The Paleo Diet: History Repeating

Given that a lot of our breads are labelled "Paleo", we receive a lot of queries from customers about the Paleo diet - what is it exactly, is this or that allowed, and who decides anyway? Over time, we've collected a fair bit of research on the subject and thought it would be great to pull it all together in one spot for a bit of light reading. Following, then, is our take on the Paleo diet, starting with a little history lesson...

 Evolution of the human diet

Evolution of the human diet

You might want to take notes
The Paleolithic Era started around 2.6 million years ago, coming to a close a mere 10, 000 years ago. We’re talking pre-agriculture, very rudimentary tools, hunting and gathering. Paleolithic humans were nomadic, hence the caveman caricature, and they ate a diet lush with wild vegetables, fruits, herbs, nuts, and animal protein. Over a couple of million years their diet varied rather little in comparison to the rapid dietary change our species has experienced during the past 10, 000 years.

 During the subsequent Neolithic Era, ‘man’, as the patriarchy has dubbed all humans, settled down. In a period that lasted from 10, 000 BC til around 4, 500 - 2, 000 BC (depending on geography), the agricultural revolution heralded a shift from small groups of nomadic communities to sedentary communities who planted crops and raised livestock. Interestingly, diseases like tooth cavities, malaria, tuberculosis and typhoid fever are first known to have occurred in this agricultural era. By most accounts, Paleolithic people were healthier and had a longer lifespan than their Neolithic counterparts. The adoption of grains in the Neolithic era coincided with a shortening of stature, thinner bones and crooked, cavity-ridden teeth. Another interesting physiological change was a decline in pelvic inlet depth, making childbirth more difficult in the Neolithic era compared with the Paleolithic era.

Evolutionary nutrition

"Nothing in nutrition makes sense, except under the light of evolution."
     - Loren Cordain, PH.D. adapts Theodosius Dobzhansky's maxim, 
     "Nothing in biology makes sense, except under the light of evolution."

Since the close of the Neolithic era we have experienced, in the relatively short period of several millenia, an industrial revolution, globalisation of the food chain, the proliferation of synthetic food products, and we have developed an ever more sedentary lifestyle. The general wisdom goes that in evolutionary terms, the human genome simply cannot adapt to that much change in so short a space of time, and that although we may be technologically advanced in the 21st century, our bodies have barely made it past the Paleolithic stage. And so, that is where this focus on the “Paleo” diet comes from, as opposed to, say, the Neolithic diet or the Middle Ages diet.  

Paleo in a (foraged) nutshell
In ideal terms, the Paleo lifestyle is a return to eating, moving and generally being that is better suited to our genetic make up. That means eating whole foods, lots of veg, some fruit, animal proteins, and eating seasonally. Organic is in, pesticides are out. Grains, legumes, dairy and refined sugars are also out, due to the argument that our relatively un-evolved bodies don’t cope so well with these agrarian products. Movement is also essential to the Paleo lifestyle - regular exercise to break up the hours spent in an unnatural hunch over the keyboard. Sounds reasonable on the face of it, however the Paleo diet in particular has copped a fair bit of criticism from media and health professionals.

 A tongue in cheek Paleo Diet Flowchart via Pinterest

A tongue in cheek Paleo Diet Flowchart via Pinterest

True believers
Perhaps the biggest gripe of all is the tendency of over-zealous Paleo converts to proselytise in much the same way as born again Bible bashers or militant vegans. Declarations along the lines of ‘this is how everyone should eat,’ or ‘going Paleo will fix all your health problems,’ or ‘this or that food are bad’ are guaranteed to rub people up the wrong way and don’t do a whole lot for the cause. Then again, like any religion or social movement, for every zealot there are plenty of quiet believers who are happy to go about their business without publicising their dietary choices. Griping aside, there are a few questions worth asking about this evolutionary approach to diet.

