November 20, 2006

What is Paleodiet?

[The following is my translation of Vad är Paleodiet? by Hans Kylberg, an introductory article on Paleodiet. I found this article by a link from, after I first heard of Paleodiet from posts at This is my first written translation of a whole article from Swedish, or any other language, done as an experiment in language learning.]

Paleodiet means eating the way that man originally did, the way that man is made to eat.

During the most recent millennia the circumstances of man's life have changed radically. Certainly so for people 10 thousand years ago, for others quite recently, for northern Europeans in the last 3 - 4 thousand years. That is a very small part of our existence as a species. The genus "Homo" is approximately 1.5 - 2 million years old. The species "Homo Sapiens" is 100,000 - 150,000 years old (if one counts from when our ancestors became anatomically entirely like us.)

(I have attempted illustrating this here with a simple perspective on prehistoric time [in Swedish].)

What food is valid for us to eat underwent transformation as we began to eat a great multitude of domesticated grass seed and, in our part of the world, milk from cows, a species which overproduces, i.e. gives a surplus of milk in excess of what calves need. Plants which in their natural condition will not do for eating have been incorporated into our diet through being made edible thanks to being domesticated and/or through treating harshly in a different way (heating, fermentation, etc.)

In the latest times we have besides this begun to alter food in yet more sophisticated ways, e.g. refining. It has got to where we can quickly stuff in us a massive sugarlump which corresponds to a wheelbarrow loaded with beets. Or to alter molecules in vegetable oils to get margarine, etc.

Earlier our ancestors lived on what one could hunt and gather in nature. Longer back, the only tools made use of for this were stones and sticks, for killing game (stones and spears,) and cutting (sharpened stones,) and digging up roots (digging sticks.)

For anyone who would immerse himself more in this, see a detailed timeline of our ancestors' diet. (Latest updates: here, here, and here.) [Links in English.]

Our health has also altered. Foremost a new type of illness has arisen, autoimmune diseases, which come from immune defenses mistakenly attacking the body's own cells. These illnesses, in modern man very common, never occur in wild animals (but well may in domesticated animals and animals in captivity, if they get feed that is not naturally theirs) and never either in the small groups of people who still live a hunter-gatherer life.

Many researchers worldwide, in medicine, anthropology, archaeology, etc., have in modern times begun to realize the connection between these points now: (just now seen from the perspective which the human species' history makes up) eating habits and autoimmune diseases, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases.

We are quite simply not made to eat a large part of our usual food. But, you may say, man has nevertheless eaten bread for thousands of years and survived. Yes, we have survived, and by and large multiplying ourselves immoderately (except those most badly getting by on the new food.) But at the cost of worse health, especially during the later part of life. The main point is we are not adapted to grain, milk, and so on. We are still intended to eat hunter-gatherer lifestyle food and nothing else.

Paleodiet is a search to recreate the combination of foods that are natural for mankind. Exactly what that includes is not quite clear. How long back shall we seek? In which environment did our ancestors live then, and what did they find to eat there?

[picture of wooly mammoth]

What we know fairly certainly is that after brains became bigger they demanded more high-quality protein in the diet. That was got from meat, in the beginning maybe in the form of carcasses. When one learned to use tools it became easier to catch and/or cut up prey, thus brains grew larger, thus tools were made better, and so on. Meat is consequently a very important part of the diet. It can come from all kinds of animals, but we do not know if some fish and shellfish originally entered into the diet. (Man especially needs certain substances that are foremost in these animals.)

Longer back we were primarily fruit and plant eaters and before that insect eaters. Among today's hunter-gatherer people this is still an important source of nourishment, if it is available. Some trace of pure vegetarian man has not been found.

How large a part of fare was made up of respective food groups one does not know with certainty. Neither do we know exactly which animals were most important, or which plants were available to eat. Plausibly we all descend from Africa 100 - 200 thousand years ago, but we do not know which part.

Therefore Paleodiet is nothing one can say something absolute about, without each doing research to educate himself for his own comprehension. It must more be looked at as an idea which can lay the ground for a personal diet.

It is clear though that grain and milk and products of these ought not to be eaten. Here one can also show clearly a connection with autoimmune diseases. Beans are by nature poisonous, and none can have entered into our original foodstuffs, but whether judged in a processed condition they can be eaten or not is unclear. Same thing with potatoes.

Besides we do not of course know what happens with food when it transforms through heating, pressure, etc., that is to say, if the result is something that our organism "recognizes" and can handle in the right way. This concerns quite clearly, for example, margarine and artificial sweeteners. But the question is what happens peculiarly when we eat prepared meat, vegetables, etc.

Another question is the composition of food substances in domesticated animals and plants that we eat. Cows, sheep, and pigs contain more and different fat than wild animals in general. Modern vegetables have less fiber than wild; fruit, more and different sugar. We may or may not eat a rich variety of plants, and can worry whether they are without important substances.

Additionally a question is those species which are not found in man's original territory (Africa.) It concerns, e.g., plants of the nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, etc.) which answer home to America. Bananas I suppose come from Southeast Asia and are very different from other fruit (but contain by mass important substances, so it would be a pity to give them up.) Citrus fruit likewise. Are we so to speak adapted to fruit in general, or only to those fruits that had a home in (certain parts of) Africa?

Such a view is this very radical departure from the normal Swedish diet. Several important protein sources have gone out, which indicates that meat and fish need to be eaten in greater quantities. Many Paleodieters also have a concentration on moderation in carbohydrates and maybe accentuate fats more.

For those who would like to know more about paleodiet and the like, there a lot of links on The Paleolithic Diet Page. [The site in English that linked to the original of this article.]

Staffan Lindeberg is the foremost Swedish researcher into this territory: [This site includes one short article in English summarizing Lindberg's published scientific work on the diet of Kitava islanders.]

There is a Swedish e-postlist/forum Go to:

A second pair of Swedish sites with, among other features, discussion forums: as well as

An additional Swedish site with a lot of information on food: [English translation of that page.]

An interesting explanation of how lectin in grain, beans, milk, etc., can lead to autism is found in a contribution of Loren Cordain to "Paleodiet Symposium": "Grains, humanity's two-edged sword" [Links expired.]

For my own part I eat about this much: [In Swedish, but you can see a picture of what he eats.]

Last updated 2004-12-01 by Hans Kylberg

[Translation last updated 2006-11-18]

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