Even a caveman could eat it

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The original human (‘Old Stone Age’) diet is good for people with diabetes:

In a clinical study in Sweden, the research group has now compared 14 patients who were advised to consume an ‘ancient’ (Paleolithic, ‘Old stone Age’) diet for three months with 15 patients who were recommended to follow a Mediterranean-like prudent diet with whole-grain cereals, low-fat dairy products, fruit, vegetables and refined fats generally considered healthy.

All patients had increased blood sugar after carbohydrate intake (glucose intolerance), and most of them had overt diabetes type 2. In addition, all had been diagnosed with coronary heart disease. Patients in the Paleolithic group were recommended to eat lean meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, root vegetables and nuts, and to avoid grains, dairy foods and salt.

The main result was that the blood sugar rise in response to carbohydrate intake was markedly lower after 12 weeks in the Paleolithic group (-26%), while it barely changed in the Mediterranean group (-7%). At the end of the study, all patients in the Paleolithic group had normal blood glucose.

Here’s a problem I see: it is a clinical study in Sweden. It stands to reason that Swedes would not be the best test case for a Mediterranean diet. Consider that agriculture became normative in Sweden about 5,000 years ago, 5,000 years after it was the dominant mode of production in the eastern Mediterranean. Note that Sweden is also the epicenter lactose tolerance (thought that seems to have become the norm after agriculture arrived on the scene), suggesting a priori expectation of localized adaptations. In any case, I think one should be cautious about broad generalizations about diet across cultures. Not only jas there been a lot of evolution in regards to the human metabolization of nutritional intakes, we shouldn’t be surprised if many of these propensities are local. Selection thinks globally, but acts locally.

Related: All diabetes, all the time.

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10 Comments

  1. I hear the roast duck with the mango salsa is good that way. :)

  2. Nevermind the fact that we really don’t know what the typical “paleolithic” diet was. Modern-day hunter-gatherers exploit wild starch sources and there is no reason why paleolithic ones couldn’t.

  3. The point about human variation being an underappreciated and critical factor in evaluating the healthfulness of a diet is a good one. Lactose (in)tolerance is just the poster child, there are surely hundreds of other similar adaptations that have thus far flown under the radar. Gluten intolerance is another big one that doesn’t get quite as much attention – clearly the sweep for the ability to digest wheat was not complete.

  4. Consider that agriculture became normative in Sweden about 5,000 years ago, 5,000 years after it was the dominant mode of production in the eastern Mediterranean 
     
    Over 10,000 years ago, everyone in the world lived the hunter-gatherer lifestyle – even the people of the eastern Mediterranean – so it is likely that most humans would do well on such a Paleolithic diet. 
     
    Modern-day hunter-gatherers exploit wild starch sources 
     
    But that may be because they don’t have alternative food sources. 
     
    Note that Sweden is also the epicenter lactose tolerance (thought that seems to have become the norm after agriculture arrived on the scene), suggesting a priori expectation of localized adaptations 
     
    And yet the research shows that the Swedes do better without dairy.

  5. Over 10,000 years ago, everyone in the world lived the hunter-gatherer lifestyle – even the people of the eastern Mediterranean – so it is likely that most humans would do well on such a Paleolithic diet. 
     
    well, this is false. agriculture is around in the fertile crescent around 11,500 years ago. egypt 9,000 years ago. in any case, evolution can happen fast. the metabolization of alcohol or the breakdown of lactose are two capacities which have changed greatly in various populations over the last 5,000 years. 
     
     
    And yet the research shows that the Swedes do better without dairy.
     
     
    today. selective pressures change. also, you should cite the research. we don’t know who the hell you are.

  6. I remember seeing an argument before that wheat and dairy became part of our diets even though they aren’t healthy but because they have drug-like addictive effects that cause complacency and allow people to function in settled, civilized societies rather than the nomadic hunter gatherer ones we are optimized for. I’m pretty sure I linked to it here, but I don’t remember where it is now.

  7. OK, guys, what the … (expletitive deleted)? I resubmitted my post with my e-mail address removed, and your system reinserted it for me! First of all, as most sites require an e-mail address be included for a post to be accepted, it is not reasonable for you as a site owner to expect us to anticipate that the addresses we submit will appear on site, especially since the practice of making those visible after submission is practically unheard of, now that everybody knows that spambots harvest mail links. 
     
    I responded to a post far up the page, saw no mail links and got blindsided. Guys, this is not cool. Please remove all but the last copy of my post, and if my real address is going to appear on this one, then please remove this one too.  
     
    Harry writes: 
     
    “Over 10,000 years ago, everyone in the world lived the hunter-gatherer lifestyle – even the people of the eastern Mediterranean – so it is likely that most humans would do well on such a Paleolithic diet.” 
     
    Doing a quick search under “Jericho” “10500″ and “site:.edu”, among other results I pull up 
     
    http://www.wsu.edu/~tako/Week9.html 
     
    and this quote 
     
    “. Archaic Neolithic in the Levant (10,500-8000 BP) 
    A. Neolithic I: 10500-9600 BP (PPNA) 
    1. Villages become larger & are located in areas 
    with high ag. potential. Deteriorating climate. 
    2. Structures still mostly circular or oval, often 
    slightly dug into ground, 4-6 m in diameter, 
    usually 1 room. Similar in size & artifact 
    content. 
    3. Jericho largest site of day at > 4 ha; 
    surrounded by a stone wall fronted by a ditch 
    & backed by a tower 8-m high. 
    4. Typical burial location under house floor or 
    near house in yard; late in period at Jericho, 
    some heads buried separately. 
    5. Peas, lentils, emmer, and probably barley 
    domesticated by 9800 BP” 
     
    so apparently not everybody was following a hunter-gatherer lifestyle 10000 years ago, as we’re looking at mention of the remains of an agricultural settlement from 2500 years prior, more time than seperates our era from that of the Caesars. 
     
    Be careful about the assumption that the dawn of recorded history is the same as the dawn of civilization (c.4750 BC). The only thing that former represents is the earliest era from which surviving records can be found. If a book crumbles to dust, do the events it recorded cease to be events which occured?

  8. I resubmitted my post with my e-mail address removed, and your system reinserted it for me! 
     
    That is your browser pulling the info from your cache.

  9. “I remember seeing an argument before that wheat and dairy became part of our diets even though they aren’t healthy but because they have drug-like addictive effects” 
     
    How many drug addicts do you know of who seem to function very well in the long run? This is a very remarkable claim, offered without citation.

  10. “That is your browser pulling the info from your cache.” 
     
    Worth knowing, but very much not the norm. Most sites do not work that way.

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