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Paleolithic diets: a sceptical view

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Some anthropologists have suggested that humans are genetically determined to eat diets quite different from those of today. Very little human evolution has occurred in the past 15,000 years. However, diets have changed dramatically and in parallel with a shift in disease patterns from infectious diseases and diseases associated with nutrient deficiencies, to chronic degenerative diseases associated with excessive and unbalanced intake of energy and nutrients. This review examines some of the archaeological evidence relating to the diets of early man and other primates, and current hunter-gatherer societies. Knowledge of the relative proportions of animal and plant foods in the diets of early humans is circumstantial, incomplete, and debatable and there are insufficient data to identify the composition of a genetically-determined optimal diet. The evidence related to Paleolithic diets is best interpreted as supporting the idea that diets based largely on plant foods promote health and longevity, at least under conditions of food abundance and physical activity.
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Keywords: diet; homonid; hunter-gatherer; paleolithic; prehistoric; primates

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, New York University, New York, USA

Publication date: 01 March 2000

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