ways today (except for the Dean Ornish types, of course.)

    Finally, I see in your reference list Brink's "Imagining Head-Smashed-In" (a brilliant book!). Are you familiar with George Frison's "Survival by Hunting: Prehistoric Human Predators and Animal Prey"? It's also about early Prairie HG peoples in North America. I'm in the middle of it, but it seems to be wholly relevant.

    I am looking very forward to your further offerings!!

    Juan, from Toronto, Canada

    1. Juan - so many good points made here; I agree with you wholeheartedly. Exploration of the amylase gene definitely deserves a separate post but in brief, copies of salivary amylase gene (AMY1) begun to appear in humans much more recently than originally estimated. Chimpanzees have only two copies of amylase - and some present day humans STILL only have two copies, indicating that adaptation to high starch consumption was not widespread and an historically-late phenomenon. Copies of AMY1 are still not present in existing low starch consuming populations. See: Perry GH, Dominy NJ, Claw KG, Lee AS, Fiegler H. 2007. Diet and the evolution of human amylase gene copy number variation. Nature Genetics 39:1256–1260.

      I'm about to run out the door so this is a rather rushed response, but I'd love to talk some of these ideas through further with you. I'll write again tomorrow when I've got more time. Thanks for the feedback!

  12. I love Frisons book, is Imaging head smashed in about the archaeologists or about the findings? For some reason many books on archaeology seem to focus on the archaeologists "Fair weather eden" was a crushing let down. I have had Imagining head smashed in on my wish list for some time now but got the feeling it might be about trowels rather than spears.
    Most extant hunting and horticulturalist peoples smoke a fair bit, I think Taubes ideas about sugar provides quite a nice explanation for their freedom from cancers and for the lower rates among European countries which alsop have lower cancer rates.
    If starchy tubers were/are a fallback survival food it would presumably mean that their would be a strong selector for amylase production.

  13. Lifextension, you're setting the bar for bloggers pretty high. You tryin' to make the rest of us look bad?


  14. @lifextension: Thanks Anna, looking forward to whatever else you wish to add. Thanks also for the AMY1 info and references; awesome!. Eventually, I will be interested in your thoughts on a few other issues I've come across in the primal/paleo world that are, at best, equivocations, and which I find bothersome. You'll likely bring them up yourself, so I shall wait.:)

    @N Matheson, regarding the Head Smashed In book, it's been a little while since I have looked at it, but I definitely don't recall it ever giving me the feeling it was too much about the archaeologist. A fascinating and informative read throughout, I would say. Also, your mentioning of Taubes reminds that even though he has been thrown under the bus by many in recent times, I still think he is more right than wrong (by a long shot) and still has the most Occam's Razor-y solution that would help the most people with the simplest approach. (not easy, but simple)

  15. Anna said:

    “As the large intestine was diminished to offset increased brain volume, humans were no longer able to transmute fibre into fat – as other primates can (consequently, they eat a high-fat diet) – through fermentation in the large intestine. Thus, replacement with nutrient-dense, more-bioavailable exogenous fat from animal sources would have been crucial to our success and evolution as a species.”

    Small point, but I do believe that humans can ferment fiber to short chain volatile fatty acids. From my readings on equine digestion, the resultant fatty acids in horses and humans are similar. However, we can only do this with limited substrates in contrast to other primates and grazing animals.

    I certainly agree that fiber is HIGHLY overemphasized. One must be careful of what we feed our intestinal bacteria as well as being careful of what bacteria is in there. Limiting fiber limits possible dysbiosis and so I make no effort to pursue sources of fiber.

    My intro to low carb was Dr. Eades about 8 years ago. Dr. Eades and many of the other LC people seemed more “purest” back then. The concept of “safe starches” would have been an oxymoron as you said above. I think that the trend away from LC “purism” is in part driven by the desire of people who have been influenced by liberal thinking, environmentalism, animal rights, “fairness” etc and want to move the nutrition paradigm more in line with these principals. (While I consider myself a conservative I do not wish to argue the political points here.) I think Lierre Keith in the Vegetarian Myth described this situation very well and she was/is as liberal as you get. However, the tone of her writing (which I enjoyed) and lack of scholarly documentation made her an easy target for other liberals and vegetarians. Her treatment by those groups following the publication of her book has been reprehensible.

