Should I eat like my ancestors?

  • 3 min read

Let’s take a look at what it is to eat like our ‘Ancestors’.  Firstly, the Paleolithic era is a vast expanse of time in the evolution of humanity. Also called the Old Stone Age, the Paleolithic era is a period in human history distinguished by the original development of tools like primitive cutting stones.  It extends from the earliest known use of stone tools by hominids around 3.3 million years ago, to approximately 11,000 years ago.

It was commonly believed that 11,000 years ago saw the change from Hunter Gatherer type peoples to Farming that included domesticated animals and growing crops.  This number has now moved back in time to over 23,000 years ago according to new discoveries by archeologists in the middle east.

Eating like a caveman, or woman

The Paleo diet has taken the nutritional world by storm over the past few years.  It’s been sometimes called the “caveman” diet because it’s supposed to mimic the eating style of humans who lived in the Paleolithic era — hunter-gatherers who likely ate lots of protein because of their high consumption of meat and other animal products, and plenty of fiber from non-starchy vegetables and lower-carb fruits. The diet also emphasizes a lower carbohydrate and salt intake.

Fast backward

A newer trend in dieting is fasting.  Many don’t realize that fasting works in part to our bodies evolving in a way that allows us to get physically and mentally stronger with short bursts of no calories.  This makes a lot of sense if one considers the Hunter Gatherer who would have to hunt or forage for foods to survive.  So you see, this is also embedded in our ancestry.

A further thought on the fasting concept is Diet variation.  Diet variation is rooted in the way of life of our ancestors, who regularly went through periods of feast followed by periods of fasting (in between hunts). It’s this dance between both spectrum of eating that allows our hormones to optimize, our body to heal, healthy weight loss, and so much more. The problem we’re trying to break free from here is stagnation, which manifests itself on both ends of the spectrum: being stuck in feast or fast mode.

Variation is key

When we vary the diet, hormonal changes take place as a result of forcing adaptation on the body. Like exercise, if we stick to one same diet or training program for an extended period, the body will adapt and hit a plateau. We’ve seen the same adaptation success in the study of weight loss resistant mice, who were exposed to hot and cold therapy. The adaptation forced on the body by being exposed to cyclically hot to cold temperatures (like sauna and cold showers) enabled these mice to lose body fat finally.

What if I lack variation?

When one style of eating is maintained for a long time, we begin to see imbalances that are not conducive to health and longevity. It can cause deficiencies (like a vegetarian diet) or can drive up inflammation (like a high protein paleo diet). Still, when we find balance and swing between high carb (feast) and low carb (fast) days, the body is continually adapting and becoming more resilient.

Let genes play

 Genetics likely play a role in how nutrition affects the body and influences optimum conditions.  Northern tribal peoples are going to be more disposed to larger quantities of meat and animal fat. Veganism is an extreme form of vegetarianism, and though the term was coined in 1944, the concept of flesh-avoidance can be traced back to ancient Indian and eastern Mediterranean societies. Vegetarianism is first mentioned by the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras of Samos around 500 BCE. In addition to his theorem about right triangles, Pythagoras promoted benevolence among all species, including humans. Followers of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism also advocated vegetarianism, believing that humans should not inflict pain on other animals.

Wrapping it up

To summarize it would seem that there are many elements at play when considering the choice of matching the eating habits of our ancestors.  Nutrition is an individual thing and what works for one human may not work for another.  It seems that fasting, and variation are as critical as any specific diet like Paleo.  Play around and find your sweet spot!

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