Edit ModuleShow Tags
Published:

No Such Thing as a 'Natural Diet' for Humans, Scientists Say



Article author photo. Timi Gustafson, RD This featured post is by Timi Gustafson, RD. You can follow this blogger @TimiGustafsonRD.

Diet plans like to make all sorts of claims in terms of their effectiveness for weight loss and better health. Most emphasize certain food groups while eliminating others. Almost all assert their guidelines work best because they reflect how we should eat.

One of the regimens that has been growing in popularity in recent years is called the paleo diet, aka the caveman, stone age or warrior diet. Its premise is that we ought to return to the eating styles of our ancient ancestors because they were more in keeping with our genetic makeup.

The underlying theory is that civilization has corrupted our food supply through unsound food production and manipulation, which has led to the onslaught of diet-related illnesses – like obesity, diabetes and heart disease – that we face today. The only way out of this misery, proponents say, is to mimic the eating behavior that once ensured the survival of our species.

For humans, ancient or modern, the paleo diet is the optimum diet, says Dr. Loren Cordain, a professor in the Colorado State University health department and author of The Paleo Diet. Cordain, who calls himself the “world’s foremost authority on the evolutionary basis of diet and disease,” goes on to say that, genetically speaking, we have not been able to adapt to our modern food choices — the so-called Western diet, which is largely based on processed foods and laden with fat, salt and sugar. Consequently, we are now plagued with disease.

The solution would be to dispense with most, if not all, man-made foods, especially carbohydrates and dairy products. Followers are encouraged to eat meats and seafood (wild-caught), as well as certain vegetables and fruits, as long as they can be found in their original, unmodified state. Intermittent fasting is also recommended.

Some nutrition experts and biologists, however, are skeptical of these restrictions.

The paleo diet is basically a fantasy, according to Dr. Marlene Zuk, a professor of ecology, evolution and behavioral science at the University of Michigan, who gave an interview on the subject to the German news magazine Der Spiegel.

“Its supporters assume that, at a certain point in time, our ancestors were perfectly adapted to their environment. But those conditions presumably never existed,” she said.

Others agree.

“Scientists find it appalling that a number of proponents of the supposed stone-age diet claim to be knowledgeable about a period of time that lasted around 2.5 million years and ended in about 8,000 B.C.,” says Dr. Alexander Ströhle, a nutrition physiologist at the University of Hannover in Germany. “On the whole, the feeding behavior of prehistoric man … was very flexible.”

As far as the health benefits of the paleo diet are concerned, they are so far undetermined. Some studies have linked the regimen to reducing blood pressure, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglycerides (a fatty substance in the arteries that can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke). But the strong emphasis on eating meat, including red meat, has its own well-known disadvantages.

That doesn’t mean there are no benefits to be had from the paleo diet. For those who are interested, there is plenty of information available on the Internet, like the Ultimate Paleo Guide, to name just one. More importantly, however, dieters should still focus on the healthiest food choices, no matter what philosophy appeals to them.

Timi Gustafson, RD, is a clinical dietitian and author of the book, The Healthy Diner: How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun, which is available on her blog, Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D. Follow Timi on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

Edit Module

More Stone Soup

How People with Eating Disorders Can Overcome Holiday Stress

How People with Eating Disorders Can Overcome Holiday Stress

The holidays are a wonderful—and wonderfully stressful—time of year for all of us, but the stress is amplified for anyone struggling with an eating disorder. Numerous celebrations with particularly indulgent food and potentially socially stressful situations with friends and family is a lot to manage!
Gaining Weight Loss Traction — and Keeping It

Gaining Weight Loss Traction — and Keeping It

Wouldn't you like to determine a set of sustainable eating and physical activity habits that get you the results you want, while allowing you to live your life, too?
How You Can Build a Smart Snack Schedule

How You Can Build a Smart Snack Schedule

Snacking can support a day of healthful eating — or it can sabotage it! Watch this video blog and learn the basics of building healthy snacks that support physical, mental and emotional health.
Tips to Avoid Holiday Heft

Tips to Avoid Holiday Heft

On average, people that are already overweight gain 5 pounds during the season, and the few of you left that are not overweight gain about 1 pound.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Advertise with Food & Nutrition
Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags


Stone Soup

Guest bloggers from around the world share with Food & Nutrition Magazine.

About This Blog

Stone Soup is a guest blog written by members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Content — including information, recipes and views expressed — is that of the authors and does not reflect the positions or policies of Food & Nutrition Magazine or the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Bloggers are required to pledge they will not write for Stone Soup on topics, companies or trade organization they currently represent or have represented at any time.

Learn about our guest blogs!

Comments Policy

Food & Nutrition Magazine provides this forum to exchange ideas, opinions and contributions within a positive community. Diverse viewpoints and constructive, respectful dialogue are welcome. Rudeness, misinformation, self-promotion and abuse are not. We reserve the right, without warning or notification, to remove comments and block users we determine violate this policy or our Terms & Conditions. You must include your name or be logged into a personal account on Disqus, Facebook, Twitter or Google+ to comment.

Archives

Edit Module

Get Stone Soup in Your RSS

Use your RSS reader's instructions to add Stone Soup to your list:

Atom Feed Subscribe to the Stone Soup Feed »

Get Our Blogs in Your Email

Stone Soup
Student Scoop