Why There is No “Paleo Diet”

There’s only a million of them.

Screen Shot 2013 02 18 at 10 50 08 AM
Global Migration Out of Africa (click to enlarge)

This was provided by commenter Charles whom I believe I’ve had “words” with in the past, but no matter. I’m a complete whore when it comes to adding real value in comments. And, he’d already done so with a couple of links to lactase persistence.

It was way way back when I coined the phrase: “”paleo is everything from equator to arctic, sea level to 16,000 feet, and everything in between.” More recently, not to persist in being boring and saying the same thing over and over, I say: “Did your ancestors turn left or right out of Africa, and then, after a time, did they go north or south?” The only thing common for everyone is real food. There is no one “paleo Diet.””

See the whole interactive presentation here. It has many layers of discovery (don’t ignore the clickable links, as well as videos you can purchase & download).

Lactase persistence is the most striking example of rapid evolution before our eyes. While the actual mutation probably happened around 20,000 years ago, it is only in the last 8,000 years that it really gained a foothold and is likely at the root of many a conquest where you can derive far more calories over time from an animal you milk like a taxpayer, than you can by killing and eating them. Around 35% of the world’s population can now tolerate milk and it’s growing rapidly. I’d quote chapter & verse, but the Bible assumed milk was suitable for one & all. Perhaps Christianity tracks with lactase persistence?

…This is why, in terms of practical politics, top-down authoritarian democracy of domesticated human animals in the Zoo Human is so much more effective than a Stalinesque sort of brutal, murderous totalitarianism. “Don’t kill them. Milk ’em dry, over & over & over over a lifetime. See? Calories count.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. Earl Cannonbear on February 18, 2013 at 18:49

    Humans inherently have the genetic machinery to generate lactase, nothing new there. We ship from the factory that way.

    Every human is unique and it should not be surprising that given natural variability some humans would have the ability to generate lactase well into adulthood.

    It was only after particular sub-populations of humans clever enough to invent animal domestication did this per-existing variability spread.

    Lactose persistence is an example of micro-evolution and can’t be extended to prove Darwinian evolution theory where it is claimed that natural selection acting on random genetic mutation creates new and unique genetic information. That has never been observed.

    Examples of micro-evolution include the acquisition of antibiotic resistance by bacteria, the development of pesticide and herbicide resistance by insects and plants, the change in wing color of the peppered moth and the variation in beak shape by finches.

    What all these examples have in common is that organisms are designed with preexisting genetic variation within a species. Organisms are engineered to take advantage of ecological niches as they become available.

    • Joshua on February 18, 2013 at 20:35

      What are you arguing Earl? Genetic mutation is, by definition, new and unique genetic information. Are you asserting that there is no such thing as mutation?

      What’s the difference between evolution and micro-evolution? What sort of evidence would you need to see that would take something from the realm of micro-evolution to actual Darwinian evolution?

      Given the genetic variations and negative inheritable traits among humans, how can anybody come to the conclusion that your god is anything other than an incompetent jackass or a malevolent asshole?

    • Earl Cannonbear on February 18, 2013 at 21:37

      Mutation definitively does not result in new and unique genetic information. The fact is that most genetic mutations either provide no benefit to the host or are positively disastrous. On rare occasions a mutation will result in providing a fitness advantage but in all cases genetic information is lost.

      For example, possession of the sickle cell trait imparts resistance to malaria parasites and thus a fitness advantage when living in tropical jungles. However the development of the trait required a degradation of normally functioning red blood cells. i.e. genetic information was lost!

      People with this trait are at very high risk of developing sickle cell anemia leading to permanent damage to the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, bones, and spleen. Not an advantage when living in a modern Western civilization.

      Noe-Darwininan Evolution theory rests on the belief that natural selection operating on random genetic mutations over time can create new, novel and useful biological structures like the eye of per-frontal cortex.

      Micro-evolution simply recognizes that there exist variability within a species and that some of these variable traits will be selected for depending on environment factors. The Galapagos finches beaks reverted to the mean as soon as the extended dry season ended.

