Stone-Age Secrets to Optimal Health
Diets have come and gone, yet one truth has emerged throughout the years about human health. Honestly, we really have no idea which foods to eat. Fish, pomegranates, blueberries, spinach, and other super foods have been talked up as the “save yourself” foods, but when it comes down to it, I am left with this question:
Do we really know what to eat?
There is good news, though. There’s a new diet about town, only this time there’s nothing new about it. This diet is actually an ancient lifestyle that has been abandoned in the face of agriculture, domesticated animals, and storing foods. The diet I’m talking about is a “Paleolithic diet,” and it isn’t so much of a diet as a return to the foods which complement human’s genetic predisposition. Humans have existed for approximately 200,000 but our modern diet, ripe with hydrogenated oils and GMO’s, has only evolved during the past 30 years. It’s safe to say that our bodies have not adapted yet to the recent unnatural additions to the human diet.
According to “The Ancestral Human Diet: What was it and should it be a paradigm for contemporary nutrition” by S. Boyd Eaton, a Stone Age diet is one which will ward off contemporary diseases while promoting optimal health. Diseases like type-2 diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease are new in human history, and observed hunter-gather societies show remarkably low rates of these degenerative diseases.
Which eating practices differ between our stone-age ancestors and contemporary humans? More importantly, which aspects of the stone-age diet are unrecognized by “fad diets” like Atkins, Weight Watchers, or South Beach?
Eaton identifies several aspects of modern human diet which differs strikingly from contemporary eating practices.
First, ancient humans practiced a high-energy intake and expenditure diet. Put simply, ancient humans ate high numbers of calories, but also had enough physical activity to work off the calories. Eaten described early Paleolithic physique as comparable to today’s superior athletes. Conversely, today’s Americans take in fewer calories yet become much more obese than our Paleolithic ancestors.
Second, carbohydrates made up 35% of Paleolithic diets, while carbohydrates today make up more than 50% of Americans’ diet. Modern carbohydrate intake is comprised of cereal grains, such as corn, rice and wheat. However, Stone-Age carbohydrate intake was composed of mostly fruits and vegetables.
Third, ancient humans pH levels were lower than modern humans. Human diet is healthiest at a slightly higher level of alkalinity of a pH of 4-7. However, modern diet has driven humans’ pH toward a high acidic diet, resulting in diseases like calcium depletion from bones and muscle wasting.
Finally, a contemporary American diet is much higher in saturated fats than a Paleolithic diet. A typical American diet consists of approximately 11-12% saturated fats, while our Stone-Age ancestors’ diets consisted of only 7-5% total saturated fats. Here, the Stone-Age diet does reflect other fad diets, as saturated fats are a major contributor to modern degenerative diseases.
Overall, it is not humans’ dietary needs which have changed over the centuries. Rather, food abundance and availability have rapidly transformed contemporary diets, lowering our standard of health by diseases of abundance like diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. It is not necessary to transform one’s diet to all-liquid, all-vegan, or sans carbs. Rather, we must remember that our bodies contain the genetic makeup of hunter-gatherers, and function best on diet similar to that which allowed our Paleolithic ancestors to prosper.