The theory behind the so-called Paleolithic Diet (Paleo Diet, for short) suggests that whole food vitamins obtained from minimally refined and processed whole foods, like vegetables, fruit, nuts and lean meats, should be optimally suited for human biology, and thus optimal health.
The Paleo Diet (or caveman diet) is based on the kinds of foods that our human ancestors ate for millions of years, long before agriculture and fast food restaurants came to be. For most of the time humans have been on the planet, they had to collect (hunt and gather) their food from whatever was around them in nature. There was no McDonald’s conveniently located every two or three miles on the Serengeti.
The result of humans evolving in harmony with the natural foods available is that human biology and genetics are optimized for such a diet. This is why fruits and vegetables are universally considered to be healthy foods by almost everyone, and refined sugar (which was rare during hunter-gatherer times, in the form of seasonal honey) causes obesity, cavities, and even diabetes.
You don’t need a PhD in nutrition to come to the common sense conclusion that if humans evolved on a whole food diet of vegetables, fruit, nuts, and lean meat, then such a diet ought to be optimally compatible with our biochemistry and genetics.
After all, humans are still around, so we must have done something right as a species.
It is not easy to eat a whole food diet in this day and age. Refined and processed foods are everywhere and many people have turned to nutritional supplements to get the important vitamins they may not be getting in the diet.
The “paleo diet” concept serves as a comparative guide to nutritional supplements, for those people who take them. Just as foods can be devitalized by refining and processing, so can vitamin supplements.
If you are eating a whole food diet, rich in vegetables, fruit, nuts, and lean meat, and low in calories, you probably don’t need to supplement with vitamins at all. But if you feel you would like to supplement your diet, seek out whole food vitamins. Simply use the Paleo Diet as a comparative guide to nutritional supplements.
Look at labels and determine if the nutritional supplements contain whole food vitamins vs. refined or synthetic isolates. Consider that even though whole food vitamins may contain less of any single “active ingredient,” they also contain traces of many micronutrients your body needs that would be absent in the purified isolated vitamin concentrate.
For example, even though an apple contains a lot of vitamin C (ascorbic acid), it has been shown that the antioxidant capacity of an apple is far greater than that of the ascorbic acid it contains. In other words, other whole food vitamins in the apple contribute to its antioxidant power.
It has been shown that refined and isolated beta-carotene is not as beneficial as beta-carotene obtained from eating carrots, and may actually be harmful.
Raw fish oil vitamins, such as salmon fish oil or cod liver oil, are good examples of whole food vitamins. Fish oil contains a number of important nutrients besides the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA on which they are marketed. Cod liver oil is one of the only sources of natural vitamin D, an essential nutrient for bone health and many biological functions in the human body.
This isn’t to suggest that whole food vitamins can prevent or cure any disease (although there’s good evidence they do). Genetic and environmental factors all play a role in health outcomes and disease. But all else held constant, whole food vitamins obtained from a natural whole food diet will provide the optimal nutrition for the human body, as it was designed by nature.
Isn’t that a lot easier to live by than all the confusing nutrition science that is out there? Remember, a lot of the nutrition science being conducted is funded by the manufacturers of refined and processed (junk) food. Is it any wonder that the research is so contradictory and confusing?
Lastly, a note on cereal grains. Human biology isn’t adapted for eating grains. Hunter-gatherers didn’t eat them and it was only with agricultural cultivation that sufficient quantities of cereal grains could be produced by humans. Even so, grains require a lot of processing (grinding and cooking) to be digestible in humans. Just as with whole food vitamins, whole grains are better than refined grains, but grains should always be consumed sparingly and should only make up a small percentage of the human diet.