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Should We Go Back To Ancestral Eating Behaviours to Move Forward with Our Health?

Aug 11, 2019
Ashley Lawrie

Author: Riley Pearce
Social Media Director

Let’s face it: the world around us is evolving and progressing much faster than mother nature could have ever designed. Being that humans are the product of a very slow evolution, there is an area of nutrition science that believes that we should be eating the way our ancestors did in order to fuel our bodies best. 

But have we evolved past this idea? Are we now consuming so much of the “new food” that it doesn’t matter whether or not that food is similar to what our ancestors could have eaten? This week we will look at the research to find out if eating the way our ancestors did is the key to optimal health.

If you think about it, food science has only been around and influencing our food choices for maybe the last century or so. Before that we ate what we could find in nature, or break down and cook using simple tools and fire. Even then, these tools were only developed within the last few thousand years. It is believed that our human ancestors evolved over 4-5 million years ago, but the humans we would recognize (homo erectus, and neanderthals) have been around for around for the last million or so years. Our species, homo sapiens has only come about in the last couple hundred thousand years, and the organized and advanced civilizations have only existed in the last couple thousand years.

Compare millions of years to a few thousand years of using tools and science and you’ll find that our genes have spent way more time thriving on natural sources, than they have using protein bars and margarine as a fuel source.

So what exactly did the paleolithic diet consist of? 

It is believed that our ancestors consumed game meat, which was very lean meat (on time to build up fat stores like our sedentary farm animals). This provided them with good sources of protein, which scientists believe we ate in quantities of up to 2.5 – 3.5g per kg of body mass. This quantity is much higher than the current standard recommendation, which is 0.8 – 1.8g/kg of body mass.

Our ancestors would have also gotten their fats from animals and fatty-foods like nuts and seeds. Separated fats, like olive oil and butter were not available to them because separated fats do not exist naturally; they require some processing to extract. 

Finally, carbohydrates were in the form of natural fruits and vegetables. This means that however you found them in nature is how they were consumed. This is why it is believed that grains are a newer source of carbohydrate because these required some processing to make them edible. 

These wild fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals, and were high in fiber without being high in phytate (a chemical found only in grain sources of fiber).

As for sweeteners, honey is believed to be one of the only sources of sweetener and when available made up to about 20% of their daily caloric intake.

This is all well and good for our ancestors, but the question remains: If we eat like our ancestors, will we be healthier?

Studies are suggesting it could be useful for improving the health parameters of a few different populations. One study that looked at individuals with at least one of the risk factors for metabolic syndrome (blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, triglycerides, and waist circumference) found that by following a paleolithic style diet the numbers associated with these risk factors improved, in comparison to other diets.

Several other studies have looked at the effect of the paleolithic diet on type 2 diabetes. What they’ve found is the paleolithic diet in comparison to other diets is great at lowering risk factors for cardiovascular disease, like blood pressure and bad cholesterol, but it’s effectiveness of fully restoring insulin sensitivity is mixed.

For one of the major threats to our health, cancer, the paleolithic diet could be beneficial due to its no-processed foods structure. Although carbohydrates, which break down into glucose, has been shown to increase the risk of cancer, and feed existing tumours, the other nutrients and high fiber content of the fruits and vegetables in the paleolithic diet could be more protective than harmful. There isn’t much research into the paleolithic diet and cancer, but the few papers that have been written seem to optimistic.It is starting to look like eating like our ancestors may not be such a bad idea. After last week’s blog on “Un-dieting” it is important to know that this blog (like all of our nutrition and diet blogs) are not trying to tell you how you should eat. What we do hope our readers take from this blog is that by making more natural, less-processed food choices, your body will not have to work as hard to work the way it wants to. This will likely manifest itself in more stable energy, better focus throughout the day, healthier body composition, and (hopefully) longevity.

Resources cited in this article:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16441938

https://www.nature.com/articles/1600389.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4588744/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2787021/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3267662/

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/1520-6505(2000)9:4%3C153::AID-EVAN4%3E3.0.CO;2-D


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