Three Indigenous Australians on Bathurst Island in 1939. According to Peterson (1998), the island was a population isolated for 6,000 years until the eighteenth century. In 1929, three quarters of the population supported themselves off the bush.
I was reading a recent blog post on the Paleo diet and the author made a good point that we really and truly do not know exactly how pre-agricultural revolution, i.e. ”Paleo”, man, ate. We can gain some insight from the archeological record and from studying modern hunter-gatherers, but neither of these methods are a time machine.
There is evidence that Paleo peoples ate some grains. They certainly ate tubers and nightshades (geographically dependent, of course). In fact, they probably ate whatever they could get their hands on. That’s pretty much the definition of hunter-gatherer. If they came across a bowl of pasta with a side of Krispy Kremes and a nice cold diet coke, I am sure that they would be very happy (and engorged).
But, and this is a big one, these foods did not form the bulk or basis of their diet. They also were far more active than people these days (think of all that hunting and gathering along with the lack of cars, video games, and other modern movement defeating devices).
AND, this is the other big one, we know that:
…modern diseases like diabetes, obesity, cancer, autoimmunity and heart disease were rare (or even nonexistent) in paleo people and are still rare in the few HG [hunter-gatherer] groups around the world that have been lucky enough to preserve their traditional diet and lifestyle.
We also know that when modern foods like wheat flour, industrial seed oils and sugar are introduced in these populations, the incidence of modern diseases goes up commensurately. And, even more telling, when these groups return to their traditional ways, the modern diseases disappear again. This suggests that it wasn’t some genetic vulnerability that caused them to develop modern diseases with the introduction of modern foods.
So, what does this mean? It means that we may never know exactly how paleo peoples ate (or worshipped or exercised or why they got tattoos or lots of things), and it does not really matter. It may be that the “Paleo Diet” is a complete misnomer (although I highly doubt it), but that does not change the fact that it is an extremely healthy way to eat. Whether Paleo man periodically ate starch or not, or would happily devour a bag of Doritos with a Wonder bread chaser or not, does not change the fact that current science, completely irrespective of Paleolithic anthropology, has determined that sugar, high fructose corn syrup, flour, and other ubiquitous modern ingredients are harmful to our health.