Evolutionary Biologist Takes On 'Paleofantasies'

Wednesday, February 7, 2018
By Michael Lipkin
Credit: University of Minnesota
Above: University of Minnesota evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk in an undated photo.

Paleo diets have been mainstream for years. The idea behind them is that human genes are best-suited to the foods our ancestors ate: lots of meats and vegetables and barely any starches or sugars.

But according to University of Minnesota evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk, there is a flaw in that theory because humans never stopped evolving.

“[A paleo diet] reflects the idea that somehow we got to this point in evolution where we reached this pinnacle and were perfectly adapted to our environment,” Zuk said. “That’s just not true. There wasn’t any one period in human evolution when we were any more in perfect harmony with our environment than any other time.”

Zuk is speaking Thursday at 2 p.m. at Scripps Institution of Oceanography about her research and her most recent book, “Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet and How We Live.”

It is not clear exactly what might be next for the human body, but recent studies in Massachusetts show women there are becoming more genetically likely to be shorter, heavier and have lower blood pressure.

“When people ask me that question, I think they expect me to say, ‘Yes, we’re going to be brains in vats in 20 years,’” Zuk said. “I can’t give you that. But smaller, fatter, lower blood pressure? Not so bad.”

Zuk joined KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday with more on what our evolutionary heritage tells us about the modern body.