Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Last month I was given a book on the Paleolithic diet (PD) written by Marlene Zuk, a professor of evolution at the University of Minnesota. I discussed this topic late last year. Zuk covers it all in much more detail, explaining that there is no single PD, with the Australian Aboriginal diet differing to that of the native North Americans, the eastern Chinese and the early Mayans as they populated parts of South America.

Despite dairy and grain being banned on the PD there is good evidence that our genes have changed in the last 10,000 years (eg lactose tolerance in Indo-Europeans) and we have been eating grains for at least 30,000 years. Zuk cites evidence that even our gut bacteria have evolved over recent years to help us to digest new foods found as we spread over the planet.

There is discussion on other aspects of human evolution. Humans began life at sea level about 200,000 years ago. The Tibetan mountains have been populated for only 3000-6000 years and there are clear genetic differences in those that have adapted to the higher altitude. Tibetans breathe faster and have lower haemoglobin (yes, lower) levels for more efficient oxygen transfer. There are also recent genetic changes to resist malaria and be better able to digest starch.

This book is much more than a debunking of the idea that all was perfect in the Paleolithic era and that we have exactly the same genes as 10,000 – 20,000 years ago. It also discusses the evolution of sex and family. It is a very easy and enjoyable read. I have 12 “stickies” on the pages to denote passages I learned from; any book that has more than 5 stickies is a worthwhile purchase for me. As it is mainly text, I suggest getting the cheaper Kindle edition. Of course, you may prefer the smell of ink. Don’t blame you.

Another review, posted 11 June 2013, by colleague Bill Shrapnel is here.

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