What are we humans meant to eat for optimal health? Some belief that it must be the diet that our ancestors ate because our genes are still adapted to that. This is also known as a hunter-gatherer approach, or ‘Stone Age diet’, or Paleo type of diet. But is this a healthy diet?
What is a Paleo diet?
Paleo supporters attempt to copy the hunter-gatherer diet by eating lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. The diet excludes processed foods and oils, sugar, salt, grains, legumes, milk, and dairy products.
Problems with the hunter-gatherer approach
The biggest problem with the hunter-gatherer approach is that it looks just at the last 2 million years where humans already existed.
However, our evolution begun much earlier: we are already evolving for 25 million years!
From this early time, our nutrient requirements and digestive physiology were already developing. In our recent hunter-gatherer days our digestive system was already established. The digestive system of hunter-gatherers was built to thrive on plants, just as our ancient ancestors (the great apes) were eating. And our body still is made to thrive on plants.
Nutritional value of the Paleo diet
The paleo diet offers some good improvements as compared to the standard Western diet. It excludes many unhealthy products, such as highly processed foods, refined carbohydrates, fried foods, fast food and dairy. And it includes many healthy plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
A typical paleo diet, nowadays, consists of 32% protein, 15% carbohydrates, 53% fat of which 19% saturated fat.
Those values are not in line with the current scientific consensus. In a healthy diet, 40-70% of calories should come from carbs, 20-35% from fat and maximum 10% from saturated fat. In short, a paleo diet provides too much fat and too less carbohydrates. Why is that bad?
Our bodies prefers carbohydrates for fuel. Our brains are eager for glucose! Carbohydrates are the body’s most important source of energy. This is why you get tired, irritable, and shaky when you are low on carbs.