What is a paleolithic diet?by Urban Urmensch
The buzz about modern paleolithic diets is confusing. Each advocate has his own interpretation of the rules. Some count carbs and emphasize losing weight. Others are meant for athletes who want to gain. Most have restrictions on grain and legumes, and some also exclude nightshades. We read incredible testimonials of remissions of diabetes or heart disease, or massive weight loss. Yet each success story speaks of a different version of the diet.
The concept has been around for at least half a century. Possibly the earliest elaboration was made by Shatin   in the 1960s. In the summary to his 1967 paper Shatin states:
...agriculture and husbandry by creating biologically new foods in the form of cereal staples and dairy products initiated a challenge to man's metabolism (gluten-induced enteropathy and various disaccharidase dificiencies), that the ability to meet this challenge (an aspect of biologic fitness) is genetically determined and further that this new comprehension of the epochal changes in man's biological evolution brought about by the transition from food-gathering to agriculture and husbandry offers hopes of providing keys to some outstanding problems in medicine.This probably the most accurate description of the Paleo concept that has ever been written. But Shatin died soon after, and political events of the 1960s put his ideas into eclipse. Research into the topic was discouraged. Wheat and milk became the basis of Western self-esteem: the very basis of our civilization. Evolution was denounced as communisitic. Schools were denied money for textbooks. Spencerism replaced evolution when simple Biblical myths would not answer. Instead of adapting our environment to us, we were expected to adapt to the environment provided by our military leaders. C-rations, hamburgers, and other fast food restricted our dietary choices. Ketchup became a vegetable, and we were constantly reminded that "everybody needs milk". Man became the naked ape, surviving by virtue of his extreme aggression.
It was in this environment that gastroenterologist Walter L. Voegtlin self-published The Stone Age Diet. It built on the popular themes presented in African Genesis . Voegtlin analyzed the digestive tracts of various animals and concluded that humans are carnivores. He advocated a high fat diet consisting mainly of animal foods.
A decade later Eaton and Conner came to the aid of establishment wisdom in their 1985 article in the New England Journal of Medicine. Here they advocated a diet based on the proportions of protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals ingested by paleolithic populations. They also wrote a 1988 book The Paleolithic Prescription  where they advocated low-fat milk, whole-grain bread, brown rice, and potatoes prepared without fat. They completely fail to address the possibility of widespread intolerances to newly introduced foods. This is the very basis of the paleo diet.
The most solid work to date has been done by Dr. Staffan Lindeberg of Lund University in Sweden. He spent many years practicing medicine on the Pacific island of Kitava. Here he noted that the islanders did not suffer from common Western diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. In his thoroughly referenced 2010 book Food and Western Disease  he advocates a diet that avoids grains, dairy products, refined fats, sugar, and legumes. He suggests lean meat, fatty fish, vegetables, fruit, root vegetables, and nuts as recommended foods.
He admits this is an impossible diet (p229):
Very few people are able to follow this kind of diet without compromises (I cannot manage this, for example).Then there are the popularizers: Loren Cordain  and Robb Wolf . These writers are experts in exercise physiology, and they target athletes. They also admit that their diet is impossible by advocating cheat days. They often see paleolithic diets as a form of low carbing.
The most interesting new idea is not generally considered paleo, but it should be. In Survival of the Fattest  Stephen Cunnane argues from a nutritional standpoint that humans must have evolved at shorelines. His is a sort of semi-aquatic ape theory. Among other things our need for dietary iodine is telling. Without iodized salt humans don't do well in continental areas. Neanderthal fossils look suspiciously like modern humans with cretinism (a form of iodine deficiency).
DNA analysis shows that the human line diverged from chimpanzees 6-8 million years ago. Probably this was when two ape chromosomes stuck together to make human chromosome 2. We must have evolved separately since then in different areas, because this chromosome difference would have caused extremely low fertility in cross breeding.
If early humans evolved at the sea shores rather than the jungles, it would explain a lot. Due to climate fluctuations the average sea level has generally been lower than it is today. Most fossil evidence would be buried under the seas. Early tools and dwellings would have been fashioned from driftwood and decomposed without a trace. Our paleolithic diet would have been raw fish, seaweed, and coconut. Not much different from the Kitavans that Dr. Lindeberg studied.
What can anyone make of all this? Disputed areas include nightshades, quinoa, various grains, starchy root vegetables, sugar, and dairy products. Some advocate eliminating legumes, but include them in their recommended menus anyway. In some cases paleolithic nutrition may only be a sexy name for a new fad diet.
