Our Evolutionary Heritage
Our species of humans are hunter-gatherers. By studying the diets of modern-dayhunter-gatherers, evolutionary biologists have gained insights into the ancestral human diet. All ancestral diets shared certain key foods, which were limited to wild animals, fish and shellfish, foraged wild plants, eggs, insects, nuts, seeds, and wild berries. The primitive diet provided the nutrient-dense balance for the critical metabolic processes that allowed our ancestors to thrive, reproduce, and pass on their genes to subsequent generations. According to many studies there is now much supporting evidence that the diet of our distant ancestors can provide a guide to the proper nutrition for modern humans. The primitive diet was what our bodies and large brains flourished on; it was the basis for our evolutionary success.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate wild meat, (especially the organs), and fish and their accompanying fats (high in omega-3 fatty acids). In fact 35 to 50 percent of their dietary intake was made up of the nutrient rich fats, which retained all the necessary vitamins and minerals, and which provided nourishment to the cells in the body. It has now been scientifically proved that we need these “good” fats and dietary cholesterol to make our bodies and brains function at optimum levels of health.
Today we have accepted that whole grains are the “superfood,” and they have formed the base of the American food pyramid. But are they really that healthy? The cultivation of grains, which began about ten thousand years ago, has resulted in the widespread replacement of the traditional hunter-gatherer diet with cereal grains and dairy. Subsequently, the Industrial Revolution led to the onset of advances in crop manipulation, intensive animal-rearing practices, and food processing, all of which radically reduced both the qualitative and quantitative balance of omega-3 fatty acids in the human diet. Now we have genetically modified foods. All these drastic changes in the human diet have occurred in less than two hundred years, which is an insufficient time for genetic adaptation to take place. As a result, people eating the Western diet are no longer consuming omega-3 essential fatty acids and other nutrients within genetically optimal ranges.
We know that all the essential nutrients are important for maintaining critical metabolic processes. These nutrient deficits are playing a major role in the deteriorating health of the American public. Two books—Pottenger’s Cats by Francis M. Pottenger, M.D., and Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price, D.D.S.—make it abundantly clear that an optimally healthy life is greatly compromised by a diet devoid of essential nutrients.
What does all this mean for us? Well, we can reduce or eliminate our dependence on grain consumption, especially processed grains in the form of pre-packaged food products, and see if some of our illnesses decrease. Grains, when consumed, easily convert to sugar (glucose) that, when not immediately utilized, is then stored in the body as fat. The American epidemic of diabetes, obesity, gluten intolerance, Celiac disease, Alzheimer’s, autism, ADD/HD, and major depressions, as well as many other illnesses, is now being linked to our over-consumption of grains.
Today we can replicate the successful evolutionary diet of our ancestors by eating exclusively grass-fed meat, sustainably fished “wild” seafood, pastured dairy and poultry products, organic produce, nuts, seeds, and berries.
Pauli Halstead teaches classes at “In the Kitchen” in Nevada City and is the author of “Primal Cuisine, Cooking for The Paleo Diet”.