I am a huge fan of the Paleo Diet style of eating. It’s focus on fruits, vegetables and animal protein is in my opinion, the absolute best way for human beings to eat.

And based upon the explosion of Paleo cookbooks and websites over the past few years, I am not alone in that belief.

Luckily for us Paleo dieters, that explosion in popularity has led to a lot of amazing chefs turning their skills toward creating Paleo-friendly meals that would put a smile on the face of the snobbiest of food snobs.

Unfortunately….a lot of those recipes, while tasting amazing, are modifying the “original” Paleo guidelines to a point where some of the health benefits are being lost.

paleo brownies
Paleo Brownies

And it’s not just my opinion. It’s SCIENCE.

A new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows us that a diet of starchy “100% Paleo” foods led to high rates of tooth decay in a group of our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors.

Up until now, all of the archaeological/anthropological research indicated that it was the advent of farming that led to human dental disease. And it’s this transition from hunter-gatherer to farming that is central to the entire Paleo diet.

This new research “shows widespread tooth decay occurred in a hunter-gathering society in Morocco several thousand years before the dawn of agriculture.” And while these findings don’t cast doubt on the Paleo “farming causes problems” theory, it does show us that not all Paleo-approved foods are perfectly healthy.

The Science

During an archaeological dig in Taforalt, Morocco, researchers “analysed 52 sets of adult teeth from hunter-gatherer skeletons dated to be between 15,000 and 13,700 years of age.” Based on the archaeological findings, we know that:

  1. These early humans had not adapted to an agricultural lifestyle. They were hunter-gatherers…the original Paleo dieters.
  2. Their diet consisted of “the systematic harvesting and processing of wild foods, including sweet acorns, pine nuts and land snails.”
  3. This reliance on fermentable carbohydrates “is a key factor in the initiation and progression of dental disease.”

How bad were their teeth?

We’re not talking Austin Powers bad, but the researchers found evidence of decay in more than half of the surviving teeth with only three skeletons showing no sign of cavities.

Professor Nick Barton of the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Oxford, and a co-director of the excavations at Taforalt, said: ‘This study reveals for the first time that at both ends of the Mediterranean, hunter-gatherers had started to eat a variety of different foods and were becoming more settled long before the advent of farming.

Dr Isabelle de Groote from the Natural History Museum said: ‘These people’s mouths were often affected by both cavities in the teeth and abscesses, and they would have suffered from frequent toothache.”

What’s wrong with sweet acorns, pine nuts and land snails?

If we’re talking about macronutrients, micronutrients, enzymes, phytochemicals, etc…. absolutely nothing. These are three very healthy, Paleo-friendly foods.

However, as lead researcher Dr Louise Humphrey said: “A reliance on edible acorns as a staple food could account for the high prevalence of cavities in the teeth found at Taforalt since eating fermentable carbohydrates is a key factor in the initiation and progression of this disease.

The acorns may have been boiled or ground to make flour; and cooking the acorns would have added to their stickiness. To make things even worse, abrasive particles from grindstones contributed to rapid tooth wear so that cavities started to form on the roots of the teeth.”

And since our Moroccan ancestors didn’t have access to a tooth brush or fluoride toothpaste, they started getting cavities, abscesses, toothaches and oral infections.

All because they learned how to make acorn flour crepes stuffed with sauteed pine nuts and escargot. mmmmmmmmm good

What does this mean to Paleo Dieters?

  • It means that ALL starchy, sticky foods can lead to disease…even if they are made with Paleo ingredients.
  • It means that eating Paleo isn’t just about ingredients. How you cook / process those ingredients is important…if you are eating Paleo to improve your health
  • It means that Paleo brownies, breads and muffins shouldn’t make up a regular part of your Paleo diet…especially if you aren’t diligent about the brushing and flossing.

What should you take away from this article?

  • The Paleo Diet is still the best thing you can do for your health & waistline (IMHO)
  • After eating starchy/sticky foods (Paleo or not), you need to floss & brush
  • Boiling, steaming, poaching, broiling, microwaving,  stir-frying and no-cooking are your healthiest cooking (and non-cooking) methods
  • Even if you eat sticky Paleo baked goods, 9 out of 10 dentists recommend the Paleo Diet…and we can bring that number up to 10 out of 10 if you cut back on the Paleo brownies and eat an apple instead.

Reference

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