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How plant based was the paleo diet?

In the Stone Age people ate mainly fish and meat - and because our genes are still adjusted for the paleo diet we should also eat mainly fish and meat. That's the argument that paleo diet fans use. But archaeologists from Bar Ilan University, who are studying a spot where humans lived nearly eight hundred thousand years ago, have made discoveries that make one suspect that the paleo diet contained more plants that we've always assumed.

In the prestigious scientific journal PNAS, Yoel Melamed and his colleagues will soon publish an article about the excavations they are doing at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov, a location that has been inhabited by humans from 780,000 years BCE. Or rather: human-like beings, as modern humans didn't exist that long ago. Neanderthals and Heidelberg Man hadn't even emerged either.

Palaeontologists believe that we - the upright primates that call themselves Homo sapiens - have only been walking the earth for about two hundred thousand years.

Previously archaeologists had discovered that human-like primates had slaughtered, roasted and eaten deer at this site.

At Gesher Benot Ya'aqov Melamed found plant remains of 55 different sorts of root vegetables, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, all of which had been gathered in the surrounding area and used as food. The researchers found such large quantities of some plant parts that they had probably been used as staple foods: they formed the basis of the diet, like rice and wheat do nowadays.

The notations on the x-axis below, such as V-4, V-5, V-6 and I-4 stand for separate archaeological layers.

How plant based was the paleo diet?

Some paleo adepts argue that humans in the Stone Age did not eat seeds, roots or vegetables, so we are better off not eating seeds, roots or vegetables either. The Israeli findings suggest that this is not the case.

It's also remarkable that a number of the plants that the researchers found are poisonous when eaten raw, but edible after being heated. That's why they think that the human-like beings of the mid-Pleistocene roasted roots, nuts and other plant products as they did meat.

And so another idea of some paleo-adepts bites the dust: the idea that cooking and frying food is unnatural - and therefore also unhealthy.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 Dec 20;113(51):14674-9.

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