What really was the caveman diet?
The caveman diet has been a subject of intrigue in the last few years, particularly as we know our genes belong to the Paleolithic era. But recent research does away with the myth that our early ancestors were hunting big game and eating huge quantities of red meat. In addition to significant amounts of fish, shell-fish and birds, we appear to have had a high plant based diet eating at least 55 different plant species per week.
It’s likely that in our ancestral past, we made the transition from apes to human at the interface of land and water. This suggests that traditionally living tribes were more often fishermen-gatherers than they were hunters. And the explanation for this is that hunting is a difficult practice and therefore would not have offered a reliable source of food.
On the other hand, most vegetable foods were available all year round. Taking modern-day tribes such as the Tanzanian Hadza as an example, we know that they still subsist in this way. In addition, being by the waterfront would have given our ancestors access to fish and seafood and on land they would have been able to catch birds. The beauty of protein that comes from ‘swimming and flying’ sources is that it is high in protein and healthy fats such as the anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids.
Modern lack of variety
In our ancient past we would have consumed an enormous variety of vegetable foods. Our genome has gradually adapted to the fact that plants have been the basis of our diets. The problem is that in the past two to three generations we have been increasing our consumption of refined foods such as bread and bakery products.
Plant food variation has been on the decline since the advent of agricultural revolution 10 000 years ago. This is considered a contributing factor to most modern day chronic disease. To make things worse, processed meat (bacon, ham, sausages and salami) and refined fats (vegetable oils and margarine) have now become a staple in our diet and do not promote good health.
Over-consumption of grains and cereals is a problem for our waistline and our health. This is because whilst they may be energy dense they are not nutrient dense and many people tend to have a sensitivity to gluten and other proteins in gluten-containing grains.
Legumes such as kidney beans and pulses such as lentils can also cause problems if consumed frequently in large amounts. They are embryos that ensure the survival of the plant. To this end, they contain plant chemicals called lectins that are designed to stop predators from eating them by damaging their insides. When we eat them, lectins can prevent us from absorbing certain nutrients and they can irritate our gut contributing to a syndrome known as leaky gut. If they are an essential part of your diet, they should be prepared carefully to ensure they do not cause inflammation in your digestive tract.
On The In-Sync Diet we use current knowledge in evolutionary biology as the basis for our dietary recommendations. And we go even further than this because we look at the timing of food in relation to exercise to benefit your genes and promote health.