Paleo is short for Paleolithic, which means old stone age, and the old stone age is what the diet is about. The idea is to eat the foods that we have been adapted to for millions of years and avoid foods that are relatively new. The Paleolithic age ended about 10,000 years ago with the beginning of farming and agriculture, which is called the Neolithic age. In moderns times there have been a huge increase in the so called diseases of civilization – obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc…, and the Paleo diet attempts to remove the modern elements of diet that are likely problematic.
Grains are Avoided
The main contribution of agriculture is the use of grains. Unlike most of the plant foods, grains can be stored for long periods, including winters. When humans adopted grains, populations could grow more easily and more advanced civilization became possible. On the other hand, humans have eaten meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables for 2 million years but have only eaten grains for 10,000 years, a relatively short period in the scheme of evolution. The Paleo Diet is skeptical of grains and prefers foods that we are more adapted to instead.
Dairy, Legumes, and Vegetable Oil are Avoided
Other foods that are avoided on a paleo style diet is dairy, legumes, and vegetable oil. Dairy and legumes are both products that our ancestors also did not start using to a large degree until the Neolithic age.
Vegetable oil, also called industrial seed oils, has not been consumed by humans in quantities we consume today in all of human history except for the last 100 years. These are very new in terms of evolution. Humans did not have the machinery necessary to refine the oil out of plant seeds like corn seed or cotton seed until very recently. When this oil was originally refined back about 100 years ago, it was primarily used as an industrial lubricant. The agricultural industry soon started pushing this industrial lubricant as a new food source.
People might have an idea of what our human ancestors ate hundreds of thousands of years ago, but no one knows for sure. So while many are pretty strict about what they consider Paleo, many other people see a Paleo style diet as more a general guide and principles to choosing the best diet. Some will look at modern hunter-gatherer tribes and our more recent ancestors and compare their diet to ours to see where the main problems might be. For example, while polished white rice is a grain, most cultures that eat rice don’t seem to have as many problems as those that have adopted wheat.
Neolithic Agents of Disease
Many believe that if you compare modern diets to our ancestors, there are three main suspects to what have brought about the diseases of civilization:
• Excess Fructose
• Vegetable Oil
Many believe that if you can avoid these, then you will get 90% or more of the benefits of a Paleo Diet.