I intend to lay out some solid science behind modern paleolithic diets. Lindeberg has shown clearly that there is something in our modern lifestyle that causes our epidemic of degenerative diseases. These diseases cause widespread suffering and burden us with enormous expense. In these autoimmune diseases the immune system seems to go astray and attack our own organs.
Robb Wolf has worked as a biochemist, and his description of immunity explains aspects of autoimmunity and allergy that are not widely appreciated. The immune system does not really recognize anything. Immune globulins stick to small patterns of electrical charge on large proteins. These same patterns can recur in what Robb calls molecular mimicry. So when the immune system attacks a protein in wheat, it can also attack proteins in our body and damage us.
This jibes with an explanation given to me by a post-doc in immunology many years ago. When he found out I had allergies, he took me out to lunch and explained how the immune system really works. The military had the power to secretly veto research grants for national security reasons, and creationists used this power to stifle research that referenced evolution. They dared not write plainly. Instead researchers kept their insight to themselves.
"It (the immune system) functions because of evolution". He explained. "In an individual sense it does not work, but at a species level, it works."
I can't say that I understood everything he told me. It was only later that I understood. Our DNA contains a kind of computer code for the biochemical synthesis machine that is us. It is totally impossible for that code to specify a way to recognize itself. The only reason we think it does is that we have evolved in parallel with our food sources and environment. Any novelty such as a new food source or microbe runs the risk of setting off an immune reaction that may show up as an autoimmune condition.
Since that day forty years ago, I have been waiting in vain for medicine to catch up with immunology and biochemisty. Still today I pick up medical texts that speak of the immune system acting like soldiers, recognizing enemies, and targeting them for destruction. That theory should be filed on a shelf next to the four humors explanation of disease. It is obsolete. It is wrong.
I've been treated by medical quack after medical quack for diseases I did not have. When I was diagnosed with a serious case of diabetes, I took matters into my own hands. By means of elimination diets and blood tests I gradually converged on a paleolithic diet. My diabetes went into remission, and my neuropathy is slowly fading. I take no insulin or other drugs for diabetes. Other allergies also vanished. I used to need antihistamines and decongestants several times a day, but I no longer use them. This is not a starvation diet, yet I have lost over a hundred pounds. I no longer have appetite for modern problem foods, and I have plenty of healthy food that I can eat.
I will use this website to lay out my vision of paleolithic nutrition. What we need is a practical modern diet based on the insight that evolution brings to us. We are not looking for a diet that is organic, natural, or raw. I would characterize those as paleo-romantic diets, because they substitute romantic ideas for science.
We want to make use of the best knowledge of food chemistry, immunology, cladistics, and modern food preparation techniques. We are not searching for a quick weight loss diet, or a diet to cure some particular illness. We only seek a diet that does not make us ill. Such a diet should not be difficult or require cheat days. To keep things clear, I am going to call my version a paleo-technical diet to distinguish it from other variations.
Lindeberg has shown that modern hunter gatherers such as the Kitavans have such a diet. They don't count calories or carbs. They don't tally up their protein and fats, and our paleolithic ancestors didn't either. Surely we can do as well with our greater resources and knowledge.
 Shatin, R. Man and His Cultigens Scientific Australian Vol 1, March 1964, pp 34-39.
 Shatin, R. The Transistion from Food-Gathering to Food-Production in Evolution and Disease Vitalstoffe, Zivilizationskrankeiten Vol 12, 1967, pp 104-7.
 Voegtlin, Walter L. (1975) The Stone Age Diet. Vantage Press. ISBN 0-533-01314-3.
 Ardrey, Robert. (1961, 1967, 1970) African Genesis. McMillan, Simon and Schuster, Dell, others.
 Eaton, S. Boyd; Konner, Melvin. (1985) Paleolithic Nutrition. The New England Journal of Medicine. 312 (5): 283-289. PMID 2981409.
 Eaton, S. Boyd; Shostak, Marjorie; & Konner, Melvin. (1988). The Paleolithic Prescription. Harper & Row ISBN 0-06-015871-9
 Lindeberg, Staffan. (2010) Food and Western Disease. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-9771-7.
 Cordain, Loren. (2012) The Paleo Answer. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 978-1-118-01608-4.
 Wolf, Robb. (2010) The Paleo Solution. Victory Belt Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9825658-4-1.
 ibid p. 80.
 Cunnane, Stephen C. (2005) Survival of the Fattest World Scientific Publishing Co. Singapore. ISBN 981-256-191-9