    While I’m very much in the “choir” I look forward to following your well thought out writings.


    Philip Thackray

    1. Thanks for the response, Philip. Hyperlipid posted on his blog a while back a study that showed inulin to be a potential carcinogen: "In conclusion, both types of resistant carbohydrates increased polyp number and tumour burden and this was associated with elevated epithelial cell proliferation and crypt fission." I'd love some more info on the fibre-dysbiosis link if you have it, very interesting.

    2. Anna,

      Check out Peter’s (Hyperlipid) Fiaf (x) series. Fiaf (4)’s opening paragraphs are amazing. Search Hyperlipid for “Fiaf” and “Klebsiella” for more. Short take, eat fiber and become arthritic and fat via fascinating mechanisms!



  16. More, please. Where's the "subscribe" button?

  17. Anna, what do you make of what I'll call the "Mat Lalonde" argument re: starches, which is that although they may not have been consumed much in the paleo period, it does not follow therefore that they are bad for us.

    For example (mine, not Mat's) potatoes weren't consumed much during the paleo because the energy required to obtain them was greater than the energy they provided. But modernization allows us to obtain potatoes easily now. So we eat them, and as evolutionary luck would have it, perhaps we are not harmed by them.

    In that case would potatoes be okay? Or are they not okay simply because we did not eat them enough in the paleolithic to have developed specific adaptations?

    BTW - fantastic posts!

    1. Hi Scott, thanks for your comment.

      I don't believe starch (tubers) to be benign. Firstly, potatoes are by all means an agricultural food that we are NOT evolutionarily adapted to. They're as novel as wheat and affected their prehistoric consumers to equal detriment. Any tubers available prior to the onset of farming would have been equivalent to something like a modern ginger root - highly fibrous and with a totally different macronutrient profile and far fewer toxins and antinutrients. Moreover, while we do have present amylase copy numbers (most animals - including carnivores, possess this gene, needed to process the glycogen in muscle meat) we do NOT have present the numerous mutations and specific adaptations needed to change how we react to the more complex and highly variable proteins in different starch sources. Futhermore, the ability to digest the carbohydrates in starches doesn’t make them harmless, nor does it alleviate the extremely problematic insulin spike.

    2. I hadn't realised, or more properly, I hadn't considered that the amylase would be used to process glycogen from animal sources. Of course! Duh. Thanks, Anna.

    3. Firstly, potatoes are by all means an agricultural food that we are NOT evolutionarily adapted to

      We are not adapted to potatoes, but we are not eating them anyway. We are first cooking them, which invalidates the context you mention. In this new context it may not be harmful as the Scott suggests.

      we do NOT have present the numerous mutations

      Diet and the evolution of human amylase gene copy number variation

      From above paper it seems we have numerious mutations.

      Futhermore, the ability to digest the carbohydrates in starches doesn’t make them harmless, nor does it alleviate the extremely problematic insulin spike.

      Nor does it make them problematic unless specific mechanism is found and well documented (like with wheat/gluten). Problematic insulin spike also depends on the amount of fat taken together - fat slows down digestion which makes stomach containing starch a variant of gluconeogenetic organ which time-releases glucose (even in pulses).

    4. Hi Majkinetor,

      Potatoes are by all means a Neolithic food. Neolithic potatoes and tubers have no similarities to those we would have encountered and adapted to throughout evolutionary history. For instance, see: "Schoeninger MJ, Murray S, Bunn HT, Marlett JA. 2001. Composition of tubers used by Hadza foragers of Tanzania. J Food Comp Analysis 14: 15–25." Tubers consumed by existing hunter gatherer groups appear to be composed mostly of indigestible fibre. The absolute amount of digestible carbohydrate in the Hadza tuber is significantly lower than in agricultural varieties. This translates into much lower energy returns from each kg of collected Hadza tuber when compared to cultivated types.

