The Paleo Diet Is Uncivilized (And Unhealthy and Untrue)

John McDougall, MD | 06/30/12

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Low-carbohydrate (low-carb) diets are fueling the destruction of human health and our planet Earth. “Low-carbohydrate” means a diet high in animal foods and low in plant foods. Only plants synthesize carbohydrates (sugars). The body parts of animals, including red meat, poultry, seafood, and fish, and eggs, contain no carbohydrates. Animal secretions (like mammalian milk) contain sugars synthesized by plants (the cow eats the grass that made the sugar). The original Atkins Diet is the ultimate in low-carb eating. This diet works by starving the human body of carbohydrates in order to induce a state of illness (ketosis), which can result in weight loss. People become too sick to eat too much.

In an attempt to remedy the obvious harms to human health caused by very low-carb eating, apologists (including the Atkins Nutritionals) have added fruits and non-starchy vegetables to their programs. This effort is supposed to disguise, and compensate for, the unhealthy effects of consuming animal foods at every meal.

The Paleo Diet: The Newest Promoter of Eating the Planet and Its Inhabitants to Death

The Paleo Diet (also referred to as the Paleolithic Diet, the Paleodiet, the Caveman Diet, the Stone Age Diet, and the Hunter-Gatherer Diet) is the most recent and popular approach to weight loss, improved health, and longevity, and is accomplished by eating large amounts of animal-derived foods (which are no-carbohydrate, and high-protein and/or high-fat foods). The Paleo Diet consists mainly of meat, poultry, shellfish, fish, and eggs; non-starchy orange, green, and yellow vegetables; and fruits and nuts. This approach forbids starches, including all grains, legumes, and potatoes. To its credit it also excludes dairy products and refined sugars. Salt and processed oils (with the exception of olive oil) are also excluded.

This nutritional plan is based on the presumption that our ancestors, living during the Paleolithic era—a period of time from 10,000 to 2.5 million years ago—were nourished primarily by animal foods. According the basic theory behind Paleo dieting, as a result of more than two millions of years of evolution, we are now genetically adapted to eat what the hunter-gathers ate—mostly animal foods.

The Paleo Diet book (revised 2011) is “the bible” for followers of this approach (page numbers from this book are found in parenthesis in this article). Written by Loren Cordain, PhD, Professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University, the Paleo Diet is said to be “the one and only diet that ideally fits our genetic makeup.” (p 3) The author claims that every human being on Earth ate this way for the past 2.5 million years, until the dawn of the Agriculture Revolution (10,000 years ago), when grains, legumes, and potatoes were introduced worldwide. According to Dr. Cordain, “...there wasn’t a single person who did not follow the Paleo Diet.” (p 71). With the development of agriculture about 10,000 years ago, “Paleo experts” teach that human health and longevity plummeted. By no coincidence, the Agriculture Revolution marks the dawn of civilization. “Civilization” encompasses our advanced state of intellectual, cultural, and material development, marked by progress in the arts, music, sciences, languages, writing, computers, transportation, and politics.

“If You Repeat a Lie Often Enough, It becomes the Truth”

Teachers of Paleo nutrition claim our ancient ancestors were hunter-gathers with an emphasis on hunting, regardless of what the bulk of current scientific research reports. They base their hypothesis largely upon a flawed review of contemporary hunter-gathers.

Primates, including humans, have practiced hunting and gathering for millions of years. I know of no large populations of primates who have been strict vegans (ate no animal foods at all). However, plants have, with very few exceptions, provided the bulk of the calories for almost all primates. This truth has been unpopular in part because of a well-recognized human trait, sexism. Grandparents, women, and children did the gathering, while men hunted. Glory always goes to the hunters.

When asked about the commonly held idea that ancient people were primarily meat-eaters, the highly respected anthropologist, Nathanial Dominy, PhD, from Dartmouth College responded, “That’s a myth. Hunter-gathers, the majority of their calories come from plant foods…meat is just too unpredictable.” After studying the bones, teeth, and genetics of primates for his entire career as a biological anthropologist, Dr. Dominy, states, “Humans might be more appropriately described as ‘starchivores.’”

Paleo diet proponents spare no effort to ignore and distort science. The general public is at their mercy until they look for themselves at recent publications from the major scientific journals:

* Research published in the journal Nature (on June 27, 2012) reports that almost the entire diet of our very early human ancestors, dating from 2 million years ago, consisted of leaves, fruits, wood, and bark—a diet similar to modern day chimpanzees.

* According to research presented in a 2009 issue of Science, people living in what is now Mozambique, along the eastern coast of Africa, may have followed a diet based on the cereal grass sorghum as long as 105,000 years ago.

