What To know About The Paleolithic Diet

What To know About The Paleolithic Diet

A Paleolithic (paleo or ancestral) diet could help prevent diseases of civilization such as obesity and diabetes. What is it about ?

Paleolithic Diet

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Principle Our genes are not adapted to the current diet but rather to the diet of our ancestors of the Paleolithic who lived between -3 million years and -10,000 years. By going back to the ancestral diet, you would lose weight while preventing a number of chronic diseases. The method: eat a lot of unprocessed vegetables, little or no cereals and pulses, lots of protein, no dairy products.
Strong points
  • Guaranteed Satiety
  • Sensation of well-being
  • Benefits of weight, waist circumference, cardiovascular risks
Weak points
  • Risk of monotony and strong social constraint
  • Insufficient vitamin D intake
  • Risks related to excessive consumption of animal products

How it works?

In 1985, Dr. S. Boyd Eaton (Medical University, Atlanta, Georgia), a medical anthropologist, published an article in which he hypothesized that the ideal diet for health and fitness would be that of our ancestors of the Paleolithic . The frequency of spontaneous mutations in the DNA of the cell nucleus is about 0.5% per million years, ” he argues. Our genes are therefore very similar to those of our ancestors of the Palaeolithic, 40 000 years ago. What has changed is our diet, with the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago, and especially the industrial revolution. We are no longer genetically adapted to the current diet. Paleolithic or pre-agricultural food can therefore be considered as a model for modern nutrition.

This diet therefore does not come out of the imagination of a doctor more or less specialized in nutrition … it is on the contrary the fruit of scientific research plurielles mixing human palaeontology and nutrition. The goal: to determine the practices of our hunter-gatherer ancestors to define their diet as best they can.

Differences with modern food

According to the modeling done by the researchers, the diet of our ancestors differed significantly from our modern diet:

Paleo diet (East Africa) Today
3000 calories (kcal) 1800 (W) to 2600 (M) calories (Kcal)
25 to 29% protein, ie 108 to 140 g/d of animal proteins and 45 to 54 g/ d of vegetable proteins 15 to 17% protein, ie 64 to 68 g / d of animal proteins and 32 to 36 g / d of vegetable proteins
30 to 39% of lipids 33 to 37% of lipids
Omega-6 / omega-3 ratio: 0.6 to 0.83 Omega-6 / omega-3 ratio: 11
39 to 40% carbohydrates, with little or no sucrose and no lactose (not lactating) 49 to 52% carbohydrates

(27% sucrose, 5% lactose)

More protein . Our ancestors consumed more protein than us, especially animal. But, they also consumed between 600 grams and 1600 grams of vegetables every day, with about as many calories from vegetables as animal foods.

So many fats, but different . They ate about as much fat as we did, but the fats were different with a high intake of omega-3 and an omega-6 / omega-3 ratio more than ten times lower.

Less carbohydrates . Their only source of sugar was fruit, roots and tubers and berries (honey, the only source of sucrose remaining a rare commodity). They did not eat cereals or dairy products. So, they consumed less carbohydrates than we did. In addition, qualitatively, these carbohydrates were better for health and free of the refined sugar and lactose we ingest nowadays. From these findings, researchers have emerged diets respecting the ancestral diet but adapted to the world today.

The principles

The Paleo diet excludes cereals, dried vegetables, dairy products, sugar, salt, because these foods appear in the Neolithic period at the time of the agricultural revolution. The question of oils is debated. Some researchers consider that they do not belong in the Paleo diet stricto sensu since they are processed foods: oilseeds (olives rather than olive oil, etc.) should be consumed. Other researchers believe they can be incorporated into the plan because it has to be flexible.

In the United States, Loren Cordain, a professor at the State University of Colorado and a member of the American Institute of Nutrition, developed in his book, The Paleo Diet , how the Palaeolithic diet could ” Adapt to American culture. Thierry Souccar’s book, The Prehistoric Diet describes the nutritional aspects of human evolution and the physiological and clinical consequences of the modern diet.

Mark Sisson’s book, The Paleo Model , takes up the dietary principles of the Paleo diet and gives them advice on physical exercise, play and social relationships, in order to reproduce the different facets of pre-agricultural existence.

This diet is based on some basic principles :

  • Eat lean meats, fish and seafood
  • Eat fruit and vegetables without starch at will
  • No cereals
  • No legumes
  • No dairy products
  • No Processed Foods

This diet is quite similar to that of Dr. Jean Seignalet, who was a doctor and a teacher at Montpellier University of Medicine, as explained in his book Diet or Third Medicine. The Seignalet’s diet is designed to reduce autoimmune reactions. Dr. Seignalet stressed the importance of consuming raw food as much as possible.

