Paleo nutrition: one good reason our ancestors had stronger bones than we do

The news of the recent Hostess Bakery bankruptcy reminds me of the old rumor that went around claiming Twinkies could even survive the apocalypse. While that is no doubt an exaggeration, our contemporary shopping basket is brimming with denatured, processed, preservative-filled and even synthetic foodstuffs — all very different from what our ancestors ate.

And while you may think that everything changes — technology for example — today we have almost exactly the same genetic machinery and the same physiological requirements of our early human, late Paleolithic, ancestors 90,000 years ago.

This nutritional discord between our evolutionary diet and today’s eating patterns create problems for bone health and wellness in general.

A quick comparison: Paleo Nutrition vs. Contemporary Nutrition

Minerals: Mineral intake was 2 to 8 times higher for most minerals except sodium. Sodium intake was at least 5 times lower than today, at 768 mg/day, while potassium intake was 4 times higher than ours at 10,500 mg/day. Iron intake was 8 times higher and manganese 4 times higher than ours.

Vitamins: Vitamin intake was estimated to be 2 to 6 times higher than ours. For example, vitamin C intake was more than 6 times as much, and vitamin E nearly four-fold higher. Folate and vitamin A intakes were twice as high.

Fat: Fat intake was estimated at just 2/3 of ours at 21% total calories, including almost a 1 to 1 ratio of beneficial polyunsaturated omega-3 fats to omega-6 fats. Today we consume some 30% of calories from fat including 10 to 15 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fats, with 18% of our fats as refined vegetable oils including substantial amounts of harmful trans fats. Paleo diets had no processed oils or trans fats, nor any refined vegetable oils.

Protein: Protein intake was generally twice that of ours, estimated at 1/3 total calories. There were abundant sources of plant and animal protein, including wild animals, which have low body fat.

Fiber: Fiber intake was 5 to 8 times higher than ours at 100 to 150 grams/day as opposed to the current 15 grams/day.

Carbohydrates: Carbohydrate intake was similar to ours at 46% of calories, but all carbs were from whole, unprocessed, wild foods.

Refined Sugars: None or minimal intake of refined sugar (although some honey was available), as opposed to 15% of all calories in today’s diet. Today we average 20 teaspoons of added sugars a day, about 15% of total caloric intake, including 10% of our calories from fructose.

Grains and Cereals: None or minimal. Today refined grains comprise 32% of our diet.

Dairy: None beyond infancy. Today we average nearly 400 lbs of dairy products per year or 2 cups per day.

Acid-Alkaline Balance: Paleo diets were largely alkaline-forming due to high potassium intake from vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. On the other end of the scale, contemporary Westernized diets are low in vegetables and fruits yielding an average 50 meq of excess acid daily.

Alcohol: None or minimal, as opposed to 7-10% of contemporary diets.

Stay tuned, in a subsequent blog, I’ll provide you with 10 tips for regaining “The Paleo Edge.”

Watch Dr. Brown’s video on Paleo Nutrition:




CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey NHANES 2003-2004, Atlanta, Georgia.

Cordain, L., S. B. Eaton, A. Sebastian, N. Mann, S. Lindeberg, B. A. Watkins, J. H. O’Keefe, and J. Brand-Miller. 2005. Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 81:341–354.

Eaton, S. B., and S. B. Eaton III. 2000. Paleolithic vs. modern diets—selected pathophysiological implications. European Journal of Nutrition 39:67–70.

Eaton, S. B., and M. Konner. 1985. Paleolithic nutrition: a consideration of its nature and current implications. New England Journal of Medicine 312:283–289.

Eaton, S. B., and D. A. Nelson. 1991. Calcium in evolutionary perspective. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 54:281S–287S.


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