Does eating Paleo mean I have to eat tonnes of meat?
Not exactly, although a vegetarian Paleo diet may be difficult to maintain given the lack of dairy, and vegan even harder given the avoidance of grains and legumes.  The importance of nourishing with animal proteins is a core principle of the paleo diet, as is eating a wide variety of veg, some fruit, and healthy fats. It would be difficult to maintain a paleo diet without any animal protein, but a compromise between the two can work, such as the diet followed by self-described “Pegan,” Dr Mark Hyman, MD.

But diary = calcium, right?
This is a major point of controversy, exacerbated in Australian media when, in 2016, Pete Evans openly advised a woman with osteoporosis to stop drinking milk as “the calcium from dairy can remove the calcium from your bones.”  This caused an almighty uproar, provoking a slew of health professionals to publicly denounce Evans’ advice, yet the topic remains somewhat of a moot point. There are countless scientific articles extolling the virtues of dairy products for calcium and bone health, such as those found here, here and here.  On the other hand, academics such as Loren Cordain, PH.D. would have us believe that dairy is unhelpful at best, and damaging at worst, as the acidity of pasteurised dairy can cause leeching of calcium from the bones.  A more moderate Harvard nutritional brief suggests that calcium from dairy increase risk of bone fractures if taken without enough vitamin D, a concerning claim, though more modest than Evans’ blanket advice. One thing most experts can agree on, thought, is that calcium uptake is only possible in combination with other vitamins including D, A and K, as well as Magnesium, and so any dairy consumption should be in the context of a well balanced diet.

 Avoiding dairy? There are plenty of other ways to get your calcium, via Pinterest

Avoiding dairy? There are plenty of other ways to get your calcium, via Pinterest

 All things considered, it would seem that dairy is a great source of nutrition for some, but those who are lactose intolerant or who prefer a Paleo lifestyle can just as easily get their calcium from alternative sources.  Paleo friendly sources of calcium include bony fish (eg: tinned salmon or sardines), almonds, sesame seeds, bone broth, carrots, and dark leafy greens to name a few. A benefit of getting your calcium from these sources is that many of these foods also include vitamins and minerals essential to calcium absorption. For example, vitamin K1 is found in Kale, Collard and Swiss Chard along with calcium.

Is Paleo bread really Paleo?
In the truest sense, no. The idea of Palaeolithic cave dwellers whipping up cakes and raw slices around the campfire is laughable, that’s obvious. If your goal is to follow the Paleo diet in a literal sense (ie: wholefoods only, all the time, hunted or gathered by you and yours), then Paleo bread may not be for you! Nevertheless, the fact that we have so many modern Paleo options (Honest Goods included) is evidence that the 21st Century Paleo diet is an adaptation of the traditional caveman menu, and allows for some wiggle room for anyone who likes to have their cake and eat it too. Those avoiding gluten, dairy, fructose and chemicals may find that their current diet is not far off the Paleo format as it is, and there are plenty who could identify as Paleo-ish, loosely following the diet as it suits their tastes and lifestyle.

 Caveman by Banksy

Caveman by Banksy

Keen to try it?
First up, Honest Goods Co. is not a "Paleo" company, and we do not advocate any one diet over others. However, we do believe in making it easier to eat the way you choose! So, here's our hit list of Paleo resources for anyone who wants to give the Paleo diet a whirl.

  • Local couple Bendy and Mel, have a good collection of info, motivation and recipes with a local focus on their Paleonutter website
  • Love him or hate him, Pete Evans has a 10 week plan that may give you the structure you need to make the change
  • Those who don't fancy doing their own foraging and cooking can get meals delivered from Paleo Meals Direct
  • For support and connections, try these facebook groups: Paleo Perth and The Paleo Network
  • And of course, to get your hands on our Paleo breads, head on over to the Find Us page to pinpoint your nearest stockist!

We at Honest Goods Co. are bakers, not nutritionists, nor scientists -but we do read a lot.  The information in this article is accurate to the best of our knowledge, and we encourage our readers to go deeper by clicking through the source links included.