When you think about tools you probably imagine things like hammers and screwdrivers. They’re physical implements for getting a job done, usually more efficiently than if done by hand.
The intelligence necessary to make and utilize such tools is one of the attributes that makes being human so special. While other animals have been known to make use of tools in some way (chimpanzees for instance) humans have quite obviously made tool-using an instrumental part of daily life.
Andrew at Evolvify.com has written an interesting article where he stipulates that “everything is paleo” based on the idea that tool use was a key component of paleolithic human life. By extension our modern use of tools represents “paleo activity”. I think this is an intriguing idea, and would turn it on its head by suggesting that the paleo diet for hunter-gatherers has now itself become a tool for modern humans.
A tool is essentially something that makes accomplishing a task easier than if it was attempted without the tool.
How is the paleo diet a tool? It is a tool in that it can help modern humans to determine what foods they cannot tolerate. Based on the supposition that the paleo diet is the nutritional model of which the largest percentage of people are most well adapted to, it stands to reason that humans in general will suffer very little food intolerance from this diet. This is your dietary baseline.
Your baseline diet is all of the food that you might eat and experience no ill effects, and excludes foods which you don’t really need or might cause issues. This diet would also have to be able to sufficiently promote an active lifestyle and sustain high levels of lean body mass.
So while one might be able to eat a diet chiefly composed of vegetables and potatoes without suffering ill effects, their ability to sustain lean muscle mass without animal protein sources would be compromised. You could also call this the “minimum effective diet”, since it would consist of a minimal amount of food variety while still promoting a robust and healthy body, and exclude unnecessary or problematic foods.
Once you have an idea of what a person can eat and still sustain good health, one merely has to reintroduce restricted food types in a controlled manner and observe any changes in health.
Adding back food types in a controlled manner means only changing one variable at a time. You keep everything else constant and controlled. So for example, you have been eating your baseline diet for thirty days and now want to start looking for food types which might be responsible for your chronic bouts of indigestion. A good first step might be to reintroduce dairy foods.
You won’t want to reintroduce dairy and gluten at the same time, because if you do experience indigestion you won’t know which of the variable foot types was the actual cause. This is ultimately the scientific method applied to dietary experimentation, and is basically the easiest way you can determine food allergies by yourself at home. The key is to remove potentially problematic food types until you feel good, and only reintroduce one food type at a time into you start feeling bad again.
What if you find that you start to feel ill very soon after reintroducing some of your favorite foods?
If you were shocked that you felt ill after adding back some foods that you use to eat all the time (and loved) don’t be. Just as your body has ways of masking the pain of acute physical injuries, so does it have a way of blunting the micro trauma of subjecting your gut to the varieties of allergenic foods that we have available to eat. You should take this as a sign that your favorite foods might not have been as good for you as you thought, and that excluding them from your diet permanently might be a good idea.
With the food supply continuously deviating from our natural evolutionary state, the amount of people who suffer from some form of food allergy also increases. However, you don’t have to wonder if you are lactose intolerant or unable to handle gluten. Use the paleo diet as a tool to determine what your baseline diet is, and start your own little experiment.