What did folks eat for dinner tens of 1000’s of years in the past? Many advocates of the so-called Paleo weight-reduction plan will inform you that our ancestors’ plates had been heavy on meat and low on carbohydrates—and that, consequently, we’ve got advanced to thrive on this kind of dietary routine.
The weight-reduction plan is known as after the Paleolithic period, a interval relationship from about 2.5 million to 10,000 years in the past when early people had been searching and gathering, moderately than farming. Herman Pontzer, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke College and creator of Burn, a e-book concerning the science of metabolism, says it’s a delusion that everybody of this time subsisted on meat-heavy diets. Research present that moderately than a single weight-reduction plan, prehistoric folks’s consuming habits had been remarkably variable and had been influenced by numerous elements, corresponding to local weather, location and season.
Within the 2021 Annual Evaluation of Vitamin, Pontzer and his colleague Brian Wooden, of the College of California, Los Angeles, describe what we will study concerning the consuming habits of our ancestors by finding out trendy hunter-gatherer populations just like the Hadza in northern Tanzania and the Aché in Paraguay. In an interview with Knowable Journal, Pontzer explains what makes the Hadza’s surprisingly seasonal, various diets so completely different from common notions of historical meals.
This interview has been edited for size and readability.
What do at this time’s Paleo diets appear to be? How effectively do they seize our ancestors’ consuming habits?
Individuals have developed many alternative variations, however the authentic Paleo weight-reduction plan is kind of meat-heavy. I’d say the identical is true of the predominant Paleo diets at this time—most are very meat-heavy and low-carb, downplaying issues like starchy greens and fruits that might solely have been seasonally obtainable earlier than agriculture. There’s additionally an much more excessive camp inside that, which says that people was once virtually totally meat-eating carnivores.
However our ancestors’ diets had been actually variable. We advanced as hunter-gatherers, so that you’re searching and gathering no matter meals are round in your native surroundings. People are strategic about what meals they go after, however they will goal solely the meals which might be there. So there was a variety of variation in what hunter-gathers ate relying on location and time of 12 months.
The opposite factor is that, partly resulting from that variability, but additionally partly due simply to folks’s preferences, there’s a variety of carbohydrate in most hunter-gatherer diets. Honey was most likely vital all through historical past and prehistory. A variety of these small-scale societies are additionally consuming root greens like tubers, and people are very starch- and carb-heavy. So the concept that historical diets could be low-carbohydrate simply doesn’t match with any of the obtainable proof.
So how did “Paleo” come to signify meat-heavy and low-carb consuming?
I believe there are a few causes for that. You’ve got a sort of romanticizing of what searching and gathering was like. There’s a kind of macho caveman view of the previous that permeates a variety of what I learn after I have a look at Paleo weight-reduction plan web sites.
There are additionally inherent biases in a variety of the obtainable archaeological and ethnographic information. Within the early 1900s, and even earlier than, a variety of the ethnographic experiences had been written by males who targeted on males’s work. We all know that historically that’s going to focus extra on searching than on gathering due to the best way a variety of these small-scale societies divide their work: Males hunt and ladies collect.
On prime of that, the obtainable ethnographic information is closely skewed towards very northern cultures, corresponding to Arctic cultures—for the reason that warm-weather cultures had been the primary ones to get pushed out by farmers—they usually do are inclined to eat extra meat. However our ancestors’ diets had been variable. Populations that lived close to the ocean and shifting rivers ate a variety of fish and seafood. Populations that lived in forested areas or in locations wealthy in vegetation targeted on consuming crops.
There’s additionally a bias towards searching within the archaeological report. Stone instruments and cut-marked bones—proof of searching—protect very effectively. Wood sticks and plant stays don’t.