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Evolutionary Rationales for Diet

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  • Evolutionary Rationales for Diet

    As I understand it, the rationale behind "Paleo" diets is that, in order to achieve optimum health, we should eat only those foods available during the Paleolithic era because those are the foods to which we are most well-adapted.

    A couple of things:

    1. Just because a diet contains only those foods to which we are most well-adapted, it doesn't necessarily follow that it is the optimum diet for human beings. That is an empirical matter.

    2. Whatever the effects of an agrarian diet on the individual, the overall effect was to confer an evolutionary advantage. Agrarian societies have almost completely displaced their hunter-gatherer predecessors. It may be true that hunter-gatherers were bigger, stronger, and healthier than their agrarian counterparts, but it's also true that in direct competition for survival, they lost.

    Your thoughts?

  • #2
    "Paleo" is a good initial condition. Never iterating from it may keep one in good health, but it may also be overly restrictive. Michael Rose points out that as we age, we actually devolve (more primitive genes start expressing themselves), and it may be even more important to adhere a strict evolutionary diet.


    • #3
      1. Yes, the foods to which we are most well-adapted constitute precisely the optimum diet for human beings. Are you suggesting that there are foods to which we are ill-adapted that are better for us?

      2. Agrarians have settlements that allow the population to swell exponentially beyond what a hunter-gatherer tribe would have been. There is strength in numbers. There is also more specialization of labour in settlements, which means more people to devote their time to making technologically advanced pointy things to kill off competition for resources. Agrarians have technology on their side, which is what helped them win out over the hunter-gatherers. The PB is about the health of the body and mind, not about giving up civilization and advanced technology.
      You lousy kids! Get off my savannah!


      • #4
        I often feel crappy when I eat grains. I feel better when I don't. That's enough for me.

        1. How could something that we are perfectly adapted to *not* be the optimal diet? If we haven't adapted to it, how could it possibly be optimal?

        2. Things that benefit the species do not have to benefit an individual. Pea plants are a good example. Wild peas have pods that burst open and scatter their seeds. Domesticated peas, which are far more common, have been selected to be without bursting pods. The non-bursting pods are not likely to spread their seeds and continue their genes, but it was an evolutionary trait that has helped those plants. Genius is another example- people who are different are often ostracized or otherwise mistreated by society, but without them there would not have been any technological progress. Being different benefits society, but not necessarily the individual.