Sorry everyone, turns out the Paleo diet we've all been following is, well, flawed.

Image via iStock.

It’s proven to be one of the most popular (and controversial) diets in recent years, but new research suggests that the modern Paleo dieters are, well, doing it wrong.

A key principle of the Paleo diet is the exclusion of starch-rich vegetables and grains – a food group that findings published in the Quarterly Study of Biology say not only played a major factor in the evolution of the human brain. Apparently, it’s also a food group that the original Palaeolithic humans would not have evolved without.

It challenges the long-held belief that increased meat consumption was solely responsible for the evolutionary increase in brain size that got humankind to the point we’re at today.

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“Our research suggests that dietary carbohydrates, along with meat, were essential for the evolution of modern big-brained humans,” says co-author Professor Jennie Brand-Miller from the Charles Perkins Centre.

According to the study, a low carbohydrate diet similar to the modern Paleo diet would not have provided enough glucose needed to enable the development of modern human’s large brains. (Post continues after gallery.)

While starches have been readily available in seeds, fruits and nuts since some of the earliest human populations, it was when cooking became more of a common practice (researchers pinpoint this as around one million years ago) that more evolutionary changes occurred.

“After cooking became widespread, starch digestion advanced and became the source of pre-formed dietary glucose that permitted the acceleration in brain size,” co-author Professor Les Copeland said.

Researchers say that their evidence shows a change in the number of salivary amylase genes, which increase the amount of salivary enzymes produced in order to digest starch, occurred at a similar time.

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So where do we go from here?

Amidst all the current concern about global obesity rates, which many believe is what has made the Paleo diet so popular today, the study’s researchers argue that a diet similar to the one eaten in the Palaeolithic era would still be good for us today.


But unlike the rules the modern Paleo diet abides by, the diet should include foods like potatoes, yams and sweet potatoes in addition to newer starchy grains like quinoa, corn, wheat, oats and rye.

should I eat paleo?
A typical modern paleo dish. Image via Istock.

“It is clear that our physiology should be optimised to the diet we experienced in our evolutionary past,” Professor Brand-Miller said.

This is not the first time the Paleo diet, which encourages consumption of mainly meat, fish, a restricted list of vegetables and fruit and bans dairy and carbohydrates, has come under fire.

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Nutritionists have previously raised concerns about its nutritional value, as well as the inaccuracies and double standards of including foods like 'Paleo brownies' in the diet.

Celebrity chef Pete Evans, a prominent Paleo supporter, also faced backlash after it was claimed a recipe for bone broth in 'Bubba Yum Yum', a Paleo children's cookbook he co-authored, could be potentially harmful for babies.

Are you for or against the Paleo diet?