Dr. Seignalet gives five major rules to follow in order to get as close as possible to the diet suitable for our genes, while maintaining a normal sociable life:

  • Exclude cereals with the exception of rice and buckwheat
  • Exclude animal milks and their derivatives
  • Consume a majority of raw products (including meat, fish and eggs)
  • Use virgin vegetable oils obtained by first cold pressing
  • Whenever possible, prefer organic products.

Green vegetables and legumes are allowed, provided they are steamed gently. Consumption of raw vegetables and fruits is encouraged. Protein should preferably be ingested in only one of three daily meals.

The Paleolithic diet is not a dietary measure to follow on a limited time to lose the few extra pounds that spoil the silhouette. It is, on the contrary, a way of life to be adopted definitively to prevent or cure a number of chronic diseases. The loss of weight, proven, would be in a manner only the first effect, visible, of the benefits of this diet.

According to Loren Cordain, the return to dietary sources would make it possible to fight diseases of syndrome X (hypertension, type II diabetes, cholesterol, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, acne, breast, prostate and colon cancers). Also against osteoporosis, asthma, certain digestive disorders (constipation, hemorrhoids, ulcers, calculations, etc.), inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis, or even skin cancer.

For Jean Seignalet, the same is true: most public health scourges today could be avoided thanks to the adoption of this regime. During his career, he successfully tested the effects of this diet on diseases that are still poorly treated by classical medicine such as fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis.

The health benefits of the Paleolithic diet are directly attributable to high protein intake (faster satiety, reduction of bad cholesterol, lower blood pressure, improvement in insulin metabolism), fruits and vegetables in quantity (better acid- Basic, prevention of cancers and regulation of intestinal transit), substantial intakes of omega-3 (prevention of cardiovascular diseases). But, also excluding salt, sugars, starches, gluten and dairy products (whose proteins are highly antigenic).

On the other hand, poorly conducted, this diet could provide too high quantities of animal products and too few plants, which can increase the risk of certain diseases such as digestive cancers.

In summary

The paleolithic diet encourages more protein, more vegetables, more omega-3 and less carbohydrates. Sugar, salt, cereals, milk and its derivatives, and processed foods should be avoided or severely restricted. Vegetables, fruits, roots and seeds should be preferred while cooking may be minimal. By eating what corresponds to the original functions of the organism it is certainly wasted but a number of diseases could also be prevented.

What does the research say?

The establishment of the diet of our ancestors is a subject of scientific research. As such, the composition of the ancestral diet is likely to vary with the rate of new discoveries. The prehistoric diet as advocated by Loren Cordain or Jean Seignalet might also be distorted by the fact that the choice of food for Palaeolithic men depended on hunting, climate, seasons… Now we have all the food we want at our fingertips.

Discussion focuses on the place of meat products in this diet, although it is possible to follow an essentially vegetarian Paleo diet.

On the other hand, the benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, sources of vitamins and antioxidants, on the prevention of cancers, hypertension, osteoporosis are proven. Similarly, increased consumption of foods rich in omega-3 (fatty fish, rapeseed or nut oils, nuts, leafy greens) has been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

In addition, recent research shows that carbohydrates with the Neolithic and the advent of agriculture (cereals and milk sugar) have the highest glycemic index (GI). Consumption of high GI foods was associated with increased weight gain and insulin sensitivity, and therefore a greater risk of type II diabetes.

Intervention studies with the paleo diet have shown favorable results especially in people suffering from metabolic syndrome and diabetes. However, long-term studies are not available and it is unclear whether these benefits persist or whether adverse effects occur in some individuals over time.

Our opinion
This regime presupposes a radical transformation of our eating habits, so we must be motivated to undertake it. Weight loss is not the main purpose of the diet, it is only a short-term consequence of diet change. This diet may be advised to people suffering from chronic metabolic (diabetes) or inflammatory (autoimmune) disease. For it to be beneficial, the emphasis must be on a massive increase in vegetables.



Jean Seignalet: The Food or the Third Medicine , Human Ecology Series, Editions François-Xavier de Guibert, Paris, 2004 (fifth edition).Loren Cordain : The Paleo Diet, John Wiley and Sons, États-Unis, 2002

Eaton SB. : « Paleolithic nutrition. A consideration of its nature and current implications. » N Engl J Med. 1985 Jan 31 ; 312(5):283-9

O’Keefe JH Jr : « Cardiovascular disease resulting from a diet and lifestyle at odds with our Paleolithic genome: how to become a 21st-century hunter-gatherer. » Mayo Clin Proc. 2004 Jan;79(1):101-8.

Cordain L. : « Plant-animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in worldwide hunter-gatherer diets. » Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Mar ; 71(3) :682-92.

Cordain L : « The paradoxical nature of hunter-gatherer diets: meat-based, yet non-atherogenic. » Eur J Clin Nutr. 2002 Mar;56 Suppl 1:S42-52.

Mann NJ : « Paleolithic nutrition : what can we learn from the past ? » Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2004;13(Suppl):S17.

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