To Go Paleo Or Not? PT 2
What’s so special about hunter-gatherers?
About 10,000 years ago, most of the world figured out agriculture. And thus, we moved from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic period.
Planting and farming provided us with a consistent and relatively reliable food supply, without which civilization could never have developed.
Yet the 10,000-year time frame since the dawn of the Neolithic period represents only about 1% of the time that we humans have been on earth.
Many people believe that the change from a hunting and gathering diet (rich in wild fruits and vegetables) to an agricultural diet (rich in cereal grains) gave rise to our modern chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
This is a fundamental tenet of the Paleo Diet, and a big reason why proponents say we should return to the meat and produce-based diet of our past.
How do “ancestral eaters” fare?
Of course, while we have extensive skeletal remains, cooking sites, and other types of evidence, we don’t have detailed medical records of our hunter-gatherer hominid ancestors.
However, we do have real, live sample populations that we can look at.
A diverse dietary worldq
The very few surviving hunter-gatherer populations subsist on a wide variety of diets, from the “nutty and seedy” African !Kung, to the root vegetable-eating Kitavans near Papua, New Guinea, and the meat and fat-loving Inuit of the Arctic.
These foraging diets are diverse and probably reflect the widely varying diets of our prehistoric ancestors, simply because what people ate depended on where they lived: mostly plant-based (in the tropics), mostly animal-based (in the Arctic), and everything in between.
However varied their diets across the globe, most Paleolithic humans likely consumed about three times more produce than the typical American.
And when compared to the average American today, Paleolithic humans ate more fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, unsaturated fat, vitamins and minerals, and much less saturated fat and sodium.
A modern example
The residents of Kitava Island, off Papua, New Guinea, are probably the most famously researched modern hunter-gatherer population.
According to Dr. Staffan Lindeberg, who’s extensively studied their habits, Kitavans live exclusively on:
starchy root vegetables (yam, sweet potato, taro, tapioca);
fruit (banana, papaya, pineapple, mango, guava, watermelon, pumpkin);
vegetables; fish and seafood; and
coconuts. Kitavans are healthy and robust, free of obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, stroke, and acne — despite the fact that most of them smoke!
Things are looking good for eating like a cave dweller
What Paleo promises
The main idea of a primal diet — as you’ve probably gathered (no pun intended) — is that our ancient human genetic “blueprint” doesn’t match our current 21st century diet and lifestyle.
As a result, our health and wellbeing suffer.
The Paleo diet also makes some key evolutionary assumptions:
Paleolithic hunter-gatherers were robust and healthy; if they didn’t die young from accident or infectious diseases, they lived about as long as we do now.
When Paleolithic hunter-gatherers shifted to Neolithic agriculture, they got relatively sicker, shorter, and spindlier.
Modern hunter-gatherers are healthy, and their health declines when they switch to a modern diet.
What’s the evidence?
While a case can be made for this evolutionary trend, as a matter of fact, hunter-gatherers were not pristine models of health.
To begin with, they certainly harbored various parasites. They were also subject to many infectious diseases.
What’s more, a recent study in The Lancet looked at 137 mummies from societies ranging all over the world — from Egypt, Peru, the American Southwest, and the Aleutian Islands — to search for signs of atherosclerosis.
They found evidence of probable or definite atherosclerosis in 47 of 137 mummies from each of the different geographical regions, regardless whether the people had been farmers, foragers, or hunter-gatherers.
All got hardening of the arteries, no matter what their lifestyle.
Food for thought.
Eat Clean. Live well. Feel great