[ExI] Meat and the paleo diet, again

J. Stanton js_exi at gnolls.org
Sun Apr 10 17:08:10 UTC 2011

[Another resend: the extropy server apparently hates my mail server.]

On 4/7/11 5:00 AM, Harvey Newstrom wrote:
> This is my problem with the Paleo diet.  The archeology does not fit a
> high-fat diet.  Everything I read shows that hunter/gatherers got more
> of their diet from gathering than hunting.

That is a common misconception created by misinterpretations of many of 
the original papers.  Someone, I forget who, classified meat procured by 
fishing, trapping, etc. as "gathering" instead of "hunting" (large 
animals only), someone else took "gathering" to mean "solely plant 
source foods", and an approximate ratio of 2/3 meat to 1/3 everything 
else magically became 1/3 meat to 2/3 everything else.

Yes, this is a modern study, but it's instructive:
"In this review we have analyzed the 13 known quantitative dietary
studies of hunter-gatherers and demonstrate that animal food actually
provided the dominant (65%) energy source, while gathered plant foods
comprised the remainder (35%)."

The easiest argument against a vegetable-based diet is that it's 
impossible to get enough calories to build and maintain our brains -- 
particularly the long-chain PUFAs EPA and DHA -- without meat.  Read up 
on Kleiber's Law and The Expensive Tissue Hypothesis if you want to 
understand why this is so, while recalling that vegetables have no 
significant digestible calories for humans, who can't digest cellulose. 
  (An asparagus spear has FOUR CALORIES.)

I explain all these issues in detail (including links to the original
papers) here:

> Big game meat was not a daily occurrence.


You might consider reading Dr. Craig Stanford's "Meat-Eating And Human 
Evolution".  And in addition to the above point (no significant calories 
from vegetables), you're going to have to explain multiple continents 
worth of Quaternary megafaunal extinctions that JUST HAPPEN to coincide 
with the arrival of humans.  (Neither do they coincide with ice ages, 
except for North America, and even that begs the question as to why the 
seven previous Ice Ages didn't cause proportionate extinctions.)

The only serious scientific debate at this point is at what point humans 
transitioned from primarily scavenging to primarily hunting, and at what 
point humans controlled fire.  Recent evidence from South Africa 
indisputably indicates that by c. 180 KYa humans were both anatomically 
modern and behaviorally big game hunters/fishers.

"Man the wimpy" was a popular theory for a few years in the early 1990s, 
mostly due to vegetarian and feminist politics...but the continued 
weight of evidence has long since demoted that.

   And even when big game was bagged, it was not
> high-fat as seen in today's deliberately fattened meats.  Therefore, I
> do not believe that high-fat meals are a good emulation of a paleo diet,
> even if eaten rarely.

That's the Cordain theory...and it's bunk, not supported by the
archeology or the biology.  I discuss this subject at great length here:
Shortlink: http://www.gnolls.org/?p=715

Here is some first-hand data from someone who butchers free-range bison 
to feed their family:
Here are some pictures of "not high-fat" free-range bison:

> I also doubt the lack of grains in the diet.  Archeological evidence
> shows that grains were routinely gathered and used in paleo times.

That's another common misconception based on pop science 
misinterpretation of actual science.  Popular articles talk about 
"grains" found on surfaces, and pop-science writers take that to mean 
"cereal grains" -- when actually reading the paper reveals that they're 
talking about grains of starch from *root starches*, like ancestral 
cassava, yam, etc.

The earliest undisputed evidence of regular consumption of cereal grains 
is Ohalo II in Israel, ~21 KYa.  "Archeologists have conducted an 
exhaustive study of Hut 1 at Ohalo II: this hut yielded over 90,000 
seeds. The seeds account for more than 100 species of wild barley and 

Recall also that for grains to be a significant contribution to the 
diet, one must also have evidence of grain *storage*.  Grain harvest is 
seasonal, and Paleolithic grains had not yet been selected (as modern 
grains have) for a propensity to not immediately drop their seeds so 
they won't be eaten by birds and insects.  The wild rice harvesting 
window is measured in days.

> So, besides the nutritional objections to the paleo diet, I also object
> to the diet on archeological grounds.  Even if I wanted to emulate a
> paleo diet, it certainly would not be a high-meat or high-fat diet.  And
> it would not exclude grains.  (It might exclude dairy.)

That's your loss :)


More information about the extropy-chat mailing list