The paleo diet became the most popular diet at the beginning of the 2010s, and many athletes, fitness enthusiasts and even people who had never been particularly interested in nutrition believe that the diet of the hunter-gatherer – is the best way to stay fit and healthy.
You can find here the description of this diet. Now let’s answer the question: Do we have to go back to the diet of our ancestors in order to live better?
The criticism of the paleo-diet and disputes was inevitable. Many people don’t have enough will to stop eating grains, milk and other products prohibited by paleo adherents. Basic principles of the diet contradict the traditional ideas about nutrition. But in this article, I’m going to discuss one of the main ideas of the paleo-diet:
Our genome is not fully adapted to the food, which appeared in the human diet after the agricultural revolution. So we have to eat those foods that our Paleolithic ancestors ate.
No one would argue with the fact that the paleo-diet is a healthy diet. I’m a big fan of using evolution as a guide in all aspects of life, and I sincerely believe that we cannot understand the impact of food on an individual, without studying the history and the way people fed on over millions of years of evolution.
Main principles of the paleo diet
The image of a typical man’s life contributes to the normal phenotype.
Phenotype – is the number of biological properties and characteristics of the human body that has developed in the course of its individual development.
The main idea of the paleo-ideology: the primitive way of life and the appropriate habitat contribute to the normal phenotype, and the discrepancy between our genes and the modern industrial world – is the main cause of the civilization’s diseases.
Although we have no proves to say for sure, it is believed that the man of the Paleolithic was much healthier and did not suffer from diseases, despite the fact that the average duration of his life was short: the harsh living conditions, climate, hunger, infant mortality, and death accidents greatly reduced life expectancy back then.
Several studies of modern primitive tribes over the last century have shown that hunter-gatherers that are not subjected to the influence of the Western lifestyle, are objectively very healthy and don’t suffer from cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity as often as people leading the Western lifestyle do.
They feed on differently and have different lifestyles, but there are some common elements. For example, sufficient physical activity (with some exceptions), the paleo-diet, solar energy (with some exceptions), microbial exposure, and the low level of pollutants and toxic substances. Thus, the diet is just one of the factors.
We did not have enough time to adapt to agricultural products.
Human genes have been selected mainly in the Paleolithic era, and despite the fact that our life differs from the life of a caveman, our common biology and physiology have changed little over the past 10,000 years.
As a result, the body cannot keep pace with the rapid changes in the diet and lifestyle. This mismatch manifests itself in the form of diseases such as heart disease, acne, obesity, and diabetes type 2, allergies and some forms of cancer – they were rare or unknown among hunter-gatherers.
Today, there is much debate concerning the human genome and its adaptation to the ‘new’ modern food. Some researchers say that 10,000 years is more than enough, and the adherents of the paleo are just a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of years of evolution.
Paleo philosophy is based on the idea that our genome didn’t have enough time to adapt to the food that appeared after people learned to farm – especially to cereals and dairy products, which are associated with some health problems.
For a long time, all attention was focused on the human genome, and no one could predict that the second gene in our body can be even more important in some situations. This is the human microbiome, i.e. the collective genome of all living organisms in it, the study of which today is of great importance for food and for medicine in general.
The Human Microbiome
Most bacteria live in the gastrointestinal tract, where they help to digest food and perform multiple functions that go far beyond our own physiological features. While the human genome is simply able to produce the necessary enzymes, to break down starch, simple sugars, fats and most of the proteins, the microbiome may adapt to the various processing components of the products.
Intestinal microflora can be adapted to the absorption of a variety of foods.
We can influence the expression of human genes, but our genome is changing rather slowly, so some people say that 10,000 years is not enough to adapt to the ‘new’ food.
However, now we know that our genetically diverse human microbiome can quickly adapt to changes in the diet and lifestyle. Even one meal influences the composition of the flora in the gut, and several days of the new diet can result in great changes.
The diversity, complexity and dynamic nature of the microbiome explain why people can differ by 99% in terms of their microbial inhabitants, at the same time we are similar in terms of the human genome by 99%.
The role of the human microbiome
Microorganisms that live in the intestines, help us to break down and absorb food. Just think about the processes that occur during the conversion of milk into yogurt. A similar process occurs in the digestive system. And it gets really interesting in terms of adaptation to the new food.
Although our ability to change our own genomes is limited, we can use the help of bacteria. A well-known example of this can be seen in the Japanese dieting culture, in the gastrointestinal tract of which unique bacteria help to digest the seaweed. Probably, this genetic material has been obtained through food with bacteria that live on the in the mid- ocean.
The fact that we can add genetic material to our microbiome explains why the symptoms of lactose intolerance are facilitated if a person
Even if they are not able to colonize the gastrointestinal tract, they may still transmit on their genes to bacteria living in the intestine, through horizontal gene transfer. Unlike humans, which transmit DNA from parents to children, the microorganisms can transmit genes in such a way and in the intestine it goes on continuously.
Thus, one can manipulate the microbiome supplying new bacteria (and genetic material which they contain) and / or the substrates on which they feed. And this applies not only to lactose. Recent studies have shown that some bacteria produce enzymes that break down gluten and phytic acid – two of the most important reasons to stop eating cereals and legumes on the paleo-diet.
What does it mean in terms of planning a healthy diet?
Does this mean that we are fully adapted to grains, milk and other foods prohibited by the paleo-diet? Not so fast… At the present time, thousands of studies have shown that modern hygiene products, food processing, antibiotics perturb the human microbial ecosystem.
American and European microbiome lacks diversity and sustainability, which is associated with a variety of diseases: autoimmune disorders, food sensitivities and allergies, asthma and other diseases that are more common in industrialized countries.
It may also help to explain why some non-Western people who have never taken antibiotics, eat ‘dirty’ natural foods, and are not so concerned about hygiene, have a much more diverse microbiome, which allows maintaining health sticking to the diets rich in grain, milk, and other products.
However, we don’t know enough about the microbiome. Yes, we know that certain types of bacteria, such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria are good for human health, but we must remember that the intestinal microflora consists of hundreds of species of bacteria, most of which are still unknown as well as their properties and side effects.
However, there are other reasons to reduce the consumption of milk and cereals.
The widespread use of antibiotics, excessive hygiene, consumption of processed products, surgical interventions (particularly the increase of births by caesarean section), as well as other factors related to the life in the modern world, have perturbed human microbiome.
Some have already started talking about the fact that the pro-Western microbiome lost its original diversity and sustainability. While we do our best to avoid pathogenic microorganisms, we also kill microorganisms that may help in the digestion and absorption of lactose, gluten and other ‘difficult’ for some people substances.
Paleo Diet: yes or no?
The great thing about the paleo-diet – it is rich in high-grade, natural, healthy products that are very well saturated (meat, seeds, nuts, fiber). They are not food allergens, which often cause health problems. Since there is no grain, rich in carbohydrates, it does not lead to excess weight.
So: no allergens, no extra carbs, no other unhealthy products. Now then, the answer is: Yes, of course!
Do you have personal experience with Paleo Diet and did it work for you? Share in the comment section below.