      Ultimately, however, glucose restriction represents the most crucial component of ancestral diets (and one that we CAN) emulate, as any vegetables we encounter in modern society are severely divorced from their ancestral origins.

      Regarding Perry et. al. their paper is significant PRECISELY because it reports that the increase in copies of salivary amylase gene (AMY1) begun to appear in humans probably only very recently in our evolutionary history, indicating that high starch consumption was not in place during the Middle Pleistocene. Furthermore, Perry et al also discovered that adaptation is still not present in certain existing day low starch consuming populations.

  18. What do you think of these 2 papers by Boyd Eaton

    Boyd Eaton's original paper in 1985

    "The best available estimates suggest that those ancestors obtained about 35% of their dietary energy from fats, 35% from carbohydrates and 30% from protein. Saturated fats contributed approximately 7.5% total energy and harmful trans-fatty acids contributed negligible amounts. Polyunsaturated fat intake was high, with n-6:n-3 approaching 2:1 (v. 10:1 today). Cholesterol consumption was substantial, perhaps 480 mg/d. Carbohydrate came from uncultivated fruits and vegetables, approximately 50% energy intake as compared with the present level of 16% energy intake for Americans. High fruit and vegetable intake and minimal grain and dairy consumption made ancestral diets base-yielding, unlike today's acid-producing pattern. Honey comprised 2-3% energy intake as compared with the 15% added sugars contribute currently. Fibre consumption was high, perhaps 100 g/d, but phytate content was minimal. Vitamin, mineral and (probably) phytochemical intake was typically 1.5 to eight times that of today except for that of Na, generally <1000 mg/d, i.e. much less than that of K. The field of nutrition science suffers from the absence of a unifying hypothesis on which to build a dietary strategy for prevention; there is no Kuhnian paradigm, which some researchers believe to be a prerequisite for progress in any scientific discipline. An understanding of human evolutionary experience and its relevance to contemporary nutritional requirements may address this critical deficiency."

    His follow-up paper 25 years later

    "Reduction of carbohydrates to extremely low levels is not consistent with the HG model, but neither is a very high CHO, “meat as a condiment”–type diet; furthermore, CHO sources are important. HG CHO came from fruit, vegetables, and nuts, not from grains. Refined, concentrated CHOs such as sucrose played virtually no role, and the consumption of plant CHO necessarily resulted in high fiber intake. If we were to rebuild the food pyramid along HG lines, the base would not be grains but fruits and vegetables, which could be chosen to provide adequate fiber content. The second tier would be meat, fish, and low-fat dairy products, all very lean. Whole grains might come next (although even these were very unusual for HGs), whereas fats, oils, and refined carbohydrates would occupy the same very small place at the top, essentially functioning as condiments in a healthy diet. These guidelines would not exactly replicate the HG diet in terms of food categories, but it would do so roughly in terms of macronutrients."

    These go against your low carb hypothesis - I'm interested in your comments

    1. Eaton was and still is particularly biased towards a lower fat, higher carb model of hunter-gatherer nutrition. In fact, contrary to the anthropological and archaeological evidence, the Cordain-Eaton version of the Paleo diet looks suspiciously prejudiced by the diet-heart hypothesis, which ultimately influenced the authors' numeric calculations of HG macronutrient ratios. Eaton has since admitted and attempted to remedy his underestimation of the amount of fat in HG diets, stating that he failed to consider the contribution of non-muscle meat; for instance, hunter-gatherers commonly consumed the entire carcass of an animal, preferentially consuming the fattest parts (organs, tongue, and marrow) and the fattest animals. Eaton attempted to remedy this oversight in 2000 a published article co-authored with Speth and Cordain.

      The “hunter-gatherers” from which Cordain, Eaton, and Konner obtained their data is taken directly from G.P. Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas. The Atlas was originally compiled from early 20th century ethnographic research on communities with long standing contact with modern societies. The various 'ancestral' human groups referred to had totally changed their lifestyles and subsistence from that of their hunting and gathering past, in their acquisition of guns and agriculture. Consequently, re-examination of the HG data from the Atlas reveals that, by excluding the agriculturalists, the true number of hunter gatherer groups is reduced from 229 to only 24.