      Nothing controversial here, people come in all shapes sizes and levels of intelligence. We are most certainly not all equal.

    • uey111 on February 19, 2013 at 02:05

      What Earl argues here is called epigenetics, aka differences in gene expression based on environment, which do not have any bases in gene changes. However I don’t see how that would disprove actual evolution.

      A question Earl, do you believe in the existence of dinosaurs BEFORE we came about?

      If yes, then how did we show up, if not through evolution (which doesn’t have to happen according to darwinian or neo-darwinian evolution theory, but just HAS to happen somehow)?

      If no, then did we exist at the same time, even though the age of the bones say otherwise? Or are all the bones that were found of them fakes meant to prove for few select people how easy it is to fool humans into believing in something that doesn’t exist or any other conspiracy theory by all or at least most paleontologists?

    • Earl Cannonbear on February 20, 2013 at 09:31

      Do I believe in the existence of dinosaurs BEFORE we came about?

      The answer is yes, of course. Life forms existed before and after the reign of the dinosaurs estimated between 225 to about 65 million years ago.

      How did we show up?

      There are two options.

      Either human origins are the result of blind natural processes (chance-law) or purposeful intelligent design.

      Neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory states that humans arose through random mutations filtered by blind natural selection. I have already argued and hopefully demonstrated the utter failure of random genetic mutations to generate anything new. If anything mutations degrade and destroy genetic information.

      Intelligent design theory on the other hand proposes that humans originated due to the intentional arrangement of biological matter and genetic code by an intelligent agent. The mind boggling sophistication of the nano-technology found in the cell, the incomprehensibly complicated genetic code in the double helix DNA molecule and the real-time and massively parallel molecular and cellular networks that comprise a biological organism is evidence of a highly intelligent mind at work in the history of life on earth.

      I don’t beleive for a second that blind luck could ever in a trillion trillion years result in even the simpleset of single celled organisms, let alone the origin of life itself.

    • Richard Nikoley on February 20, 2013 at 09:55

      “I don’t beleive for a second that blind luck could ever in a trillion trillion years result in even the simpleset of single celled organisms, let alone the origin of life itself.”

      You must have real problems with a whole universe, then.

    • Joshua on February 20, 2013 at 12:07

      …hopefully demonstrated the utter failure of random genetic mutations to generate anything new.

      Not really no.

      If anything mutations degrade and destroy genetic information.

      This is basic biology. Every scientist I’ve heard speak on the subject agrees that mutations are more likely to be harmful than good.

      Earl, I feel like you lack an understanding of the vastness of time and space, and instead of being humble and saying “I don’t know” you instead cling to a made up entity that guides and shapes things.

      Blind luck, random chance, or whatever you want to call it can create the most wonderful things over time. I think you do not esteem it highly enough.

      If your guiding intelligence is so smart, then why are there so many terrible genetic conditions that affect humanity? Is that entity not entirely competent? Is that entity malicious?

    • Joshua on February 20, 2013 at 12:09

      What the hell Richard? I know I’ve seen italicized text on here. Do you just allow straight up HTML?

    • Earl Cannonbear on February 20, 2013 at 14:15

      I hope I learned something during all those years of studying math, physics, statistics and computer science. I passed the exams and in the end had to wear a funny hat while some guy gave me sheepskin. Happened twice in fact.

      During my travels I even took a semester of course work in physical anthropology where we got the full Darwinian treatment… I drank the Kool-Aid and was an ardent believer, however I’m happy to report that I have since recovered.

      Having said that I’m afraid it is you who fails to grasp the astronomical odds against creating meaningful information given the limited timescales we are working with by chance alone.

      The best estimate we have for the age of the universe is 13.7 billion years.

      A very conservative estimate of the maximum number of physical events that could have occurred since the creation event is in the order of 10^150.

      That is a 1 followed by 150 zeros.

      A physical event is defined by an atomic reaction like a collision.

      A typical gene has something like a thousand nucleotides and there are four different types of nucleotides. Do the math and we see that there are 4^1000 different sequences that could make up the gene.

