Should we run barefoot and eat like hunter-gatherers? Robert Herritt on a new book that debunks paleo living as a misreading of evolution.
Thinking fondly of some gauze-filtered yesteryear where manufacturing jobs abounded and kids played outside more is one thing. But proponents of the so-called paleo lifestyle are taking it back a bit further—all the way to the Pleistocene. This popular movement advocates for a return to some of the habits of our pre-agricultural relatives when it comes to eating, exercising, or even rearing children.
The reasoning deployed by such aspiring cavemen goes something like this: since humans evolved in an environment far different from the one we currently inhabit, the road to health and happiness lies in adopting a few of the practices of our hunter-gatherer forbears.
In other words, some paleo proponents have it, we’ve evolved to eat meat, nuts, and fruit, not grains and dairy. And our bodies are better suited to irregular bursts of predator-evading or prey-tracking activities, not daily, long-distance jogs in designer running shoes. What’s more, many of our most common health problems have arisen because of our unfortunate deviation from such prelapsarian modes of action.
Among the most prominent defenders of this view is Loren Cordain, a professor at Colorado State University’s health and exercise science department. He and his fellow researchers have argued that hunter-gatherers rarely or never suffer from coronary heart disease, obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, epithelial cell cancers, autoimmune disease, and osteoporosis—“diseases of civilization.” It is the “mismatch” between our ancient bodies and the modern diet and lifestyle that brings about these problems.