      Furthermore, the HG data is taken from populations residing in desert and tropical grassland zones- the only existing HG groups to consume a moderate carbohydrate diet. Conversely, the diet of our Palaeolithic ancestors would have had a macronutrient composition similar to existing hunter-gatherer groups within latitude intervals from 41° to greater than 60°, all of which are currently characterised by a very low carbohydrate content (<15% of the total energy).

      Ultimately, however, existing hunter-gatherers subsisting in post-Holocene conditions tell us litte about the composition of an evolutionarily-appropriate diet, considering that it was shaped by the ice-age climatologic record.

    2. I don't have a research paper to link or mention, only a... dream I saw a month ago or so. In it, I asked someone what's the best macro-nutrient ratios/diet evolutionary-speaking, and his answer was: "it changes every ~4,000 years, as the Earth itself changes". The answer startled me (both in my dream, and when I woke up), because I had never thought about it this way before. Made me think...

    3. BTW, another new study linked by Kresser on his twitter I think, shows that different humans have different genes regarding macronutrients. Others can digest more starch without a hitch, others can do less. There's not a one size fits all when it comes to macro-ratios and humans.

    4. Thanks Eugenia. I think I am familiar with the study you're talking about. Perry et al? Many present day humans still only have two amylase copies, indicating that adaptation to high starch consumption is still not widespread and consists of an historically-late phenomenon. Copies of AMY1 are still not present in existing low starch consuming populations. Human groups like the Kitavans, on the other hand, are seemingly well adapted (however not at healthful as other existing low-carb consuming human groups).

    5. Can you provide evidence for your claim that KITAVANS ARE "NOT AT HEALTHFUL AS OTHER EXISTING LOW-CARB CONSUMING GROUPS“ ? By the way, how can you explain that Okinawans with their very-high-carbohydrate diet (80%) including unhealthy neolitihic soy are reported to have the longest life expectancy in the world. I´d like to know other explanation then calorie restriction, as most other calorie restrictive diets with various macronutrient ratios are also associated with high longevity.

    6. Hi Michal,

      I used to reason like you. Then recently I learned that Kitavan women have a rather high incidence of avarian cancer, as documented by Jüptner, who diagnosed 10 cases in 5 years among 10.000 women. In true hunter gatherer populations, like traditional Inuit, neoplasms are virtually unknown. As to long lived starch based populations like the Okinanawans, I would like to point to the fact that they are far from disease free. Even though a relatively high percentage of these people lived long lives, virtually all westerns diseases (CHD, cancer, auto immune diseases) have always been endemic.

      My hypothesis is that these diseases would disappear if these people abandoned their ‘safe’ starches.

  19. Thanks for this article! I agree that some versions of paleo diets are influenced by the Zeitgeist. However, Loren Cordain does devote a whole chapter in The Paleo Answer about reasons potatoes are bad.

    This reminds me of three years ago, when I age a potato to take a home blood glucose test. Anything you can use something for a glucose test shouldn't be a staple.

  20. Wow .. low carb gourmet!! Yummy!! I'm very glad to know that you have not been deterred by the "takedown." (ha) Thanks for blogging and sharing your knowledge. Keep up the good work!!!

  21. Excellent post. I dig the ancestral view as to what can raise a baby healthy till reproduction time but we all live in a society that has screwed our health up for generations now. We are not pristine we are not Kitavans. If we were, we wouldn't have nice Apple I Pads and air conditioning either. Keep pounding the drums for the evolutionary take on health. It is nice to see a LC hedonist with an archeological education pick up the flag of LC and run with it. Hooray!

  22. It's interesting to posit the question "When did humans first become human"? The answer of course is when we became solitary predators and created the male/female pair bond.

    But how were humans able to shed the hunting group and become like the birds of prey? Well, unlike a bird of prey, which is the projectile, humans created projectile weaponry.

    Hence the hand and the enormous amount of brain power devoted to powering it.