      Divide by 4 and we get a 1 followed by about 600 zeros.

      Talk about finding a needle in a haystack! If every event since the creation of the universe was devoted to searching the probability space that comprises a gene there would not have been enough time by a long shot. And that’s just s single gene.

      Let me leave you with this quote:

      ”An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.”

      – Francis Crick – Co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule in 1953.

    • Richard Nikoley on February 20, 2013 at 15:56

      “Do you just allow straight up HTML?”

      Developers are effing with things which is fine by my. That’s how you improve. Fuck up a lot.

      Carrots. Don’t know why you used brackets and if you have in the past and it went though, well, that’s like moms giving their kids Sniker’s bars for dinner.

      It’s fixed, with carrots, as it should be. Brackets are crap in a box.

    • Richard Nikoley on February 20, 2013 at 16:01

      “I’m happy to report that I have since recovered. ”

      Well, in that case, I feel so privileged! I’m sure others will feel similarly.

      Do tell us when your devastating critique of the Origin of Species becomes a best seller amongst evolutionary biologists. See how charitable? I don’t even care if your book tanks generally.

      Let’s go, EARL! You’ve got but one life and you obviously think you’ve come upon ways to light out dark paths.

    • Richard Nikoley on February 20, 2013 at 16:04

      BTW, Earl:

      You’re welcome to toss up your hands, proclaim your ignorance, assert it’s impossible to understand and conclude that “God did it.”

      If you do, I promise it can rest at that. I won’t ask you to explain the cause of God.

    • Earl Cannonbear on February 20, 2013 at 16:40

      I am humbled and I proclaim my ignorance.

      I have not the slightest clue on how He did it.

    • Richard Nikoley on February 20, 2013 at 16:54

      “I have not the slightest clue on how He did it”

      Ah, explanation by non-argument and non-explanation. Or, simply insatisfaction and far from the impatience that is the true scientist’s eternal charge to fight against.

      Got it.

      Well, you only have these few decades. I don’t begrudge anyone, really, finding comfort in that sad reality however they may.

    • Joshua on February 20, 2013 at 17:18

      Earl – Thanks for the response. I am certain of nothing. I don’t believe in your god, but I don’t disbelieve in it either. All I know is that if such an entity exists, I don’t like it.

      Considering your math, physics, and statistics background, I’m surprised that you didn’t see the flaw in Dembski’s argument. Just because there are 4^1000 different sequences doesn’t mean that every one of them is equally likely. Some are likely physically impossible, while others are much more likely to occur. i.e. given a vat of nucleotides, some combinations will never form, while others will almost always form.

      Once smaller nucleotide combinations are formed, they will combine and form larger ones in a fashion that makes your 4^1000 number irrelevant. I’m sure a biologist could explain this phenomenon better.

      One thing we share is ignorance. Neither one of us knows the truth about the origins of the life or the universe. The only difference is that the theories in favor of intelligent design can not be disproved, while the theories in favor of evolution can be. I choose falsifiability over fantasy every time.

    • Richard Nikoley on February 19, 2013 at 06:56

      “Micro-evolution simply recognizes that there exist variability within a species”

    • Jozef Varhaník on February 20, 2013 at 05:54

      How many micro-evolutions are needed to screw a lightbulb before you find out that it has slowly changed into a LED lamp?

      Many, many, and also, a few millions of years.

      Twist by twist, each one invisible to the observer because of it’s insignificance and the opposite – huge scale, at the same time, they add to it constantly, they alter it on all levels. But hey, do continue to blindly call it names, don’t use multi-disciplinary approach, etc… Whatever, I’ll just continue to try and perceive it with as much informed, complete, combined and unified view so I can see it in it’s whole beauty.

      PS: I’m replying to this entire thread started by Earl, not to a single comment.

  2. Scott Miller on February 19, 2013 at 11:27

    It’s a very small step for humans to gain lactase persistence, versus the much larger required step (or steps) to gain whole-cloth genetics to process gluten and lectin.

    A few good books that cover this topic:

    Before the Dawn

    The World Until Yesterday

    And while there are a “million” paleo diets, they all have more in common with each other than they do with modern Western diets.

