In Part 1 of this article, we discussed the apex of musculo-skeletal hypertrophy in our evolutionary past: the Neanderthal. In Part 2, we’ll take a look at ourselves, Homo sapiens sapiens, and try to flesh-out some meaningful insights about evolution, brains, brawn, fat, and disease.
Let’s start with a Cliff Notes version of human evolution. While our family tree is far from crystal clear, there are tons of fossils stretching back millions of years. These fossils, littered remains of our past, can give us a very good idea of where we came from.
Of course, for those not quite sold on all the tenets of evolution, we’ll make a concession. Like the little pieces of evidence those crafty Crime Scene Investigators use to re-create events from the past, fossils offer clues, not conclusive evidence, about our own human past.
So yes, there’s room for interpretation. And yes, that’s likely why some people who haven’t had any anthropology training other than watching the Discovery Channel Caveman Special feel they know more than any “archaeologist” with years of “training.” Yet, in the end, what we’re presenting here about our evolutionary past is tightly based on science. Further, the prevalent theories in archaeology are the best working models, accounting for all the evidence found to date – which is considerable.
So, based on this understanding, let’s talk about what the fossil record tells us… about us. First of all, there is, at present, only one single species of human (although you might like to believe that certain people today are a sub-species of human – case in point, the hairy cretin in the locker room who insists on hiking his leg up on the sink and blow-drying his nether regions). This single species – our species – flourished for one major reason. Surprisingly, that reason had little to do with the human genome.
Instead, the modern human population is large and in charge because of our culture. Now, we’re not talking about culture in the tea party sense or in the reality TV show sense. Rather, we’re talking about the learned behavior, traditions, and ideologies developed by the ancients; all things that members of a human society must form to be successful – in both the conventional and evolutionary senses of the word.
So keep this in mind next time you consider evolution: our behavior, not our physiology, has ensured our survival as modern humans. Of course, our physiology did have something to do with it, but, in most cases, our physiology sets the upper and lower boundaries of our survival potential. Between these boundaries, culture separates the Darwinian zeroes from the Darwinian heroes.
Is That You, Ma?
With that said, it’s important to take a step back and consider where we’ve come from. To do so, let’s take a look at our closest living relatives – our cousin, the chimpanzee. Now, just like our cousin Betty can’t be our mom (well, in most states anyway), chimpanzees didn’t parent us.
In other words, we didn’t actually evolve from chimps. We do, however, share a common ancestor; and, interestingly, chimps have been evolving for just as long as we’ have! About 6 million years ago, the branch that eventually became Homo sapiens and the branch that eventually became what we think of as chimpanzees split off from another parent species.
Ever since this split, unlike the ape branch, our evolution has been anything but a straight shot. There have been several forks in our family tree, some of which were dead ends, others of which possibly interbred to produce modern humans. The figure below presents a simplified version of our evolutionary tree. For the sake of keeping things uncomplicated, there are many forks not shown on the figure.
Figure 1. The Human Evolutionary Tree.
Stand Up Straight!
The defining moment that separated humans from apes is when our means of locomotion changed from quadrupedal (walking on all fours) to bipedal (walking on two legs). This was a gradual process that happened over many millennia, not overnight. It wasn’t big brains or intelligence that kick-started our evolutionary trajectory, but rather our locomotion.
Beginning around 6 million years ago, the world became a much drier and colder place, and the vast forests that once dominated the entire African continent were gradually replaced by open savannas. Our ancestors were the ones who survived by coming out of the trees and strolling around the savannas.
It was well after our upright gait evolved that our brains began to grow. The first upright hominids had the same brain size as chimps, and the brain didn’t grow for a million or so years. Eventually, the brain started to catch-up to our human-like body, and with increased brain size came advancements in technology (first, stone tools, eventually weapons).
That big brain also afforded the mental flexibility necessary to survive a harsh life in the savanna, competing for resources with some big, mean Pleistocene predators. If you think life in the Serengeti is rough today, imagine it with saber-tooth tigers and leopards on steroids.
However, our ancestors were by no means predators. Standing between four and five feet high, they were no match for the big boys of the savanna. Before we developed the technology and skills that made us hunters, we spent millions of years as scavengers.
