Limiting carbohydrates is one of the tenets of the Paleo diet, but a new study argues that a true Paleo diet should include carbs.
The diet is named after the Paleolithic Era, the earliest period of human development, and promotes eating foods that our caveman ancestors supposedly would have eaten.
That has generally meant an emphasis on food groups like meat and vegetables and a limitation of food groups like dairy and carbohydrates.
A recent study uses archaeological, anthropological, genetic, physiological and anatomical data to argue that carbs — especially the type known as starches — fueled not only cavemen’s stomachs, but also the evolution of their brains, according to a news release from the University of Chicago Press, which publishes the journal in which the study appears.
The study authors write:
Although previous studies have highlighted a stone tool-mediated shift from primarily plant-based to primarily meat-based diets as critical in the development of the brain and other human traits, we argue that digestible carbohydrates were also necessary to accommodate the increased metabolic demands of a growing brain.
Mark Thomas, a professor of evolutionary genetics at University College London and one of the study authors, tells British publication The Telegraph that carbs should be “put back” in today’s Paleo diet. He says that along with meat, carbohydrates likely enabled humans to become the dominant species:
“Plant carbohydrates and meat were both necessary and complementary dietary components in human evolution. … Consumption of increased amounts of starch may have provided a substantial evolutionary advantage.”
Plant-based starches include root tubers like potatoes.
Thomas also cites a combination of an increased interest in and confusion over healthy diets:
“There is little clear agreement on what quantitatively constitutes a healthy diet, or indeed a Paleolithic diet, with much conflicting information disseminated to the public.
Eating food suited to the way our metabolisms evolved is a fantastic idea, but if you buy a book on the Paleo diet it’s probably rubbish. We know so little about what the Paleolithic diet was.”
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