    • Richard Nikoley on February 19, 2013 at 11:46

      “And while there are a “million” paleo diets, they all have more in common with each other than they do with modern Western diets.”

      Yes, well, see my latest post which tends to argue more in that direction.

  3. Elenor on February 19, 2013 at 03:53

    Been enjoying a (YouTube) lecture by Lloyd Pye — taken with many metaphorical grains of salt — called “Everything you know is wrong.” The quality isn’t great (it’s a old-ish filmed lecture), but the information is very interesting, if a bit troubling. I am esp. struck by his pointing out that there is such a massive “transformation” — over such a short time — between Neanderthal/australopithicus and homo/”modern” humans. And his theory is rather persuasive that when homo began hunting in packs — and thus could kill an (individual) Neanderthal (Neanderthal, with the strength of a gorilla or chimp, i.e., massively out-classing a homo) — the Neanderthals did not ‘die out’ but withdrew into the deep forest. And when folks complain that we’d find them… he then points out that we homos are NOT built for deep forest.

    The Panda — bright white and black, i.e., not well camouflaged in a forest! — was first not believed in (“a folktale”), then in the early 1800s when one was shot, there was a rush into the Chinese forest to find more… and for SIXTY YEARS they did not find a single Panda! (He points out, that after 30 years, the conclusion was that Pandas were finally extinct, so the hunting died down a good bit. And then, in another 30-or-so years, Teddy Roosevelt’s sons killed one, and we STILL have a very hard time finding them in the wild. Pye says there are tales on every continent but Antarctica of “unidentified big hairy creatures,” which he suggests are the Neanderthals and Australopithecus who have withdrawn from the pack-hunting homo.

    Dunno what to make of his stuff — but his discussion of bones and evolution is fascinating. And yeah, he makes it aliens who genetically manipulated ‘early proto-hominoids/hominins into modern homo, back 200,000 years ago, in southern Africa…. And, actually, I find I prefer THAT idea to the newest conventional wisdom “bottleneck” theory to explain genetics of humanity: that somehow EVERYTHING modern-human-like died out but for a couple thousand who then ‘recreated’ the spread of “humans.” Disease? Asteroid? What would have killed off almost everything homo, but NOT disturbed everything else, and also left no fossil traces? Hmmmm.

    (But then, I ALSO like the aquatic ape theory, which is persuasive… and which Pye doesn’t seem to notice…)

    • TempestTcup on February 21, 2013 at 12:01

      “he makes it aliens who genetically manipulated ‘early proto-hominoids/hominins into modern homo, back 200,000 years ago, in southern Africa….”

      There is actually a growing corner of the internet that is contemplating this sort of thing. It is very fascinating stuff. Don’t quite know what to make of it, but very, very interesting.

  4. Elenor on February 19, 2013 at 03:55

    Oh, I was also VERY struck to learn that in all the years we’ve been doing anthro / paleo, there has NEVER been a fossil of a chimpanzee found! The chimps have never lived where fossilization naturally occurs. (Who knew?!)

  5. Tuck on February 19, 2013 at 07:30

    “Around 35% of the world’s population can now tolerate milk and it’s growing rapidly.”

    Having or lacking the lactase persistence gene has nothing to do with whether or not you can “tolerate” milk. Many of the most famous milk-dependent societies lack the gene, and tolerate milk just fine.

    • Richard Nikoley on February 19, 2013 at 07:32

      “has nothing to do”

      Doubt that. I accept individual difference, but having NOTHING to do with? Nonsense.

  6. […] ← Why There is No “Paleo Diet” […]

  7. Kristina on February 19, 2013 at 14:14

    I’d argue that any statistic regarding lactose-tolerance is based largely upon testimonial or a lack thereof. If there are X cases of lactose-intolerance reported, how many more are either not reported, attributed to something else, or otherwise ignored? Then there’s the level of intolerance, which could very well be epigenetics at work. THEN you have the assumption that the only thing in milk to be tolerant/intolerant of is the lactose, when there are other proteins in dairy that create problems for the people who can’t digest them. Example: I have a friend from college who is allergic to the casein protein but tested negative for lactose intolerance.

