Skip to content
Surprising Science

The Real Paleo Diet May Have Included Starches

Starches may have played a key role in our ancestors’ diets, helping humans to develop the big brains we have today.

The Paleo diet developed in response to how much our lifestyles have changed over the years, which has led us to the obesity epidemic we’re facing today. The people who called for this change in lifestyle say it’s a return to how our Paleolithic ancestors ate — the way we’re meant to eat. It highlights the importance of meats and protein, which science says helped our brains develop and become what they are today. It’s important to note that the Paleo diet says to avoid starches.

Dr. Karen Hardy and her team bring together archaeological, anthropological, genetic, physiological, and anatomical data to argue that starches may have been a key part of the real Paleo diet and helped in the development of our big brains.

It’s widely accepted by researchers that the big shift for humans from what our brains were to the big brains we have today is thanks to several key changes in our diet: the ability to cook our food and the increased consumption of meat. But the researchers have found evidence that starches may have been a major player in this evolution, arguing in their paper:

“The rapid growth in hominin brain size during the Middle Pleistocene will have required an increased supply of preformed glucose.”

That glucose would have had to come in the form of starches. They argue that while starches would have been difficult to digest, the development of cooking food around that time would have helped heat-away the crystalline structure, making the food more digestible. More observations ranging from the estimated time our ancestors developed salivary amylase genes, which helps humans digest starch, to the amount of glucose higher-functioning brains like ours demand, puts up an interesting argument. Even the glucose demands in order for pregnancy and nursing to take place may make some want to reconsider the importance of carbs.

However, the researchers conclude their paper, writing:

“Although our hypothesis is potentially falsifiable with new data from the research areas outlined in this article, it is consistent with the current lines of evidence discussed, and illustrates the synergies of addressing this complex topic using data from different disciplines.”

Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones Solution, has traveled the world studying regions where the local population enjoys exceptionally long average lifespans. He and his team have identified key aspects and common denominators between these populations’, one of which was a diet high in carbs.

Read the full study or read the press release over at EurekAlert!

Photo Credit: EMMANUEL DUNAND / Getty Staff


Up Next