What you’re getting yourself into
Why the fruits that line your local supermarket have more in common with candy than their paleolithic predecessors.
There are plenty of paleo crusaders that cling onto a mystical vision of what life used to be like before the grain states arrived and ruined everything. The forests of the stone age would have been teeming with all manner of wildlife, with rows of blackberry bushes, apple orchards, and the occasional beehive strewn around the edges for unsuspecting humans to stumble into.
This, in their minds, is the true ancestral diet. Not the utopian fantasy of vegans where cave lion cubs nuzzled up to aurochs. Not the militant fantasy of carnivores where humans dined on nothing but the steak of their fallen prey. In the “animal-based” diet, our ancestors also had dessert.
I do appreciate what a good sell this diet is. Who wouldn’t pass up the chance to devour a ribeye and wash it down with some mango? How much better would it taste when you have the smug knowledge that you are echoing the dinner of your ancestors from 4000 generations ago? If you’re eating the evolutionary diet, you’re fitting yourself with all the nutrition you need to thrive in modern times. You’d have every reason to be smug.
Except the animal based paleo proponents are making the strange assumption that the fruits that line up modern supermarkets today resemble the ones staggered across the paleolithic wilderness.
So before you run with the idea that the ancestral diet included copious amounts of carbs, and wasn’t remotely ketogenic besides the odd three hour hunting trip, you might want to look at a few comparisons of modern fruits and their stone age ancestors.
The classic banana we know and love for its inadequate potassium content is sweet and made completely of flesh except for tiny sterile seeds. Meanwhile, the wild banana that hails from the dense forests of Papa New Guinea is packed with seeds with the delightful texture of bullets, and contains very little edible fruit.
Our ancestors would have to do a lot of grafting and spitting to get a meal out of that.
Then there’s the predecessor the watermelon, the citron melon of the Kalahari Desert. This guy has all of the husk of its supermarket counterpart, but none of the pulp. It certainly might have been useful as a source of hydration for people trekking through the unforgiving wastelands, just not so much as a source of calories. Because there weren’t any.
The ancestor for the juicy apple is the Malus Sieversii from Kazakhstan. These were the special ones picked for domestication, because while apples were common across Europe, they were typically small and bitter due to their high phenolic content.
The peach was first domesticated in Eastern China, around 8000 BP. At that point, it would have been a whole lot smaller than the juicy specimens we know today. Ancestral peaches resembled cherries, barely had any flesh, and their taste resembled lentils.
Not much of a catch.
So Why Does Fruit Look So Different Nowadays?
Those comparisons should make it pretty clear that the fruits of the paleolithic would have been far less tempting for our ancestors. Less colourful, less sweet, less edible flesh, more bitter, and far more seeds to plough through. The fruits of modernity are the result of the genetic engineering over thousands of years, that would have only begun after the first agricultural revolution. They are closer to candy than their ancestral counterparts.
I’m not making the case the fruits are inherently unhealthy, but they certainly weren’t the evolutionary staples that some make them out to be. We wouldn’t have passed up on berries in the short few weeks where they were in season, but the majority of the year would very much have been dominated by steak.
It’s one thing to argue that our ancestors ate fruit. It’s a giant leap to make the assumption that fruit was a critical source of nutrition that we couldn’t manage without.
It’s also a reasonable argument to make that the fructose laden fruits of modernity can be detrimental for someone with a glucose intolerant metabolism. And given that almost half of adults are pre diabetic, a stat that has been climbing at a catastrophic pace, it might be wise to treat fruit cautiously. There’s certainly a dose at which is becomes more poison than friend.
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