    Simply stated, the only way to discover the proportions of the population who are or are not dairy-tolerant (because lactose-tolerance won’t make milk a good food source for you if you can’t digest casein) would be to collect stool from everyone (or a statistically relevant cross-section) and see how much lactose and milk proteins are still left after it all passes through. Then if we wanted to track evolution of dairy-tolerance, we’d have to continue analyzing poop for generations. Lots of them.

    I personally would be willing to spoon poop into a jar and mail it to some poor lab tech somewhere, just to settle the dust once and for all.

    And as for this supposedly current evolution of genes for tolerance, I don’t buy it.

    Evolution occurs on a timescale of hundreds to hundreds of thousands of years.

    Evolution is all about baby-making, and it only occurs when a genetic change creates a benefit or a detriment to reproductive capacity. If it helps you make more babies, it’s likely that your babies will have that edit too, and they’ll be better baby-makers, on ad infinitum.

    Evolution occurs in a population, not in an individual. You cannot become dairy-tolerant if you aren’t already, but perhaps if you have children with a partner who is, at least a few of your offspring will be too.

    I don’t argue that these pastoral African and European populations did not evolve. In a traditional society that relies heavily on dairy for nutrition, the trait for dairy digestion would be selected for: if you can’t digest it, there’s not much else around to eat, and you’ll be weaker, sicker, and less likely to reach reproductive age and be successful at baby-making. Let that carry on for a few hundred years, and yes, you will have a population which evolved to be tolerant of dairy as a whole.

    Here in the first world, there is TONS of food of all kinds, so even if you aren’t digesting all the milk you’re pounding because the hot chick in the Got Milk? ad tells you to, you’ll most likely survive well past your reproductive prime anyway. If your diet is causing serious health problems that should be detrimental to your reproduction… well, we have doctors who make millions of dollars pumping sick people full of drugs to help them reproduce when they’d otherwise be infertile or dead. There is no reproductive advantage to being dairy-tolerant. No reproductive advantage=no selective pressure=no evolution.

    If anything, there’s selective pressure to be stupid. Evidence: just go out in public.

    • Richard Nikoley on February 19, 2013 at 14:48

      You’re conflating individual “tolerance” with the gene. The gene is merely lactase persistence, and its spread is very well documented and is an example of rapid evolution. Dairy tolerance will always be individual. The two have a relationship on a data, statistical level, but it will always come down to any specific individual.

    • Jozef Varhaník on February 20, 2013 at 06:33

      “Evolution occurs in a population, not in an individual. You cannot become dairy-tolerant if you aren’t already, but perhaps if you have children with a partner who is, at least a few of your offspring will be too.”

      And how did that partner just happened to come along already lactose positive? He inherited it, from that one guy who was the first to try to drink that white inedible substance, with his body – a population of cells, not an individual, responding by “altering it’s epigenome in a positive manner” thus priming the “genetic machinery” of his future offspring to do the same, just a bit better this time.
      Change happens on all levels, simultaneously, influenced by all it’s “individual” parts, from all directions, and it mixes like a sludge of all-flavored ice cream, with each flavour emerging in a different corner of the box – just take a look at the observable universe. Trying to predict this with our limited capacity to even imagine it is quite…. entertaining. Good times are coming our way though with the overmind that the human-neural-unit-network + multi-supercomputer-powered interwebs will become in due time. Our consciousness, our “individual”, once granted it’s will, will perhaps help a bit more.

      PS: Sorry if not making much sense, too ranty and psychotic, I’m having one of those days powered by (I think) nootropic herb mix. 😀

  8. Ulfric on February 20, 2013 at 05:48

    Charles says : “…That’s glucose for some 86 billion neurons, more than any other primate; by comparison, gorillas contain about 33 billion and chimpanzees only 28 billion neurons. That’s glucose in amounts that could not possibly be supplied by any abundance of meat eating.”
    But my neurons are supplied just fine … and at the moment I don’t really eat many carbs and most of my food intake seems to be meat & meat-fat, with eggs.
    So why is my brain not dead?

