Plants and presumptions: An assessment of the impact of plant macronutrient variation among hunter-gatherers on the recommendations of the Paleo Diet

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Human evolution
Evolutionary medicine
Human dietary variation
Paleo Diet

The Paleo Diet is a popular but controversial dietary regime that requires adherents to avoid domesticated plants and replicate the macronutrient distribution (i.e., the percentages of carbohydrates, protein, and fat) found in hunter-gatherer diets. In this thesis, I report a study in which I investigated an aspect of the Paleo Diet that has hitherto been overlooked – namely, its reliance on plant macronutrient values from a single country, Australia. First, I replicated the macronutrient consumption ratios reported in the study that underpins the Paleo Diet (Cordain et al. [2000] American Society for Clinical Nutrition 71, 682-692). I then examined the impact that an alternate set of plant values that Cordain et al. (2000) presented but did not use had on the macronutrient consumption ratios that Cordain et al.’s (2000) method yields. Next, I generated plant macronutrient values for a worldwide sample of ten recent hunter-gatherer societies, and statistically compared the new values to the ones Cordain et al. (2000) reported. Subsequently, I applied Cordain et al.’s (2000) method to the new plant macronutrient values with a view to generate new macronutrient consumption ratios. Thereafter, I statistically compared the new values to the values obtained by Cordain et al. (2000). The analyses revealed that there were some significant differences between the new plant macronutrient values and those that Cordain et al. (2000) created. The analyses also revealed that, in all cases, applying Cordain et al.’s (2000) method to the new macronutrient values produced macronutrient consumption ratios that differ significantly from those reported by Cordain et al. (2000). Together, the results of the analyses indicate that the Paleo Diet’s macronutrient consumption recommendations are dependent on Cordain et al.’s (2000) sample. As such, the recommendations of the Paleo Diet need to be revised or abandoned.

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Mark Collard
Environment: Department of Archaeology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.