“The paleo diet is not very useful” says biophysicist Christophe Lavelle

“The paleo diet is not very useful” says biophysicist Christophe Lavelle

We can first observe the phenomenon with the eye of a sociologist. There is a certain disorientation of consumers, an alarmist message on our food which affirms that we eat anything and that we must therefore find a solution. The easiest thing that comes up, when you lack perspective or culture, is to start a diet, a very precise way of eating with a code and specifications.

Many possibilities are then offered, especially in magazines, more or less honest on the subject. Choosing a diet is very often an admission of failure, unless, of course, you suffer…

We can first observe the phenomenon with the eye of a sociologist. There is a certain disorientation of consumers, an alarmist message on our food which affirms that we eat anything and that we must therefore find a solution. The easiest thing that comes up, when you lack perspective or culture, is to start a diet, a very precise way of eating with a code and specifications.

Many possibilities are then offered, especially in magazines, more or less honest on the subject. Choosing a diet is very often an admission of failure, unless, of course, you suffer from identified pathologies. And, in this range of diets, paleo is indeed fashionable and it is not new. It allows, moreover, to give credit to the speech according to which it was better before.

Exactly, how old is the paleo diet?

We’ve been hearing about it since the 1980s. Like many food fads, it comes from the United States where we have the fantasized idea that our ancestors lived in good shape thanks to a 100% natural diet. However, they did not have an existence as ideal as some imagine, even if, it is true, their life expectancy was longer than others believe. Infant mortality was widespread, but once you were past adolescence you could live to be 70, which at the time was remarkable.

You point out that paleo diet in the singular means nothing.

The paleo lasted several hundred thousand years. Food has therefore necessarily evolved, including geographically. We should therefore speak of Paleolithic diets. Some of them are similar to those in force among certain peoples such as the Inuit or the Pygmies who live a lot from hunting and gathering. With the difference that they are now equipped with modern weapons. I often hear it said that the Inuit or the Pygmies, subjected to a city diet, would be victims of multiple pathologies. It’s true, but for many other reasons, including a complete lifestyle change. You can live in the city without necessarily eating McDonalds.

The only similarity to paleo diets is if your mother breastfeeds you. And when we are weaned, we change our diet. It is the athletes who most recommend the so-called paleo diet because it is based on animal proteins. Cereals and legumes are banned on the pretext that they did not yet exist in paleo. However, it is essential to diversify our diet. A study has just been published, emphasizing the essential role of legumes for our organism.

“There is a before and an after cooking. It will change a lot of things in terms of taste and nutritional intake.

You write that the food of our ancestors was diverse.

The food depended on the local ecosystem, depending on whether you lived near the coast, in the forest or in the savannah. In any given ecosystem, there was no choice but to mine it and eat whatever you found. It was a pragmatic and opportunistic diet where we tried everything that was a priori consumable. But food was tasted with care to avoid the risk of poisoning, as primates still do today when they discover a new food.

Did our ancestors enjoy eating?

Biology teaches us that the pleasure of sweet food has always existed. Gluttony is not just a cultural phenomenon, it is physiological. It is observed in primates when they taste honey. What is put in place gradually over time is the fact of meeting to share a meal, to experience the pleasure of the table, even if the table did not exist at that time.

The appearance of fire was a revolution. There is a before and an after cooking. It will change a lot of things in terms of taste and nutritional intake. Hence the monumental idiocy and the health danger represented by raw food. Cooking and smoking will also allow food to be kept longer or to defrost an animal if you ever live in areas subject to extreme cold.


“A pragmatic and opportunistic diet where we tried everything that was a priori consumable. But the food was tasted with care to avoid the risk of poisoning, “says Christophe Lavelle.

Filming of “The War of Fire” / AFP

“It is not dangerous to health, unlike raw food or uncontrolled veganism”

Raw foodism is akin to sectarian behavior. What about the paleo diet?

No, and it is not dangerous for your health either, unlike raw food or uncontrolled veganism, and if it is applied intelligently, that is to say if you do not eat only meat and to every meal. There may be a vitamin D deficiency but this is anecdotal. The paleo diet is not dangerous and it does not help much.

What about veganism and synthetic meat?

Veganism is a false answer to a real question, that of animal suffering. Some vegans refer to the vegetable diet of Australopithecines, but they could not afford to hunt. They still fed on insects or small rodents when they found them.

As for synthetic meat, more than a fashion, it is becoming an industry. There is a science fiction fantasy here. As early as 1887, the scientist Marcellin Berthelot claimed that in the year 2000 we could eat meat from the laboratory and no longer kill animals.

But this represents gigantic investments which can never replace breeding. This in vitro meat is a niche that allows some to keep the gustatory pleasure, bluffing indeed, of meat or foie gras while sparing their good conscience with regard to a cow, a pig , a goose or a duck.