Wikipedia says that “The Paleolithic diet…is a modern nutritional diet designed to emulate, insofar as possible using modern foods, the diet of wild plants and animals eaten by humans during the Paleolithic era.” But “eating a Paleolithic diet is not about historical re-enactment,” John Durant writes in The Paleo Manifesto. “It is about mimicking the effect of such a diet on the metabolism with foods available at the supermarket.”
Elizabeth Kolbert writes in The New York Times that “The Paleolithic diet—“paleo,” for those in the know—represents a very old form of eating, one confined to the sorts of food available in pre-agricultural days. According to Sarah Ballantyne, the author of The Paleo Approach, a paleo diet consists of “meats, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.” The list of foods that are not paleo, meanwhile, is a great deal longer; it includes cereal grains like wheat, corn, and rice; pseudo-cereal grains like amaranth and quinoa; legumes, most vegetable oils, sugar, and anything that contains corn syrup or artificial coloring or flavorings or preservatives, which is to say, just about everything a contemporary American consumes.”
Although wandering in the wild, spearing animals and eating roots and berries, is hard to maintain as a viable 21st-century lifestyle, a modified version of our early ancestor’s diets is a great way to wean oneself away from the American addiction to starch-and-sugar. Eating foods that are in their original form—and nutrient-dense—is great for lowering blood pressure, losing weight, and lowering blood sugar levels. As Kolbert says, “Paleo may look like a food fad…[but] it’s really just the reverse. Anatomically modern humans have, after all, been around for about two hundred thousand years. The genus Homo goes back another two million years or so. On the timescale of evolutionary history, it’s agriculture [and grains] that’s the fad.”
In the absence of aurochs, mouflons, mammoths, and mastodons, we can choose grass-fed domesticated animals whose diets are closer, nutritionally-speaking, to our early diets. After all, our metabolism was designed to deal with foods that approximate aurochs…it wasn’t, unfortunately, designed to deal with toast!