Paleo diets have become all the rage, but is this way of eating based on fact or fiction..?
With more than half the American population on a diet, people are crying out for a healthier way of eating.
In recent years, we have seen a huge surge in the amount of self help books that recommend we return to diets of our ancestors, but what exactly were our ancestral selves dining on?
Anthropologists have spent years examining the eating habits of the past, and as expected, opinions are divided. Some put forth the argument that we obtained most of our nutrition from gathered fruits and nuts, with animal protein being more of a treat than an everyday reality, whereas others will have us believe that we were big bad hunters who only supplemented our meaty diets with a small serving of berries on the side.
Fortunately, new research holds the answers to what Paleolithic diets actually were, and you might be surprised at the findings.
We get a much better and more rounded view of what our predecessors ate when we stop focusing on one individual set of ancestors and start considering the question in a bigger, broader context.
It all comes down to the gut and the colon. Carnivores have huge, smooth stomachs which turns prey into protein, herbivores have dense stomachs with hair-like villi and bacteria that aids in the breakdown of plants, ruminants like cows have a kind of giant fermenter which produces specific fatty acids that they can use and store, and others scarcely have stomachs at all with fermentation taking place in a greatly enlarged large intestine.
Human guts, on the other hand, are surprisingly boring, yet interestingly remarkably similar to those of orangutans and chimpanzees (with some rare exceptions). So what do other living primates with guts akin to our own eat? The diet of nearly all monkeys and apes are simple. Fruits, nuts, leaves, insects and on occasion the odd snack of a lizard or bird. Primates have the capacity to eat sugary fruits, leaves and meat, but meat is rarely consumed, if at all.
The majority of food eaten by primates is vegetable, not animal, and research suggests that it’s been that way for the last thirty million years. To put it simply, our generalist primate gut is primarily made to eat plants, and in essence that is what the Paleo diet truly is. We might have unique immune systems, brains and even hands, but our guts are nothing special and for tens of millions of years they have been filled with fruits, leaves and on occasion a piece of raw meat.
Maybe our ancestors weren’t 100% vegetarian, but they certainly weren’t the carnivorous caveman that we are led to believe.
When trying to find the perfect model of eating, there are so many factors to take into account and this newest study only brushes up on them. There are the differences in our digestive system, the evolution of our bodies in order to adapt to diets heavier in animal protein, and of course the processing of food, but with that being said, there is no arguing that with all the studies available to us.
It is clear to see that a vegetarian diet is healthful, and that the more fruits, vegetables and plant-based foods you consume, the more benefits you will reap.
Photo Credit: Andrew Morrell Photography