Instead of hunters, we were the hunted, and many of our unfortunate ancestors died in the jaws of large African predators. How do we know this? Hominid skulls have been found containing puncture marks matching the canines of extinct leopards. We were leopard fodder, not a pretty picture!
Yet some of our hominid ancestors would get their revenge, eventually learning to exploit leopard kills by climbing the trees where leopards stashed their prey and scurrying off with the scavenged remains.
It was during this time of leopard kill thievery that early hominids began eating a more meat-rich diet. This diet was obviously higher in protein and fat than their predominantly frugivorous (fruit-eating) primate cousins. Not coincidentally, increased meat consumption is correlated with brain growth in our evolutionary past.
Figure 2. Man the Hunted.
Use Your Head
Eventually, as brain size grew, these big brains permitted the fostering of strategies and technologies necessary to begin hunting on a regular basis. Now, when we say hunting, we’re not talking about the opportunistic hunting of small animals. For example, chimpanzees in the wild have been observed hunting colobus monkeys. Nope, we’re talking scheduled, frequent, technologically-assisted hunting . Bring on the beef!
Most archaeologists believe that regular hunting began around 1.6 million years ago with Homo erectus, the first hominid to migrate from Africa into Europe and Asia. For those of you keeping score, about 6 million years ago our ancestors were on all fours, eating fruit in the trees. Then, after about 4.4 million years of pacing around, scavenging for food and trying to avoid being eaten by bigger, badder predators, our ancestors finally started getting serious about eating meat on a regular basis.
Our Cave Dwelling Is Better Than Your Cave Dwelling
However, we must keep in mind that over the course of these 4+ million years, different populations became geographically separated and this separation necessitated different evolutionary tracts. As hominids spread throughout the Old World, populations became isolated in different parts of what are now Europe, Asia, and Africa. These different populations began to adapt to different environmental conditions.
Once the Ice Age began in earnest, hominids in Europe found it necessary to cope with an arctic environment characterized by harsh winters and large, angry mammals known as megafauna, such as the woolly rhino and mammoth. It was this European stock who evolved into Neanderthals. Other hominid populations evolved in Asia and Africa, becoming other versions of Archaic Homo sapiens adapted to different, less blustery conditions.
As we discussed in Part I, Neanderthals are so interesting because they were our most recent human cousins AND they were some of our most robust hominid family members. We know this, again, from the fossil records. Neanderthals had thick bones. As activity lays down bone just like it lays down muscle, analyzing skeletal elements, particularly long bones such as the femur and humerus, allows us to reconstruct the muscles that were once there. All of this translates into load-bearing, or how much and often they were lifting and carrying.
The main reason these guys had such thick bones and musculature is likely their hunting strategies. It wasn’t a cake walk being an Ice Age hunter. Megafauna didn’t just lie down and surrender… even the French ones. Those varmints needed killin’.
Ever read a South African newspaper? If not, here’s a typical story:
A worker in the northern Hluhluwe section of South Africa’s Umfolozi game park was severely injured when gored by a black rhino.
If you think rhinos are fierce today, their Pleistocene ancestors were almost twice as large, with at least twice the chip on their shoulder. Now imagine engaging in a battle of life or death with one of these beasts using nothing but your hands and a spear. Can anyone say functional strength?
Figure 3. Bring it.
Neanderthals Among Us?
As we’ve mentioned, just like we didn’t evolve from chimps, we didn’t evolve from Neanderthals either. Again, they’re just a cousin, although a much closer cousin than chimps. Anatomically modern humans first evolved in Africa around 200,000 years ago from a local stock of Archaic Homo sapiens.
The earliest modern humans were taller and more slender than Neanderthals (our cousins being a relatively short 5’5″) and other archaic humans throughout the world. However, as we’ll discuss, body types varied widely based on many lifestyle factors – just as they do today. It’s important to keep this in mind when some evolutionary nutritionist or fitness guru speaks longingly of the noble, lean, muscular savage and then tries to sell you his book to help you reach your physique goals.
Getting back to our evolutionary story, anatomically modern humans did eventually interact with Neanderthals. It took a couple thousand years but, eventually, anatomically modern humans began spreading out of Africa into Europe and Asia, coming into contact with archaic populations (including Neanderthals) in the process. Talk about culture shock!
