If agriculture is 45,000 year old does the Paleo diet make any sense?

Humans have been cultivating starch-rich plants for 45000 years, not 11,000 years

A recently published study has found that people have been growing carb-rich foods (bananas, yams, taro etc) in the forest for 45,000 years, i.e. 35,000 years earlier than previously thought. This means that agriculture and starch consumption has been practised for four times longer than we previously thought.


The Paleolithic diet contradictions

The Paleolithic diet is based on the premise that the human body did not have enough time to adapt to starches and dairy for the 11,000 years that organised agriculture has been practised. This, however, is in contrast to the fact that the human brain spends more than 20% of the daily calories and its preference on using glucose for that purpose. 

Fruit contains glucose and fructose at a roughly 50-50 ratio, in contrast to starches, which ultimately provide the body with pure glucose - and no fructose. In fact fructose is metabolised to triglycerides (i.e fat) by the liver - it is totally different to glucose metabolically.

It is obvious that over the millennia, the more we used our brains, the more glucose we needed. And this is especially true today with most jobs in the developed world, and more and more jobs in the developing world, being office-based, i.e. mental activity-based.

The Paleo diet, romantic as it may sound, simply cannot provide enough glucose for intense mental activity for our brains. In addition, it is well known that glucose boosts serotonin production in our brains, which in turns improves mood - essential in today's highly stressful cities, for living in Northern European or American winters and for office workers. It is simply not realistic to ask people today to survive on fruit, veg and meat only.


The basis of Paleo diet undermined

This study actually shows that people always sought to add more glucose into their diet - more than that provided by fruit.

In fact, most non agricultural indigenous tribes that still survive today and that are not affected by modern civilisation, i.e those that still practically live in the Paleolithic times, do consume starches and even dairy, in addition to game, fruit and veg, and all of those tribes enjoy great health. The problem with deteriorating health in the developed world is stress, pollution, inactivity, hyper-processed food of all kinds and excessive consumption of sugar -  not a reasonable consumption of starches and dairy, which the Paleo diet strictly prohibits.

Personally, after experimenting for some time with the Paleo diet, I have concluded that it is probably a great diet if you live in a relaxed, Paleo environment with no restaurants and bakeries to lure you into consuming starches, and which does not place a lot of strain on your mood and even your brain. Living and working in modern cities, especially if you work in an office or if you study, and following the Paleo diet is quite simply impossible for most people.

So I cannot see how one can ask for more than 5% of the population to follow such a strict regime, which requires strong self-discipline three times a day, especially when you do not even have the paleoanthropological justification for it anymore, which is the basis of the Paleolithic diet.



The deep human prehistory of global tropical forests and its relevance for modern conservation



Georgios Tzenichristos is the director of London's London-based LipoTherapeia clinic, which specialises in natural fat/cellulite reduction and skin tightening. Georgios daily follows all research on fat, metabolism, connective tissue and phytochemicals and regularly writes about those topics. To check all our recent articles visit lipotherapeia.com/metabolism.


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