  23. Unfortunately, this article — as well written as it is — overlooks the evidence for C4:C3 isotope ratios in various hominid fossils. This trend of high C4 isotope readings among various hominid fossils implies a diet that heavily relied on either grasses and sedges or animals that consumed grasses or sedges. Since many of these fossils are pre-hunting, researchers have been mystified as to how these hominids could have survived on nutrition less grasses and sedges.

    Well, last month Oxford researchers published a report that cracked the mystery of distant hominid, Paranthropus boisei's, 75% C4 isotope composition (the highest of any hominid ever found). He wasn't a hunter, but somehow he was getting 80% of his calories from these grasses. Turns out he was surviving on Tiger Nut tubers. The tubers were the parts of the grasses and sedges the hominids were likely eating to get all those C4 isotopes that didn't come from meat (from scavenging during pre-hunting eras). The researcher calculated that Paranthropus boisei could have foraged 80% of his caloric intake in less than 3 hours of foraging (conservative estimate). The rest of the day could have been spent eating insects or whatever meat he might have chosen to scavenge.

    The thing is, most people who read all that C4 isotope research never bothered to look at the nutrition profile of tiger nuts.

    If you take the time to look at the nutrient-density of tiger nut tubers, your jaw will literally drop. Tiger nut tubers are more nutrient dense than red meat, and almost rival the nutritional profile of organ meat. Tiger nut tubers have the macronutrient profile of human breast milk, and the fat profile of olive oil. Gram for gram these tubers have more fat than 80/20 ground beef and twice the starch as a potato. They are extremely rich in Magnesium, Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Folate and Vitamin E — making muscle meat look rather nutrient sparse in comparison.

    Interestingly, tiger nuts taste like candy, and they grow like an invasive weed throughout Africa. Recent studies have also shown that Paleo-Indians in North America had tiger nut starch granules on their rudimentary harvesting tools.

    Finally, tiger nuts were one of the first crops to ever be cultivated in Ancient Egypt — placed in the tombs of Pharos in the pre-dynastic era. The evidence of early tiger nut consumption is very strong. With all that nutrient-density, ease of foraging, and their sweet taste, you'd have to wonder why any hominid would pass them up. If anything, the human propensity for sweet taste is what probably made tiger nuts so desirable to early hominids.

    1. Oh, and one more thing. Despite all the large quantities of starch in tiger nut tubers, they have a low glycemic index, are low in toxins, can be safely eaten raw, and they are even safe for diabetics to eat. You should try some :)

    2. It's been two years but I feel I must respond to this. There's one big glaring problem with these studies on highly specific hominid specimens.

      Tiger nuts can't be grown in the winter. They die. I can see them a plausible source of nutrition in climates that support their growth, but you are out of your mind if you think early man ate these tubers instead of meat.

  24. Yes, that speaks to my question. I started the Paleo diet some months ago and completely stopped having my period. It still has not come back. I have a hard time figuring out how to get enough magnesium, esp. on this diet. It also seems to be difficult to eat enough calories period. Also, my creatnin levels were high. I started taking a magnesium supplement and started pooing like crazy. If this diet is so healthy, why is it making women so sick? I know many women are benefiting, sure, but a brief google search will show that many women are experiencing similar issues on paleo. What's the deal? How do we eat healthy? It's the same question as ever.

  25. You did a wonderful well researched review. Thank you for investing your time into these important matters. I am very glad, that there are still some people/scientists with the ability to think clearly and see beyond all the false/questionable information being spread by some people.

    I am looking forward to reading a lot more about this and other topics.

  26. Anna great post. Its amazing how many scientists just lack imagination and are unable to recreate in their minds a world full of animals and with no domesticated plants. Just read Marshal's and Lee's books on the !kung. It is expressly said that large animals were once much more plentiful than they are today. I am sure it is the same situation with the Hadza. Regarding AMY1 there are two new studies (2012,2014) showing low copy numbers associated with high postprandial glucose and obesity. BTW could you move my paper (Ben-Dor et al.) to the B's where it belongs? Keep up the good work.

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