The Paleolithians

Gar stared over the fire at Pumi. His younger brother was pursing his lips as he watched the flames lapping at the fat sizzling in the dirt. Hunger flickered in his eyes and Gar knew what he was thinking. They were all hungry and a few hares roasting over the fire weren’t going to fully satisfy the emptiness in any of their bellies. Pumi was a brave hunter, but the younger men, women and children were the future of their tribe. His own daughter was still nursing his first grandson. There was more to think of than Pumi. He thought of his woman Mori. She had been well worth the trade he had made for her many suns ago and she deserved the best he could give her. She was strong and had born him 5 sons and 3 daughters and though she hadn’t said so, he knew she was carrying another child for him now. He turned from the fire to watch she and the other women crushing roots and grains against a rough stone. She was a keen woman and watched the birds gathering wild berries, seeds, roots and grains as her mother taught her. That was what they ate when the hunt was scarce and their bellies were hungry. The tension eased from his face as she began to sing to the baby at their daughter’s breast. He never feared what Mori fed them. She was always in charge of the gathering and no one argued when she said no to a plant, berry or root she thought might make them sick. Other tribes weren’t so fortunate. Gar and his men had stumbled upon them a few times, sick or dying, even dead with half eaten food still in their hands. Sometimes he thought it might do well for Pumi’s ego if he accidentally ate a few poisoned berries, but he needed Pumi. Apart from Gar, Pumi was the strongest man in their tribe. Gar decided they would split one of the hares between them. He knew Pumi would be pleased.

There’s no way to know exactly what the Paleolitic man ate regularly, but the Paleo diet has a big following these days with many people adhering to its restrictions in belief they’re eating healthier, the way our prehistoric ancestors ate and the way we are designed to eat. I’m not necessarily opposed to the Paleo diet, but we’re talking about eating like people who had a life expectancy of 35. We really know little about their lives aside from the fact they were hunter/gatherers. There’s a whole debate on whether or not they even had fire. Some say they did, others disagree. If we don’t know if they had fire, how can we be so certain about what they ate.

The Paleo diet restricts a slew of foods normally eaten in our culture, stating the Paleolithic man would not have eaten them because they were farmed or non-existent or inaccessible. These restrictions include grains, dairy, pork, most fruits, beans, root vegetables, nightshades, sugar, etc. It’s a pretty extensive list, I may have forgotten a few things. Some of these foods obviously would not have been on the Paleolithian menu, but others are not so obvious like grains. If I’m a hunter/gatherer and things aren’t looking so good after the hunt, I’m probably still hungry and I’ll want something to eat. If I find wild berries, grains or roots and they look eatable and don’t kill my least favorite relative, I’m going to eat them. Over time I will probably be on the look out for the things that worked out for me in the past. Yes, it’s true farming wasn’t developed until after the Paleolithic era, but I suspect grains weren’t invented when they decided to give farming a whirl. They were more likely already eating wild grains regularly and liked them. I would guess they had even developed a few recipes by that time.

The Paleo diet gives all grains this stamp of evil, as though they were never meant to be consumed. Humans have been eating grains for thousands of years, in nearly every culture. It’s only been in recent years we’ve begun to see widespread intolerance to them and an increase in health problems associated with those intolerances. Though there are plenty of theories, no one knows for certain what the real problem is. We do know that over the past few decades we have come to consume excessive amounts of refined and processed grains, something our ancestors never had access to. They ate whole, beautiful food every day of their lives. Many of us eat heavily processed junk on a regular basis. Cooking has become a lost art and if one wants, a can opener and a microwave is all they need to survive, and maybe a little water to cook up those packages of dehydrated macaroni and cheese. Despite widespread efforts to increase fruit and vegetable intakes, many people still refuse to eat them.

When my grandmother grew up during the depression, candy was a luxury and most people couldn’t afford it. Today people eat it every day. It’s everywhere. We eat pounds and pounds of the stuff every year and it adds nothing to our diet, but excess calories and sugar. Let’s not forget all those sweetened beverages. I can remember it being a real treat to have soda when I was a kid. Now people drink it all the time. It’s not a treat anymore, people consume it like it’s an essential nutrient.

Although I don’t agree with the Paleo diet in its entirety, I do know Americans consume far too many calories in the form of carbohydrate and the Paleo diet does a great job of eliminating almost all of them. I just wonder is that really necessary? In college they taught us that highly restrictive diets are unhealthy because they increase the risk for nutritional deficiencies. I’m sure there are those who eat well on Paleo, but I would expect they are the minority. In practice I’ve done enough diet education to know most people don’t like diet restrictions and if they start them, the majority give up before the changes can really make an impact. Others learn just enough to be dangerous and follow the diet with their own interpretations. Personally I believe in restricting only what is necessary. Eat what you tolerate and restrict the things you don’t tolerate. Elimination diets are great for pinpointing offending foods in the diet, but then most foods can be gradually reintroduced without a problem. The key is to know your body and as you’re reintroducing foods, listen to what your body is telling you. Intolerance can manifest in skin issues, sinus congestion, hormonal fluctuations, digestive issues, etc. If you’ve been eating really clean for a few weeks, when you reintroduce foods that you don’t tolerate, you will feel the difference.

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