So, with all of these sub-species and with their fated meetings, how did we go from these divergent human species to just one – Homo sapiens? Well, this issue is one of the most hotly debated issues in archaeology.
There are two schools of thought about the evolution of modern humans:
1. The Out of Africa hypothesis (a.k.a. “Eve” hypothesis)
2. The Multiregional hypothesis
Keep in mind that both camps begrudgingly agree that modern humans did first evolve in Africa. However, the Eve folks say that modern humans strode out of Africa, replacing every other population of slack-jawed archaic yokels–out-hunting them and out-breeding them. On the other hand, the Multiregionalists claim that there was independent evolution into modern humans in different areas of the world, together with some gene flow.
The Eve hypothesis folks use mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) to support their claims, suggesting that all of the diversity in mtDNA today (which is surprisingly well conserved over hundreds of thousands of years) can be traced back 200,000 years through the mother’s line to a small group in Africa. Given this scenario, Neanderthals are a dead branch on our evolutionary tree as they’ve contributed nary a base pair to modern DNA.
In contrast, the Multiregionalists claim that there was at least some Neanderthal-on-modern hanky panky, giving rise to hybrid cave babies and the mixing of archaic and modern genes.
Both camps have strengths and weaknesses in their arguments, and the issue is far from being resolved. But let’s not get too caught up in that debate. What’s important to this article is this: it’s clear that there was considerable variability in both archaic and modern human populations. Not all Neanderthals were lean and muscular, and not all early modern humans were tall and slender. This just makes good sense.
I Don’t Do Dodo
So to all you wanna-be evolutionary nutritionists – when it comes to evolution, species diversity is a safe bet. If there’s one thing that you can count on, it’s that the climate, and thus the environment, will change. If a species becomes physically specialized to exploit one particular environmental niche, it goes the way of the dodo when that environment disappears.
During the Pleistocene, the earth’s population grew to the point where people were competing for resources. Under these conditions, a person who holds less muscle, stores more fat, and minimizes physical harm with technologically-assisted hunting stands a better chance of survival than a stockier, more physically formidable person. And folks, those atrophied, fat carrying, technological-minded omnivores are us.
Now let’s be clear. Although anatomically modern humans were more atrophied than archaic populations in general, the earliest anatomically modern humans (pre-30,000 years) were no waifs, particularly those who intermingled with Neanderthals in Europe. Studies have revealed that the earliest European modern humans were nearly as robust as Neanderthals, and they started becoming more gracile (losing muscle and bone) only after 30,000 years ago. As mentioned in Part I, more muscle means more energy expenditure and, in times of famine, muscle is not economical.
Again, how can we know the relative sizes of our ancestors? A good skeletal indicator of loading patterns is the midshaft cross-section of the femur. The thickness and shape of the femur is partially determined by how much stress your quads and hams exert on the bone. Note that in the figure below, the cross-sections of Neanderthal femurs are semi-circular and robust, compared to the early modern human femurs, which were also robust, but tear-drop shaped.
This suggests similar levels of activity between Neanderthals and early modern humans in Europe, but differing types of activity. With more bone on the lateral portions of the femur, Neanderthals were more equipped for side-to-side movement. Compare the robusticity of Neanderthals and early modern humans in the figure to that of modern elderly population, and it’s easy to see how bones reflect activity levels and muscle hypertrophy or atrophy.
Figure 4. Midshaft femoral cross-sections of Neanderthals (left), early European Modern Humans >30,000 BP (middle), and modern elderly population in their 80’s (right).
Modern Humans – From Badass to Fatass
Take a stroll through a Starbucks and ask yourself how many of the grande half-caff, extra caramel mocha-sipping bipedal hominids could hold their own against a woolly rhino? Hell, most modern folks, if given just a loin cloth and a spear, would probably get owned by a testy squirrel in their own backyard.
Oh the humanity!
But give that same person a gun and the game’s over. With a high-powered rifle and some training he could bring down a black rhino from a safe distance. Take that you rhino-bastard! As mentioned earlier, often a species survives based on its culture, not its physiology. Technology has become the hallmark of our evolution as modern humans, and has allowed us to replace physical prowess with intellectual investment into technology.
