The Paleolithic Problem

In an article titled “Human Ancestors Were Nearly All Vegetarians”, published in Scientific America in July 2012, author Rob Dunn tackles the issue of whether or not the Paleolithic Diet works for modern humans.  Dunn claims that nearly half of Americans are on a diet, and many of them take these diets too seriously and too literally to a point that he considers “ridiculous”. Many of our Paleolithic ancestors, according to Dunn, lived their lives starving, which is completely unnecessary to live healthy and comfortably today.  Dunn’s article sums up his disposition toward the Paleolithic diet, and why he believes the diet is a sham.

According to Dunn, the controversy over the issue could stem from multiple sources, such as anthropologists that suggest our Paleolithic ancestors enjoyed a variety of dietary options.  Dunn says that some experts argue our ancestors ate a wide collection of plants, gathered fruits and nuts, and the occasional big mammal.  Other anthropologists claim a more macho human diet that involved meaty diets with supplementary berries.  Dunn is simply not convinced, mostly because experts cannot agree on what our Paleolithic ancestors really ate.

The cause for this controversy over the effects of the Paleolithic diet, according to Dunn, evolves from the lack of solid research and information on what our ancestors ate.  Scientists are coming out with new studies every day arguing for different sides of the debate over what ancient humans consumed that one single claim cannot be made.  Dunn blames this lack of solid evidence on a few different things, including a reference, or group of ancestors to base our diet off of.  Dunn claims that participators in the diet tend to start with a specific group of ancestors, but there are many to choose from, (homo erectus, Neanderthal, stone age human..)  Dunn begins to describe in great detail the process that food undergoes as it is digested in our system.  In a nut shell, Dunn says that foods mostly composed of sugars and proteins are digested before they even enter the large intestines, however, cellulose and other carbohydrates are more difficult to break down and must enter the large intestines to digest.  According to Dunn, this system has evolved over time in order to provide the host with as many calories and nutrients as possible; “It makes energy from the food we are lucky enough to find.”

What does Dunn suggest we do? Our biologist author claims that our bodies did not evolve to be in harmony with a past diet but rather they evolved to take advantage of what was available to eat.  However, Dunn doesn’t suggest we ignore the diets of our ancestors entirely, because our history is full of adaptations that define who we are and how we eat.  Dunn advocates that we do not model our diets after our ancestors, because our ancestors were certainly not at one with nature.  Dunn says nature tried to kill humans, and starve them out.  However, humans survived thanks to a particularly flexible gut and digestive system.

Article credit:

Dunn, Rob. “Human Ancestors Were Nearly All Vegetarians | Guest Blog, Scientific American Blog Network.” Human Ancestors Were Nearly All Vegetarians | Guest Blog, Scientific American Blog Network. Scientific America, 23 July 2012. Web. 8 Apr. 2013.


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