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Did Cavemen Even Eat the Paleo Diet?

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Before processed ingredients and packaged foods, all humans had to eat was animal protein and wild plants. So it stands to reason that we modern beings would feel healthier and stronger eating the same diet our bodies are conditioned to in the bigger timeline of evolution, right?

That's the premise behind the Paleo Diet. The only problem: It’s very likely that what our hunter-gatherer ancestors actually ate was substantially different than the food plan 21st century Paleo-fanatics follow, according to a new study in The Quarterly Review of Biology. (Too bad—it means cavemen never got to try these delicious 10 Easy Paleo Diet Recipes!)

“Based on evidence that’s been gathered over many decades, there’s very little evidence that any early hominids had very specialized diets or that there were specific food categories that seemed particularly important, with only a few possible exceptions,” said study author Ken Sayers, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at Georgia State University. Along with researchers form Kent State University, the team looked at food sources of the entire Paleolithic era and found that the diets of early humans were incredibly versatile: Our ancestors lived in a wide range of environments, which affected the types of food available. Plus, any meats and vegetables they cooked up that we’d recognize aren’t actually the same varieties with the same nutrient profiles.

While this study does question the logic of the diet, it doesn’t touch the nutritional validity (although researchers do point out that early humans had much shorter life span, so “healthier” is debatable). And there is some merit to the health craze: Eating like Fred Flintstone means you’re nixing processed foods and ramping up your intake of fruits, vegetables, and protein. (For the full list of pros, check out 5 Health Benefits of the Paleo Diet.) That means if you’re a Paleo proponent, you can probably say you’re healthier than your pizza-obsessed coworkers, but you do have to forfeit the argument that you’re eating like our ancestors.

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