In fact, one needs look no further than Central Texas (where we both live, shamefully, when discussing the case below) to witness the complete and utter separation of all physical danger from the act of hunting. In fact, you don’t even have to lift your ass out of your computer chair. Live-Shot, the brainchild of Texas entrepreneur John Lockwood, allows you to use your mouse as a remote control for a gun mounted with a camera, and pick-off anything from a blackbuck antelope to a wild boar.
Now a morbidly obese suburbanite can use a Remington .30-06 rifle to blow the brains out of a Barbary sheep from North Africa, which has been imported into Texas, all from the comfort of his own home in Ames, Iowa.
Figure 5. Which of you vermin needs killin’ today?
Our Nutritional Past and Present
Here’s a great question for you: if Neanderthals or early Homo sapiens had such good physiques, then why not eat like them so that we can be big and ripped too? Wait a second; is that even a good question? I mean, you wouldn’t be foolish enough to assume that it was the Neanderthal diet alone that made them so big and ripped? Would you? (please say no, please say no).
Of course you wouldn’t. (whew!) Yet with their careless interpretation of our past, evolutionary pop-nutritionists have begun to sell you trendy “paleo-diets” that suggest we should return to our roots and eat like cavemen. Why are people buying? Well, we think that they’re buying because they just don’t know anything about what our ancestors ate or why they ate it. So let’s clear something up from the start. There was no single “Paleo-Diet.”
Back in the day, humans ate whatever they could get their hands on. Seriously, whatever. Life during the Paleolithic was far from idyllic. People lived short, rough, smelly lives. They didn’t sit back and make food choices. Dahling, do you feel like the Beef Tar-Tar or the Chicken Cordon Bleu?
They ate what didn’t eat them. And since food surplus rarely existed before agriculture, what they ate depended on what was available in their particular locality. High carb, high protein, high fat, whatever. If it’s there for the eatin’, they ate it; and different populations had different dietary patterns.
Also, it’s important to keep in mind that there was no “Paleo Body Type.” There was a ton of variability in the sizes and shapes of our evolutionary ancestors, just like there are many physical varieties of people around the world today. Granted, people in the past didn’t have as many cheaply gathered empty calories as we have today. Therefore, it would’ve been hard to find lots of fat Neanderthals or early Homo sapiens. Yet there’s no question that there were a few fat people in the Paleolithic.
Need evidence? Well, check out the Venus figurines found spread–extensively – throughout Europe and Asia. Oh yeah, baby’s got back! These figurines have been dated at about 25,000 years ago. These accurate portrayals of “fat chicks,” well before the advent of agriculture, indicate that they must have seen fatties even back then.
Figure 6. Human variety, past and present. Homo erectus (A), Homo heidelbergensis (B), Homo neanderthalensis (C), Venus figurines from Europe and Asia, 25,000 BP (D), Modern Kung Bushmen, Africa (E), Modern Yanomamo, Amazon (F).
Now that these archaeological “truths” are out of the way, we can be a bit more open-minded about studying nutrition and the archaeological record.
What Healthy Ancients Ate
Make no mistake, people in BOTH the past AND the present eat whatever provides them with calories when they’re hungry! Put a starving Paleolithic man in today’s society, and he’d gorge himself on Twinkies and whatever else he could get his hands on, just like any one of us would do today if we were hungry (or, of course, if we had no self control).
Yet what was the diet of a successful Paleolithic person? Here are the basic elements:
Humans have evolved on a diet rich in protein since our humble beginnings in East Africa millions of years ago. As we mentioned, our earliest ancestors were scavengers who exploited the fact that the marrow from the leg bones of a single large animal provides about 1,500 calories of protein and fat.
Later, when hunting became more established, protein consumption increased, as evidenced by a particular nitrogen isotope, 15N, which increases as it passes up the food chain from plants to animals. Therefore, large amounts of 15N (found in bone collagen) reflects meat consumption. In some cases, Paleolithic folks apparently acted as top-level carnivores, almost exclusively eating a protein-fat diet.