* Research presented in a 2011 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science shows that even the Neanderthals ate a variety of plant foods; starch grains have been found on the teeth of their skeletons everywhere from the warm eastern Mediterranean to chilly northwestern Europe. It appears they even cooked, and otherwise prepared, plant foods to make them more digestible—44,000 years ago.

* A 2010 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science reported that starch grains from wild plants were identified on grinding tools at archeological sites dating back to the Paleolithic period in Italy, Russia, and the Czech Republic. These findings suggest that processing vegetables and starches, and possibly grinding them into flour, was a widespread practice in Europe as far back as 30,000 years ago, or even earlier.

Falsehoods leading the general public to choose foods that threaten our very existence have been challenged for decades, but as I have said before, people like to hear good news about their bad habits; so the Paleo Diet continues to get a highly visible platform with too little public debate.
The Hunter-gather Diet Is Repulsive

Dr. Cordain writes, “For most of us, the thought of eating organs is not only repulsive, but is also not practical as we simply do not have access to wild game.” (p 131). In addition to the usual beef, veal, pork, chicken, and fish, a Paleo follower is required to eat; alligator, bear, kangaroo, deer, rattlesnake, and wild boar are also on the menu. Mail-order suppliers for these wild animals are provided in his book.

More than half (55%) of a Paleo dieter’s food comes from lean meats, organ meats, fish, and seafood. (p 24) Eating wild animals is preferred, but grocery store-bought lean meat from cows, pigs, and chickens works, too. Bone marrow or brains of animals were both favorites of pre-civilization hunter-gathers. (p 27) For most of us the thought of eating bone marrow and brains is repulsive. But it gets worse.

No mention is made by Paleo experts about the frequent and habitual practices of nutritional cannibalism by hunter-gather societies. (Nutritional cannibalism refers to the consumption of human flesh for its taste or nutritional value.) Archeologists have found bones of our ancestors from a million years ago with de-fleshing marks and evidence of bone smashing to get at the marrow inside; there are signs that the victims also had their brains eaten. Children were not off the menu. And we are supposed to eat the favorite meats of our uncivilized, pre-Agriculture Revolution, hunter-gather, ancestors?

The Paleo Diet Is a Nutritional Nightmare

By nature, the Paleo Diet is based on artery-clogging saturated fats and cholesterol, and bone-damaging, acidic proteins from animal foods. Respected researchers find that those modern-day hunter-gather populations who base their diets on meat, such as the Inuits (Eskimos), suffer from heart disease and other forms of atherosclerosis, and those modern-day hunter-gathers who base their diets on plant foods (starches) are free of these diseases. Osteoporosis, from their high animal food-based diets, is also epidemic among meat and fish consuming hunter-gathers, specifically the Inuits.

In an attempt to defend eating animals, Paleo teachers believe the harmful nutrients from these foods are counteracted by the addition of non-starchy fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds.

Furthermore, according to Dr. Cordain, a diet very high in animal protein foods would cause a person to become seriously ill with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and eventually death from protein toxicity (also known as “rabbit starvation”). (p 105). For most people the dietary ceiling for protein is 200 to 300 grams a day or about 30 to 40 percent of the normal daily calorie intake. The Paleo Diet is as high as 35% protein. (p 24) Contradicting his warnings, Dr. Cordain consistently and frequently emphasizes that “Protein is the dieter’s friend.” (p 48).
Eating animal-derived foods causes our most common diseases for many well-established reasons, including the indisputable facts that they contain no dietary fiber, are filthy with disease-causing microbes (including mad cow prions, and E. coli and salmonella bacteria), and contain the highest levels of poisonous environmental chemicals found in the food chain. Remember, disease-causing red meats, poultry, fish, and eggs make up 55% of the Paleo Diet.

The June 21, 2012 issue of the British Medical Journal presented the latest updates on the long-term health hazards of low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets, and reported that, “In particular, women had a 5% higher incidence of cardiovascular disease (heart disease) for each tenth of an increase in the low carbohydrate-high protein score, yielding a 62% higher incidence among women in the highest categories of low carbohydrate-high protein diets compared with the lowest.” These low-carb diets, from Atkins to Paleo, are simply dangerous.

Paleo Nutrition Contradicts the Obvious: Most People Have Lived on Starch-based Diets

All large populations of trim, healthy people, throughout verifiable human history, have obtained the bulk of their calories from starch. Examples of once-thriving people include Japanese, Chinese, and other Asians eating sweet potatoes, buckwheat, and/or rice; Incas in South America eating potatoes; Mayans and Aztecs in Central America eating corn; and Egyptians in the Middle East eating wheat. There have been only a few small isolated populations of primitive people, such as the Arctic Eskimos, living at the extremes of the environment, who have eaten otherwise.

