I overheard a young man in yoga the other day saying that he and his wife had been on the “paleo diet.” She took herself off that diet when she became pregnant. That’s the good news. The bad news was that she discovered that she was now gluten intolerant.
I live in a cave, pretty much, so I’d never heard of the paleo diet. A few minutes on the all-mighty all-knowing internet and I’m now an expert. Well, good enough for dinner conversation, anyway.
Seems that the diet is supposed to consist of what mankind was eating some 10,000 years before the present. No grains, no refined sugars. And apparently no milk, either. What, no cows back then? Overall, the diet seems smart – good foods, natural, stay away from the processed junk and sugar. Except one small thing.
That small thing is the fundamental assumption underlying the paleo diet. That biologically we are the same species, only 10,000 years later. Are we?
Absolutely not. If good old Chuck Darwin proved anything, it was the fact (FACT) that over time, species change. And we know why they change; it’s called variation and selection. If the paleo diet people think that we’re the same species over 10,000 years, they simply aren’t looking closely enough.
Ooooh – hate mail from the paleo people. I’m so scared. They say we can’t really measure this sort of thing. (We can.) They say that even if we can measure this, we can’t know what genetic changes really mean for today’s human. (Dang it. They’re right about this one.) What are we to do?
We look to biology for insight. And one of the greatest insights within the last few years is the discovery of our biome – the mass of living things in and around our body. A large part of our biome makes up our digestive system, and in an impressive display of cooperation and feedback, our gut not only helps us live within our environment, it can actually enhance our experience. Without the right bugs, we won’t be as happy.
Which brings me back to the young lady who is suddenly intolerant of gluten. It may be that her “paleo diet” has shifted her microbiome in such a way so that she is no longer tolerant of grains. It’s taken thousands of years of her ancestors to develop a relationship with the local bugs to digest those grains – and she’s lost it. Worse, she can be endangering her unborn child.
And that’s where evolution comes in. Her ancestors tried eating grains. Face it. Her ancestors were hungry, and I’m sure that they ate whatever they could get their hands on. Paleo diet my foot. Back then they were starving most of the time! You caught it, found it, or unburied it, you ate it! And some of those ancestors tried eating grains. Luckily, those ancestors may have already had some grain-friendly bugs in their guts. Guess what? The grains went down and stayed down.
Those ancestors went on to have some kids. The kids ate their spaghetti and had their own kids. And so on and so on until this young lady was born. Except she decided to go on the paleo diet and has (possibly) lost her grain-bugs.
Moral of the story. Eat right. Take care of yourself. And never, never, bet against Mother Nature. Whether she comes in the form of evolution, climate change, or the biome, she is one powerful bitch.
Now, how about some garlic pasta?