How Authentic Is Today's Paleo Diet?

by Marisa Riley

I’m sure you’ve heard of the Paleo diet by now — it’s the one that allegedly mimics that of your average caveman. I’m sure you’ve also heard about how different our version is from said average caveman's, and that they didn’t eat nearly as many fruits and vegetables (or even the same fruits and vegetables) as our modern day dieters do. However, a recent discovery actually proves that our Neanderthal ancestors were, in fact, eating their vegetables. We know that because of their feces. Happy Friday!

Yes, feces. According to Slate, archeologists discovered feces in Ainara, Spain that date back 50,000 years. After examining the fossilized excrement, they found traces of 5B-stigmastanol, or a “biomarker” that suggests this Neanderthal was, in fact, eating vegetables.

How does this connect to today's Paleo diet? Because it was previously believed that Neanderthals weren't the biggest vegetable eaters.

A couple years ago, Slate explained that though people of the Paleolithic era were eating fruits (despite the fact that they were extremely different from the ones we eat today), the question of whether or not they ate vegetables was a little hazy. Scientific American explains that Neanderthals didn’t consume as many vegetables as Paleo dieters do today, and that their diets were drastically different:

"Before agriculture and industry, humans presumably lived as hunter–gatherers: picking berry after berry off of bushes; digging up tumescent tubers; chasing mammals to the point of exhaustion; scavenging meat, fat and organs from animals that larger predators had killed; and eventually learning to fish with lines and hooks and hunt with spears, nets, bows and arrows."

There was also the fact that even if they were eating fruits and vegetables like us, the ones that existed back then weren't at all like the modified varieties we eat today.

This is why today's Paleo diet is far from that of our ancestors. According to, the diet is, “based upon everyday, modern foods that mimic the food groups of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors.” Basically, you’re cutting a lot of foods out of your diet, like dairy, grains, processed foods, and sugar, Nerd Fitness explains (with delightful Lego figure vignettes), and sticking to fruits, vegetables, protein, legumes, etc. There are also, of course, several benefits of sticking to the diet: notes that with the diet, you’ll experience weight-loss, improved athletic performance, as well as a lowered risk of heart disease, type two diabetes, and other chronic diseases — just to name a few. (Side note: this is just a taste of what the Paleo diet is — it would take several articles to explain just how the diet works.)

So our ancestors weren't exactly chowing on kale or legumes like today's Paleo dieters are. I suppose that's what "modern foods that mimic the food groups of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors" part is all about. However, this is where the aforementioned excrement comes in. The traces of vegetables indicate that our paleolithic friends were closer to today's Paleo dieters (well, and most humans) than we thought. Science is amazing like that.

Sure, it's pretty impossible to mimic a Neanderthal's real diet without access to a Delorean and some great hunting and gathering skills. However, I hope we can learn more about our ancestors through their fossilized feces — what else were they up to that we didn't know about before?