The "Caveman Diet": Should We Try to Eat Like Our Ancenstors?
Were 'Cave-People' Healthier Than Modern Humans?
The answer to this question depends upon which people in each group we
choose to examine. Hunter gatherer societies that were still extant in modern
times and that were studied systematically appear to be largely free of many
of the modern age-related illnesses like obesity, diabetes, hypertension and
coronary heart disease, so it would be tempting to argue on this basis that
indeed hunter-gatherers are healthier, but one must be careful about
generalizing from a small number of individual people to the modern population
of the earth. It is certainly true that 60 and 70 year-old hunter-gatherers
don't get fat, but how many people in that setting actually live that long?
Hunter-gatherers don't tend to die from modern age related illness, they tend
to die from far more traditional causes like starvation, traumatic accident,
infectious disease and so on. Lest our modern focus upon diseases of affluence
narrow our perspective, we would do well to remember that the average
human lifespan in American society is above 70 years whereas the average
lifespan of ancient humans was likely less than 30 years.
Is There Evidence That a Caveman Diet Is Healthy?
As I have said many times throughout this website, nearly ANY diet that
causes weight loss will prove healthy for modern Americans, so yes, because
this style of diet is a low carbohydrate diet, it will promote weight loss and
therebye likely improve health. But remember, this is true of nearly ALL diets
and that in the end, effectiveness alone is not the best way to judge a diet.
One must actually be able to live that way in the long term and in the real
world. Remember that agriculture, the simple idea that not eating every seed
in sight but instead saving a few and putting them into fertile soil next spring
to guarantee more seed next summer-- this simple idea changed the world by
enabling humans to protect themselves through planning for the future.
Agriculture led to the first villages and permanent human settlements which led
to government, money and above all, free time for a few people who then
invented writing, tool-making, copper smelting, engineering and medicine. The
last ten thousand years of humans on Earth have allowed us to become the
dominant species on the planet and to live far longer and better on average
than any hunter-gatherer could have possible imagined.
So is a caveman diet healthy?
Meh... it doesn't really matter because we're not cavemen.
One of the strongest arguments in favor of low carbohydrate diets is that our
hunter-gatherer distant ancestors almost certainly had very limited access to
carbohydrate and that therefore because of hundreds of thousands of years (if
not millions) of evolution our bodies and digestive systems are best adapted to
low carbohydrate diets. The most extreme example of this approach may be
the so-called "Paleolithic Diet" or "Caveman Diet" which argues for eating as we
believe ancient hunter-gatherers ate.
How Exactly DID Cavemen (and Cavewomen) Eat?
The simplest answer to this question is that they probably ate what was
available to them that required the lowest amount of energy and risk to obtain.
Obviously, climate and geography (location) must have played a big role in
food choices so that people living in a rain forest likely ate more plants while
people living in, say Siberia, ate more meat. With this likely variability as a
caveat we can say this: hunter-gatherer diets were far higher in fiber, leafy
greens and whole fruits than modern diets. They were also likely higher in
animal protein (including insects) than most diets today. Because, by
definition, hunter-gatherer societies preceed agriculture, one major dietary
difference stands out: 'cavemen' ate far less carbohydrate than modern
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