    • Jozef Varhaník on February 20, 2013 at 06:41

      Someone, please, remind us of that in-the-liver-from-protein-gluconeogenesis thingy ;-).

  9. Richard Nikoley on February 20, 2013 at 06:27


    Thanks again. You were in the filter for a while, because of the number of links.

    At any rate, all fine & dandy but are you aware of the other evolutionary adaptation where over time in the absence or paucity of dietary carbs for glucose, the brain’s requirement goes from 120g per day down to about 40-60g or so? And also, according to Chris Masterjohn, we can make glucose from fatty acids, not just protein.

    I recently commented about this here:

    Not saying it’s the optimal way to go, just that once again, shows to what extent we are very robust generalists in dietary terms which, if one looks at the migration map makes perfect sense. The only other animals I can think of with perhaps as robust a general dietary utilization would perhaps be migratory fowl.

  10. Om Shanti Om on March 17, 2013 at 22:28

    Yep! I wrote this comment over on the other thread after reading Charles’s comment and your response;

    “Exactly the issue I’ve had with all this talk about “paleo” which really means Northern half of the globe. The Southern half, largely tropical, was lush with all manner of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and the people had very little need to hunt big game. They chowed down on a very large and wide variety of fruits and veggies, as well as insects, lizards, eggs, and smaller animals.
    The large game hunting would have been occasional.”

    • Richard Nikoley on March 18, 2013 at 06:41

      Ah, yea, I just replied to that comment.

      OK, so now you see where I’m coming from and have for a long time now.

    • Om Shanti Om on March 18, 2013 at 11:19

      But essentially you are agreeing with this;

      Which you did not agree with 2 years ago when you wrote it.

      The author is correct that a very large portion of humans in tropical and sub-tropical climates were eating a lot of fruits and veggies. However they would not have been “pure vegetarian” (as we refer to it in Indian culture, no animal flesh at all), and they certainly would not have been vegan.

      In addition to a primary diet of fruits and veggies, they would have been eating, as I stated above, insects, eggs, lizards and small animals.

      You can see this now amongst many jungle tribal people of South Asia. Their diet consists largely of a wide variety of fruits and veggies, along with small amounts of animals.

      And of course cow domestication and dairy was introduced very early on in South Asia.
      That’s one of the reasons the cow is considered sacred in Hinduism til this day.

    • Richard Nikoley on March 18, 2013 at 11:35

      I’m not really following your criticism of my prior writings. TL;DR

      But anyway, I think I have been very consistent going way back that there’e complete falsification of the idea that we’re all supposed to be Inuit. I’ve brought up the Kitavans going back to 2008 at least. Now there are even more populations who have even a higher carb intake than 80%. Forget who they are but still in PNG, and they are 94% carb, because they exist almost entirely on tubers, which are about 4-6% aminos, but quality aminos.

      Even though I’m white northern euro and probably would do quite well on on inuit diet, my eventual dream is to have a place on the beach near the equator where I can eat tropical fruits year round and go spear fishing every day.

    • Joshua on March 18, 2013 at 13:46

      Om Shanti Om – you’ve misunderstood Richard’s 2-year old post. In his quote about equator to arctic – he was quoting himself.

      The subject of that post – Barbara – fabricated a position that “Paleo diet” adherents are universally 90% carnivore because that’s what they think hunter gatherers were. This position is obviously incorrect as we have all worked out, but the view that “paleo” people think that and are all super-carnivores is also incorrect.

    • Om Shanti Om on March 18, 2013 at 15:47

      Josh and Richard, maybe I misread or was thinking of another critique of another author by Richard, but I don’t think so. The comments below it were saying that she was basically arguing for vegetarianism, which I don’t think she was, since early humans would not have been completely vegetarian, even in lush tropical jungles.

      Large lacto-vegetarian sub-cultures did develop thousands of years ago in South Asia, however.
      That’s why about 50% of India’s population remains vegetarian today.

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