What are the implications of the evolutionary lifestyle? To find out, we must first figure out what the evolutionary lifestyle consisted of. The timeline of human evolution indicates that evolutionary change takes place over hundreds of thousands of years. To put that into perspective, the complete timeline—from the earliest lifeforms to modern humans—spans 4 billion years.
We are the heirs of inherited characteristics accrued over millions of years; the vast majority of our biochemistry and physiology are tuned to life conditions that existed prior to the advent of agriculture some 10,000 years ago. Genetically our bodies are virtually the same as they were at the end of the Paleolithic era some 20,000 years ago.
The Paleolithic era, otherwise known as the Stone Age, spans from 2.5 million years ago, with the introduction of stone tools, until the advent of agriculture 8,000-12,000 years ago. During this era, humans lived as hunter-gatherers. Anatomically modern humans—people with the same physical appearance and intelligence as ourselves—appeared in Africa at least 130,000 years ago.
Since our bodies have evolved to thrive under Paleolithic conditions, mimicking the Paleolithic lifestyle is the key to optimum health. We can immediately see that the implications of this approach are at odds with much of the conventional wisdom. The basic premises carry radical implications. A few examples:
- Diet: primarily meat, fish, shellfish, leafy vegetables, fruit, nuts and insects.
- Eating meat is the foundation of a good diet.
- Fat is good for you. Good quality fats (they ate the entire animal) are essential for good health.
- Grains and dairy have no evolutionary precedent in the human diet. We should therefore expect them to be lousy sources of nutrition and possibly even harmful.
- Water: drink when you feel thirsty, there’s no evolutionary precedent for forcing down 8 glasses of water per day. Nor is there any precedent for drinking fluoride-medicated water.
- Skin health: our ancestors lived for millions of years under the sun, without sunscreen (or clothes). We should expect sunlight to be healthy, but excessive exposure (sunburn) to be unhealthy. There’s no precedent for using moisturizing lotions, or other skin products, either.
- Exercise: Paleolithic exercise consisted of lots of low-intensity walking, coupled with occasional short bursts of high-intensity work (hunting, fleeing from predators, etc). Regular cardio exercise (jogging, cycling) has no evolutionary precedent. High-intensity, low-duration strength exercise is optimal.
- Rest: contrary to popular perception, hunter-gatherers enjoyed an abundance of leisure time. Laziness is natural.
Given that these ideas are extremely dangerous to some powerful special interests, it is perfectly obvious why the Paleolithic lifestyle is marginalized in mainstream health. In both the USA and Canada, the government publishes nutritional and health guidelines. And sure enough, they line up pretty nicely with the interests of some big lobbies. For example, both recommend eating a lot of grain and dairy, and using plenty of sunscreen.
If the bureaucrats and special interests are somehow right, we would be asked to accept a mind-boggling coincidence of stupendous proportions: that there is another type of lifestyle that by chance happens to be better suited for our bodies. Remember, our bodies have become highly specialized, through millions of years of evolutionary adaptation, to thrive under a specific set of conditions; it would be next to impossible for a different lifestyle to suit our bodies better than the one our bodies have literally grown into. The evolutionary lifestyle fits like a glove. There’s no alternative that could suit us any better.
For a neutral opinion:
From the advocates of the Paleolithic lifestyle:
- Mark’s Daily Apple – my favorite site about the Paleolithic lifestyle (he calls it the Primal Blueprint). I recommend starting with his Definitive Guide to the Primal Blueprint.
- PaNu – Dr. Kurt Harris is my new favorite paleo writer. He gives a rigorous scientific analysis of paleolithic nutrition. Check out his 12 steps.
- The Protein Power Lifeplan – this book draws upon both evolutionary theory and empirical evidence and offers a comprehensive Paleolithic lifestyle plan.