Therefore, scientific documentation of what people have eaten over the past thirteen thousand years convincingly supports that starch, not animals, is the traditional diet of people.

Men and women following diets based on grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables have accomplished most of the great feats in history. The ancient conquerors of Europe and Asia, including the armies of Alexander the Great (356 - 323 BC) and Genghis Khan (1162 - 1227 AD) consumed starch-based diets. Caesar’s legions complained when they had too much meat in their diet and preferred to do their fighting on grains. Primarily six foods: barley, maize (corn), millet, potatoes, rice, and wheat, have fueled the caloric engines of human civilization.

The longest living populations on planet Earth today live on starch-based (low-animal food) diets. These include people from Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and the Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California, who live in what are called the “Blue Zones.”

The most effective diets ever used to cure people of common day illnesses, like coronary heart disease, type-2 diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, arthritis, and obesity minimize animal foods and require people eat the bulk of their calories from starches, including grains, legumes, and potatoes (foods forbidden to Paleo eaters). Medical giants in starch-based diet-therapy, include Walter Kempner MD, the founder of the Rice Diet at Duke University; Nathan Pritikin; and Roy Swank, MD, founder of the dietary treatment of multiple sclerosis at Oregon Health & Science University.

Widespread Adoption of the Paleo Diet Would Soon Become an Ecological Disaster

The 2006 United Nations’ report Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options concludes: “Livestock have a substantial impact on the world’s water, land and biodiversity resources and contribute significantly to climate change. Animal agriculture produces 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalents), compared with 13.5 percent from all forms of transportation combined.

This report (Livestock’s Long Shadow) from the World Health Organization is a conservative estimate of the destruction caused by the very foods that the Paleo Diet recommends in abundance. Calculations by the World Watch Institute find that over 51 percent of the global warming gases are the result of raising animals for people to eat. A recent report from U.S. Geological Survey estimates that it takes 4,000 to 18,000 gallons of water to produce the beef used to make one juicy hamburger. Every person that Paleo gurus convince to follow an animal food-based diet brings us one more step closer to the end of the world, as we know it.

Civilizations Could Not Have Thrived on the Paleo Diet

According to Dr. Cordain, “The Agriculture Revolution changed the world and allowed civilizations—cities, culture, technological and medical achievements, and scientific knowledge—to develop.” (p 43) In other words, if people had remained on a diet of mostly animal foods (assuming our ancestors actually did), we would still be living in the Stone Age. Fortunately, the Agriculture Revolution, with the efficient production of grains, legumes, and potatoes—the very foods forbidden by the Paleo Diet—allowed us to become civilized.

Dr. Cordain finishes his 2011 revision of his national best-selling book The Paleo Diet by warning, “Without them (starches, like wheat, rice, corn, and potatoes), the world could probably support one-tenth or less of our present population…” (p 215) Choose 10 close friends and family members. Which nine should die so that the Paleo people can have their way? There is a better way and that is The Starch Solution.



3 Comments | Leave a comment


Everyone says they love animals, but have no issue with having them tortured, slowly murdered and in many cases, skinned alive. The myth and lie that is currently being perpetuated about not having energy on a vegan diet, is just that. A justification by carnivores to continue their inhumane diet. Many individuals including myself now thirty years on a vegan diet, enjoy prescription and otc drug free lives due completey to a plant/starch based diet. If nothing else, it saves lives, at least one hundred animals per year per vegan. There are no arguments that can or should justify the nazi blueprint of slaughterhouses or other killing of animals including the lame argument about the murder of animals in agriculture. It's negligible compared to the slaughterhouses and hunting.


"The body parts of animals, including red meat, poultry, seafood, and fish, and eggs, contain no carbohydrates."

This is wrong. The amount in many animal foods is negligible, but not zero. Some animal products, such as beef liver, have small amounts. 4 oz. of beef liver contains about 4g of carbohydrate. Some shellfish, on the other hand, has significantly more. 4 oz. of scallops, for instance, has 4g of carbohydrate, but has far fewer calories than beef liver, which means it contains more carbohydrate as a percentage of calories. Beef liver is only about 11% carbohydrate by calories, whereas scallops are 19% carbohydrate. What is significant about this is that humans have a taste for fat and carbohydrate, but not protein.

Cooking is cultural and has only been practiced consistently for about 50,000 years, not long enough for human physiology to appreciably adapt to cooked foods. Take potatoes, for instance. Yes, humans produce more amylase and have more adaptations for digesting starch than other primates, but nowhere near the adaptations of rooting animals like pigs. We cannot thrive on raw potatoes. See: The small amount of adaptation for digesting starches that has taken place is similar to adaptations for consuming milk. Certain physiological processes (production of lactase enzyme during infancy, or amylase production necessary to digest fruits and vegetables) existed in humans before the pressures of natural selection. Humans adapted to environmental pressures by both genetic changes and cultural changes, expanding the human environment. These are as responsible for environmental destruction as any modern farming practice.

