Research Says: The Paleo Diet is a Big, Fat Lie

Research Says: The Paleo Diet is a Big, Fat Lie

The fitness “gurus” may sound convincing, but the notion th
at getting back to our caveman roots at the dinner table is healthy — or even possible –just doesn’t hold up when you look at the facts. To the contrary, the latest research shows that our paleolithic ancestors’ diet probably looked very little like what you’ll find in the average paleo cookbook.

According to a paper recently published in The Quarterly Review of Biology, it doesn’t make much sense to assign just a few foods to the early-human menu, and even less sense to assume that these people constantly filled their stomachs with meat. The truth is that humans, ill-equipped to chase down prey given their bipedal construction, were probably opportunistic eaters, usually noshing on whatever was available and adapting their diets to circumstance.

Food choices may have included roots, bark and bugs, or often, nothing at all. Feast-or-famine wasn’t a figure of speech to the paleo crowd – it was a way of life. Only in modern times did we gain the luxury of picking and choosing our ingredients as we please, when we please.

“Hominids didn’t spread first across Africa, and then the entire globe, by utilizing just one foraging strategy or sticking to a precise mix of carbohydrates, proteins and fats,” wrote co-author Ken Sayers. “We did it by being ever so flexible, both socially and ecologically, and always searching for the greener grass (metaphorically), or riper fruit (literally).”

An enlightening summary from Takepart: “…foraging in the wild means dealing with seasonal flux in the availability of different types of food. It would also mean dramatically expanding our notion of what’s edible.”

So while some pearls of wisdom may come from the paleo chorus, like that refined sugars and processed foods are hardly nutritious staples, a meat-laden diet is likely neither “paleo” nor particularly healthy. And with the heavy toll of the meat industry on both our fellow animals and the planet, this is one fad that I’d like to see fade out soon.

Note: Please keep comments peaceful and family friendly.

Join the Conversation


  1. Infidel753

    I had no idea that the paleo diet was so meat-heavy. That’s absurd. One window into the lives of ancient hunter-gatherers is the study of modern hunter-gatherers, who still exist in a few areas of New Guinea, Amazonia, and other such places. Jared Diamond’s books are a good source on this (he spent enough time with such groups in New Guinea to pick up some of their languages).

    Hunting is hard work and with primitive weapons the success rate is low. It turns out it doesn’t contribute much to the food supply most of the time. Gathering plant foods is also hard work, but the return is pretty much guaranteed.

    The Atkins diet was also pretty meat-heavy, wasn’t it? I suspect these fads gain popularity as excuses for carnivorous behavior as much as anything.

    Reply Report comment
    • Lady Freethinker

      Hi Infidel! Yes, the Paleo diet is incredibly meat-centric, just like Atkins. A shame when most Americans already get way too much animal protein without following a fad diet.

      And I LOVE Jared Diamond! I’m working my way through The World Until Yesterday right now.

      Reply Report comment
  2. Aftab Gujral

    Which idiot came up with a meat-centric Paleo diet? Don’t these people have brain cells to think things through?

    Reply Report comment
    • Lady Freethinker

      Hi Aftab,

      It is ridiculous. I actually just saw a drink mix called Paleo beef protein powder, that you make into a shake. I’m sure THAT was around in the stone age.


      Reply Report comment
  3. Zosimus the Heathen

    I first heard of the Paleo Diet through my perusal of way too many manosphere* blogs – it’s quite big among the so-called “Red Pill” crowd. Interestingly enough, these people are into a whole heap of other health fads (eg juicing, nootropic drugs, taking artificial testosterone supplements) that also turn out to not have a lot of actual science supporting them. I’m sort of glad to hear that the Paleo Diet’s so much baloney, if for no other reason than the fact I found a lot of the people on it insufferably self-righteous about the fact (though I suppose that’s true of any health craze). What I found really interesting, though, is that there’re actually quite a few Christian fundamentalists who’re big fans of the Paleo Diet, even though most of them probably don’t believe that Paleolithic humans even existed! How’s that supposed to work? (I think a lot of them come up with a very tortured interpretation of Genesis to argue that the diet their god intended us to follow in the beginning was pretty much the Paleo Diet in everything but name.)

