It’s a controversial subject in the Paleo diet community: to eat, or not to eat, potatoes. The Paleo diet strives to be a modern version of the diet we believe Paleolithic humans ate, with a focus on reducing inflammation and healing the body from processed foods. Like all diets, there are people who only eat “true Paleo” and those who are somewhere in between—a search on the internet regarding if potatoes are Paleo results in a barrage of information which, no matter the answer, is hotly contested.
The Paleo Foundation Consensus Report classifies potatoes (based on strenuous analysis for glycemic index, the history of potato consumption, and agricultural sustainability) as an approved food which is “allowed in the Certified Paleo Standards” as of 2016. Even so, the internet is riddled with people arguing about potatoes on a Paleo diet, and the biggest argument in the community is that potatoes were not a food Paleolithic people ate, so it should not be included in the modern Paleo diet.
New archaeological evidence suggests that our Paleolithic ancestors ate carbohydrate-heavy root vegetables. By analyzing charred remains which date back 170,000 years ago found in a cave in South Africa, scientists identified a root vegetable believed to be Hypoxis angustifolia Lam. It is a root vegetable with edible rhizomes (underground stems which grow horizontally, similarly to roots) which were being roasted and eaten by the people living near the Border Cave in South Africa. Hypoxis L. grows well in Arabia and sub-Saharan Africa and is a concentrated source of carbohydrates which closely resembles the nutrient profile of a potato and reportedly tastes like a yam. You can even find a Hypoxis L. rhizome to eat today, but they have been forced into scarcity due to demand.
Finding archaeobotanical evidence of the diet our ancestors ate in the Paleolithic era has not been easy because the remains of vegetables and grains don’t survive as well as bones; but that doesn’t mean that our Paleolithic ancestors weren’t eating them.
Lyn Wadley, Lucinda Backwell, Francesco d’Errico, Christine Sievers .Cooked starchy rhizomes in Africa 170 thousand years ago. Science03 Jan 2020 : 87-91