The foods available between 200,000 (emergence of anatomically modern humans) and 50,000 years ago would have been animal foods (not dairy, and only if we could hunt successfully), nuts and seeds (very limited), fruits and vegetables (the ones that wouldn't have required cooking to fully assimilate). On a spectrum of diets between a paleo diet and the diet of a chimpanzee, the historic early human diet would have been more like that of the chimpanzee. Most calories would come from fruit (80-95%), a portion from vegetables (5-10%), a small amount from nuts and seeds (1-2%) and a small amount from animal flesh (1-2%). They might vary with the easy with which they could be obtained.

I followed an "raw paleo diet" for some months with the idea that the diet should be meat-heavy. I tried eating lean meats combined with moderate amounts of fat (suet & marrow) and separate meals of fruits and veggies. I found that I lost weight, too much in fact (my BMI fell from 20.7 to 17.3). The high amount of protein suppressed my appetite so much that I was not eating enough. At the same time, the raw meat and fat was completely unappetizing. My instincts told me I should only be eating fruits and veggies, of the foods that were available. The only animal flesh that had any taste to it were organ meats and shellfish.

I took a break from the diet, returned to eating the SAD, gained the weight back (a big plus).

Next I tried a "zero carb" version of the "raw paleo diet", eating 100% animal products. Once I got my protein consumption down to 20% of my calories (or sometimes a little less), I could follow the diet without losing too much weight (my BMI only fell to 18.3). At this point I was eating around 8 oz. of fat each day. Eating, however, was not enjoyable at all. It was a chore, which kept me from being hungry. I never adapted to ketosis, even after a month eating this way. I often felt weak and foggy in the head. I enjoyed organ meats a little, and shellfish a lot. I finally realized that it had something to do with the carbohydrate (i.e. sugar) content of the animal foods. Clearly, my instincts were to eat carbohydrates.

I abandoned the paleo diet, trusting my instincts that I needed carbohydrates. I transitioned to eating a (cooked) vegan diet. While this was a great improvement over the paleo diet and I felt much more satisfied with the food and had more energy overall and better mental clarity, I was very aware of how heavily the food sat in my stomach. From eating "paleo" I knew that small meals of only meat, or only fruit, digested very easily and quickly in my stomach. Cooked starches require so much energy to digest that activity after a meal has to be reduced to that the body can properly digest the food. Also, the food is completely unappetizing without the addition of salt, spices, seasonings, sugar and oils. All of these present health problems, hence my desire to avoid using them, which only made my food bland and unpalatable.

Finally, it occurred to me that I had it wrong. A true evolutionary diet would have been more like a chimp diet than the paleo diet. Meat would not have been a large part of the diet since it is unappetizing. It would only have been scavenged when other foods were unavailable. Shellfish would have tasted good and "hunting" for them can be easy, but they were not generally available in our evolutionary environment. Grains and tubers are not particularly edible in their raw state, leafy plants cannot make up the bulk of the diet due to physical constraints and again are not very palatable, and nuts are not in great enough abundance. Fruit must have made up the bulk of the diet. Fruit tastes good and can be found in abundance all year in the tropics of Africa. No other whole food is easier for humans to digest.

I do not think that animal foods were ever so significant a part of the human diet (for long enough time) that we need to consume them. We can eat maybe 1-2% of our calories from animal foods without serious ill health effects, but as they are unnecessary and hence unethical, I do not eat any. Humans are omnivores, but that does not mean that we need to eat meat, only that we can eat it in appreciable amounts if necessary for survival. A low-fat, raw vegan diet is the optimal diet for health, as well as the most ethical.


People who promote the paleolithic diet forget some important facts.

> The hunter-gather lifestyle occurred during a specific window in our past. During other periods we followed different diets.

> It is only recently that we have had much control over our diet. In the past our diet was a reflection of our environment and we adapted to whatever foods were available. That doesn't necessarily mean it was ideal. Evolving to survive a specific dietary constraint doesn't necessarily mean we will thrive with the constraint.

> The high-protein high-fat diets of the paleolithic era supported the strenuous requirements of the hunter-gather lifestyle. Readers wishing to adopt the diet would be advised to adopt the entire lifestyle, which includes wandering around in the woods all day either gathering edible vegetation or hunting for game, depending on your gender.

> 64% of people adopting this lifestyle will of course die by the time they reach 45, with 43% of all children dying by age 15. The rest of you will be brimming with health until you die at about 65.

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