Will we stay healthy longer if we eat like the prehistoric man? Do you fall off easily? Supporters of the Paleo diet think that the diet of the ancient prehistoric man in the Stone Age (the paleolithic) is much better than the current dietary advice from My Greens Daily. But what does this primordial food mean? And is this actually healthier?
What does the Paleo diet mean?
When we talk about primal food, we are talking about the diet in the period of the Paleolithic. This is the period from about 2.5 million years to 10,000 years ago. In this period our ancestors mainly ate meat from wild animals, berries, nuts and plants. Our genes would have been adjusted accordingly. With the emergence of agriculture, our diet has changed drastically. We started to eat more grains. This change has gone so fast that our DNA has not yet been adapted. This would be the reason why we are getting more and more cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes nowadays. To prevent this, we should eat again like the primeval man.
For the time being, it is unclear what exactly our ancestors ate in that period. Initially it was thought that paleolithic people took almost half of their food from carbohydrates and did not eat fish. Currently, the estimate of carbohydrate intake is a lot lower and fish is seen as an essential part of the diet. The idea is mainly that a lot of vegetables, fruit and nuts were eaten. This already closely resembles current recommendations from the healthy diet guidelines. According to the Paleo diet, we should not eat grains and no bread at all. However, evidence has been found that wild cereals have been processed 23,000 years ago. In short: it is difficult to determine exactly what the Paleo diet is about.
Back to the Stone Age?
In a recent Dutch study an attempt was made to learn more about the composition of the Paleo diet. This based on literature research and observations with traditional tribes from Africa. Compared to our current diet, the hunter-gatherers appear to consume less carbohydrates (bread and grains) and linoleic acid (sunflower oil). The intake of fish fatty acids was higher. The general conclusion was that in order to be healthy, we have to go back to the living conditions of the Stone Age, translated into the 21st century, without food shortages and infections. Because not only food affects our health.
Remko Kuipers, a Dutch evolutionary medical researcher, is engaged in primeval nutrition. He mentions that there is currently a conflict between our prehistoric genes and associated brains, which can not resist the stimuli. There is too much food supply that we can not resist. Our ancestors could not resist these stimuli. They were rarely confronted with this because there was mainly food scarcity and famine.
We live in a society in which movement is not exactly stimulated. Sitting in your car you can go to your office job, where you sit behind a desk for 8 hours. Then to go back home by car and to crash on the couch. Very different than before, when there had to be hunted for our food.
But the prehistoric man did not get older at all?
People in prehistoric times were often not old. They usually die at an age of 30-40 years. Paleo supporters often use the term evolution as a basis for maintaining the Paleo Diet and aging. Only this is based on a misconception about evolution. This is because evolution does not select for longevity, but for reproduction. The more you propagate, the more your genes spread. If you become ill later in life, this will no longer have any effect on the reproduction or passing on of your genes. This is the reason why the Paleo diet can reduce the risk of hereditary diseases. These have already been passed on long before these genes are expressed. The prehistoric man did not grow old enough to develop these syndromes because they often died of infections and injuries.
What can we learn from the primeval man?
To eat completely as one thinks that the primeval man ate I would not advise. Especially because eating large amounts of meat can entail the risk of certain diseases and has an effect on the kidneys and bones. In addition, you run an increased risk of infections if your raw products do not heat well. There are also a number of basic foods that can deliver a lot of nutrients.
There are certainly nutritional habits that we can take over from our ancestors. Namely more vegetables, fruit, fiber and fish and less processed products and fast food. This in combination with more exercise will already have to bring health benefits. Without having to go through life as cave-men.