What we can learn from our pre-agricultural ancestors.
For hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate a diet high in lean game meat, with significant amounts of fruits and vegetables, and lesser amounts of carbohydrates.
Grain-based agriculture began less than 10,000 years ago and allowed populations to increase. Today, the modern world is dependent on a diet based on milled grains, but our bodies haven’t evolved to keep up—and the nutrients we receive from the modern diet are not optimal.
This is the thesis of Loren Cordain, Phd., professor of exercise physiology at Colorado State University, an expert in Paleolithic nutrition who was interviewed by Robert Crayhon in Life Services. In Cordain’s view, the recent emphasis on a high-carbohydrate, low-fat “food pyramid” may have serious nutritional deficiencies.
The fossil record shows that despite the absence of dairy in Stone Age diets, these humans were in good health and had dense, robust bones. They lived outside in the sun, had a good calcium balance, and the large amounts of fruit and vegetables they consumed encouraged bone accretion.
Further insight comes from 181 studies of hunter-gatherer societies, which showed an average subsistence ratio of 65% animal to 35% plant.
“The fossil and ethnographic data suggest that humans evolved on a diet that was primarily animal based and consequently low to moderate in carbohydrate, high in protein, and low to moderate in fat,” said Cordain. “This is in contrast to the low-fat, high carbohydrate, plant-based diet which is almost universally recommended by modern-day nutritionists.”
He points out that although high-grain cereals intrinsically contain higher nutrient levels than do refined cereal grains, “the biological availability of nutrients in whole grain cereals remains paradoxically low because of their high anti-nutrient content. On the plus side, because of their high fibre content they tend to have superior glycemic indices than do their refined counterparts.”
According to the fossil record, early farmers were shorter, lived shorter lives, had more infectious diseases, and had more bone mineral disorders and dental caries than their hunter-gatherer ancestors.
“Early agriculture did not bring about an increase in health, but rather the opposite,” said Cordain. “It has only been in the past 100 years with the advent of high tech, mechanized farming and animal husbandry that the trend has changed.”
Our Paleolithic ancestors consumed no dairy, yeast, or legumes. According to Cordain, these are all alien to our immune systems and can trigger autoimmune diseases like insulin dependent diabetes.
The modern diet tends to have not only high levels of saturated fats but also high ratios (12:1) of Omega-6 to Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. For most of humanity’s existence the ratio would have been about 3:1. The high ratios are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, some types of cancer, and inflammatory disease. In wild game, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is about 4:1.
Dr. Cordain’s recommendations
We are now totally dependent on cereal grains for survival. Without them, there would be unprecedented starvation.
It is not practical for most people to eat wild game and fruits and vegetables, but we should try to emulate the nutrient levels we would get from those foods.
An animal-based diet can be good for you. Select lean cuts of meat and be wary of growth hormone and pesticide residues.
To mimic Stone Age cooking, where meat was cooked in a pit all day long, slow cook in a crock pot or dutch oven.