With so many fad diets and new information about health coming out every day, how does anyone wade through all the hype to discover some strategies and simple recipes that just plain make sense? To begin with, let’s start with some of the basics.
- What does the human body need for fuel?
- How have we evolved to meet that need?
- What have we changed in the world around us over time and have those changes affected our diet and health?
The human body needs many things for energy, growth and longevity, and also to build an immune system that can fight off unwanted invasion. For countless centuries, humans filled all of these needs from the natural world around them. As hunter-gatherers they consumed only foods that were provided and made available by nature itself. They thrived on hunting wild game, and gathering fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and the roots, stems, and leaves of plants. Around one-third of their intake was game and fish, and the other two-thirds was plant-based food.
Over the course of human history, until about 10,000 years ago, our Paleolithic ancestors consumed only those foods that were best adapted to their metabolisms. Most research findings provide plenty of evidence that these hunter-gatherers were very healthy. They were taller, had larger brains, and were built stronger. Their shorter life expectancy can be logically attributed to extreme weather, accidents and infection, and predatory animals. They were extremely active, often walking an average of 19km (12 mi.) a day while foraging, with many short bursts of speed when hunting. The diet of our ancient ancestors has been thoroughly researched in recent years. The combination of their diet and plenty of exercise allowed their bodies to operate at maximum efficiency.
Then began some major changes as we entered the dawn of the Neolithic period. Over time, humans began to domesticate animals, and agriculture began to appear. Prior to this change, humans had never thought to drink the mother’s milk from another species, and our metabolisms have still not adapted to it. The cultivation of grains began the process of refining foods, which were otherwise mostly inedible, and introducing those new products into our diet – yet another thing our natural metabolisms were not well equipped for. These two monumental changes, more than any other factors, have unmistakably altered the human diet, and health.
Some results of these changes in our diet are that 7 out of 10 Americans are currently either overweight or obese. We now suffer from chronic or degenerative diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease – afflictions, which only emerged when we shifted to agriculture. One in every 133 Americans suffer from Celiac disease. That’s more than are affected by Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn’s Disease, Cystic Fibrosis, and Parkinson’s combined.
So, is a diet that is a modern day version of our Paleolithic ancestors diet just a bunch more hype, or does it actually make logical sense? The sweeping changes in our modern day diet have been brought on by agriculture, but our genes have not changed as quickly. We are still 99.99% identical in makeup to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Our bodies still require the same high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. Genetically we are poorly equipped to handle the high-carbohydrate, low-protein diet of modern times.