    *For those who don’t know, the manosphere is an unholy alliance of so-called Men’s Rights Activists, Pick-up Artists, Christian fundamentalists and assorted other kooks that seems to have been gaining quite a bit of notoriety of late.

    Reply Report comment
    • Lady Freethinker

      Hi Zosimus,

      People who believe the Earth is 6,000 years old follow the Paleo diet? I’d ask what their reasoning is, but I’m afraid of the answer (and even more afraid to enter the manosphere).

      Stay heathen!


      Reply Report comment
  4. Sarah

    Whilst this was interesting to read, I’d suggest knowing a bit more about a diet before dismissing it! Paleo diets focus first on vegetables, second on meat, third on starches and fruits. Most Paleo diets (The Smarter Science of Slim being backed up by literally 30 years of science) recommend 60-70% of the diet is plant-based, and that those plants be water-based, leafy and green. So it’s more of a veg-heavy diet than a meat-heavy one.

    Granted, meatheads (titter) and weight-lifting crazies have used Paelo to “bulk up” and thus given those diets a reputation for meat-focus.

    But despite this report, which sounds on the money, the science thoroughly backs up diets such as the Smarter Science of Slim as the healthiest in every way for human animals. And no, I don’t strictly follow any Paleo diet. I’m a pescatarian and live a vegan lifestyle and diet 80% of the time. Just sharing the knowledge! 🙂

    Reply Report comment
  5. Mark D Larsen

    The idea of eating a diet like our ancestors is laughable, not only because the foods of the Paleolithic smorgasbord no longer exist, but also because we no longer have to burn so many calories to scrounge and chase them down.

    I have often wondered, however, if our Paleolithic genes are the real culprit behind increased obesity. When early hominids were hunting and gathering, apparently they evolved taste buds for sweet and fatty foods, precisely because they provided the most calories per mouthful. Existence was feast-or-famine, so those who preferred such high energy foods in times of feast were the ones most likely to survive in times of famine —and thus passed along the same taste bud genes to their offspring. Conversely, those who liked the taste of celery more than that of grapes or mammoth… ended up thinned from the herd.

    Unfortunately, those taste bud genes that were once helpful are nowadays proving harmful, precisely because we have altered our environment: the preferred sweet and fatty foods are overly abundant and easily accessible. To make matters worse, obese people are rarely thinned from the herd until after they have reproduced, so those genes are still being passed along to subsequent generations.

    Perhaps a truly effective “diet pill” would be one that deadens our evolved taste buds to that sweet and fatty, high energy foods would henceforth taste like… cardboard. We’d still eat to satisfy hunger pangs, but not keep gorging simply because the dish tastes so irresistibly, lip-smacking delicious. Problem solved…?

    Reply Report comment
    • Lady Freethinker

      Hi Mark,

      Those poor celery eaters, wiped out for their love of vegetables!

      I think you’re on to something with the link between sweet/fatty food preferences and the obesity epidemic. With technology allowing us to concentrate sugar and fat and inject them into everyday foods, weight gain among the species was probably inevitable. And a diet pill that makes high-energy foods taste like cardboard would doubtless be effective — although life enjoyment would drop, too, if you couldn’t savor your meals. I wonder how many people would stick with taking it?


      Reply Report comment
      • Mark D Larsen

        Hi, Nina:

        Hah…! How many people would stick with taking such a diet pill? Probably no more than stick with any other diet plan. Blech. But while they were taking the pill, restaurants that offer “all-you-can-eat” buffets would sure increase their profits!

        Maybe what would really make a difference would be a diet pill that not only made sweet and fatty foods taste like cardboard, but also made celery taste like a mouth-watering, scrumptuous, better-than-sex delicacy…!?

        – Mark

        Reply Report comment
        • Lady Freethinker

          Now you’re definitely on to something!

  6. Michael Miller

    Put birth control in the water that would only target people who had a high level of fat. The way our abundant food sources is igniting the population
    explosion, we will need to put birth control in the water. But it would be good if we could target the retarded and the obese, who are apparently highly skilled at breeding and who are multiplying faster than the normal population.

    Reply Report comment

Get The Newsletter!

Fields marked with an * are required