Paleo (and Primal) lifestyles refer to living like our ancestors did. This does not mean you need to live in a cave and wear animal skins! We as a species have spent many generations becoming optimized to certain foods and activities. We have now drifted away from them, to the detriment of our health.
Humans have been around for about 2.5 million years. For most of that time we were nomads, following our food supply. For the most part, we ate a lot of animals, but not so much plant material. We appeared to be pretty healthy, were tall and strong, but also probably pretty lazy, and only spent a few hours a day hunting, gathering, and sheltering. Our life expectancy was not very high, but that’s because we had a high infant mortality rate and also had a higher rate of dying from infections (no antibiotics). But if we lived past those issues, we were generally very healthy in our old age, and had a similar life expectancy to what we have now.
Starting about 10,000 years ago, we began settling down, domesticating animals for food and growing crops. We began reproducing at a higher rate. But we also started developing diseases of the modern age, such as heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, autoimmune disorders, even things like appendicitis, gall bladder disease and acne!
Today, when we have epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, many people are looking at where we went wrong, and what we can do to fix it. With modern medicine, our infant mortality rate is much lower, and we survive trauma much better. But aside from that, we are not living any longer, and we are often wracked with pain and disability as we age.
What is so different about how we live now? That’s where Paleo comes in.
The most important element is diet. Ancient man (and woman) did not eat grains, legumes or dairy. Potatoes were inedible, and sugar did not exist. The tribe would take down an animal, maybe a mastodon or a rhino or a pig, and eat the entire thing raw. The meat itself would have been lean, but they would have eaten all the organs including the marrow, making the entire meal fairly high in fat. We would have eaten our fill, then when we got hungry again, we’d take down another animal. (No six small meals a day!)
Edible vegetation would have been less available. Those that tasted good (like fruits) would have been smaller and less sweet than we have now, and also only ripe and available for a very short period during the year. Many vegetables would have been bitter and/or toxic. Also, we would not have hunted a mastodon and milked it, and even if we’d found some milk, we would have lost our ability to process milk sugars once we were past weaning age for human milk (generally age 3-6 years).
Our diet would have consisted mostly of animal products, some vegetables and fruits when they were ripe. We probably did a fair amount of walking and ran only when we were running after prey, or away from predators. We lifted and squatted and threw things. And we were apparently quite healthy.
The Paleo/Primal or ancestral health movement, is all about regaining our health by trying to emulate our hunter-gatherer forefathers, with the convenience that modern society affords us. Here is to your good health and special thanks to Dr. Jasmine Moghissi for her inspiration.