Eating meat, many scientists have argued, was a critical step in the evolution of the human brain. By eating meat, which is more calorically dense than the plant-based diet of apes, we were able to take in additional calories and evolved to have larger brains (UCBerkeley, 1999, Press Release). It was this combination of hunting meats and then gathering vegetables/fruits that build the cornerstone of the Paleo Diet based on our “hunter-gatherer” ancestors. It wasn’t until millions of years later that humans began eating grains with the invention of agriculture (Nature, 2004). While agriculture certainly increased the consistency and quantity of our food-supply, it’s argued that this increase in agriculture meant less food-diversity for both humans and the animals they domesticated. This lack of food diversity led to disease, nutritional deficiencies, and other poor markers of health (ResearchGate, 2014).
With the invention of agriculture eventually came the invention of dairy. Prior to approximately 7500 years ago, humans didn’t consume any milk outside of their own (Phys.org, 2009). The early farming communities in Europe and Africa are recognized as being the first communities where humans begin to evolve to produce the enzyme required to adapt to dairy. This is why lactose intolerance varies, and is more prevalent in cultures that don’t have an ancestral tie to dairy farming (ex. Asians).
These two key inflection points in the evolution of the human diet (the introduction of grains, and the introduction of dairy) and their impact on human health are largely recognized as scientific reasoning for the Paleo diet. But what makes the diet so popular today?
The reasons for adopting a Paleo diet can see almost as much evolution as the human diet itself! Initially, people’s reasons for adopting the diet are no different than adopting any other diet: appearance and/or health concerns. People want to change the way they look and feel and understand that diet is a key path to such a destination. For those interested primarily in improving their appearance, awareness of the Paleo diet has grown with coverage by mainstream publications such as the New York Times. The diet is also very popular within the booming CrossFit community. For those more focused on health concerns, the Paleo diet’s emphasis on whole foods and elimination of many common allergens (grains, wheat, dairy) make it a popular choice, especially given the rise of autoimmune diseases (Science Direct, 2015).
At EPIC, we’ve noticed a common journey among our consumers. Once people begin focusing on their diet, they become more aware and educated about the quality and sourcing of their food. This will often lead to an interest in their food and its impact on the environment. A microcosm of this example, is a person who wants to adopt a Paleo diet and begins eating jerky given its high protein content. As they become more aware about their food choices, they discover many jerkies are made with chemical preservatives, or laden with sugar. As they continue learning more, they read about the benefits of grass-fed beef or pastured animal sources for their jerky. This anecdotal experience is actually now backed up with market data as significantly more consumers are prioritizing sustainability in their purchases over the past decade (Hartman Group, Transparency Report, 2015), and the growth within categories like jerky (Nielsen, Insights, 2017) is being driven by sustainability attributes such as “grass-fed”.
This focus on sustainability has also become a key force within the Paleo community, and so it's become yet another reason consumers find their way to the Paleo diet (RobbWolf.com, 2012).