But it is important to note that rather than this being the ideal diet many paleo-nutritionists are selling you, an almost exclusive high protein-fat diet was not the norm, and in fact is was a less-desirable diet than a well-balanced one. In fact, there is a whole school of thought in archaeology known as ‘nutritional ecology’, which states that people in the past who were able to exploit a broader range of food resources were healthier and thus more successful than people who ate the same number of calories, but from nutritionally-poor or restricted sources.
A broad-spectrum diet ensures a good supply of macro- AND micro-nutrients. In other words, a calorie is not a calorie, not then and not now.
2. Rich in whole vegetables, fruit, and nuts.
Our ancestors may have been big meat eaters, but they were by no means carnivores. Plants were eaten in abundance as evidenced by carbonized seeds and plant remains, microscopic remains of plants on stone tools, microscopic pollen and phytoliths, coprolites, and indirect sources such as skeletal pathology, dental wear patterns, artistic depictions, and ethnographic observations.
Vegetable remains are underrepresented in the archaeological record, because they are more susceptible to decay than, say, stones, or even bones. But in rare examples of extremely good organic preservation, it is an eye-opener to witness the quantity and diversity of vegetable food. For example, a 23,000 year-old fishing camp (Ohalo II) was recently exposed on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel due to a drought and receding water levels.
Water had submerged the site for most of its existence, preserving the majority of organic remains, including bones, wood, nuts, and seeds. Protein was definitely not in short supply, judging from the remains of fish, tortoise, birds, hare, fox, gazelle, and deer, to name a few. But the seeds of numerous plants, fruits, and nuts were recovered.
The occupants ate various edible grasses (wild barley), and wild forms of almonds, olives, pistachios, and grapes. This “broad-spectrum” economy is characteristic of our Paleolithic ancestors – contrary to the ideas of some evolutionary nutritionists recommending the elimination of almost all non-protein, fat, and veggie foods, including grains, nuts, and fruits; these recommendations are based on their limited knowledge of the archaeological record.
Of course, based on current science, we also know that wild plants contain antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and micronutrients that fill nutritional voids left by our modern diet, and decrease the risk for chronic diseases. These foods both filled nutritional voids present in the high protein and fat intakes of some of our ancestors and formed the bulk of intake in others.
Our ancestors had it right, though, as they ate a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Current studies have shown a direct correlation between the variety of fruits and vegetables eaten, and the benefits seen from the micronutrients. For those who justify a lack of vegetables in their diet by taking a multivitamin: sorry, but supplementing individual vitamin intake, as opposed to actually eating the fruits and vegetables, does not provide the same benefits.
3. Moderate carbohydrates from their original source.
If we can judge from modern hunter-gatherers, Paleolithic folks loved their carbs, too. Modern hunter-gatherers have been known to travel for days to find bee hives for honey. Once discovered, they will often gorge on pounds of honey; ingesting thousands of calories of glucose and fructose in one sitting. But the fact remains that throughout most of our past, simple sugars were hard to come by, at least by today’s standards.
Carbohydrates were eaten by our prehistoric ancestors primarily in the form of vegetables, fruit, and whole grains – that’s right, even before agricultural development. Most Paleo-diet folks will have you believe that carbohydrates and grains were virtually absent during the Paleolithic. Not so.
Again, the archaeological record shows much dietary variability according to where and when people lived. In fact, people in the Mexico Highlands ate a diet rich in primarily carbohydrates and fat, even before the advent of agriculture. At the beginning of the Holocene, they exploited the increased growth of wild plant life by gorging on acorns, squash, and other wild plants, while supplementing with occasional wild game.
Of course, grains were domesticated fairly recently by the first farmers in the Fertile Crescent around 10,000 years ago, and shortly thereafter in other hearth areas, such as the Indus Valley, China, and Central America.
The predictability of these food sources made them an attractive alternative to hand-to-hand combat with wild game. So humans began eating more of them. And perhaps this is where some problems arose. A diet rich in processed grains, at the expense of other foods such as lean protein, good fats, and a high fruit and vegetable intake, is a prescription for the metabolic syndrome that plagues western culture today.
A recent study looked at two groups of Shuar women in Ecuador. One group practiced a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and the other group recently switched to an agricultural lifestyle. Women from the agricultural group had higher leptin (a hormone correlated with body fat stores – more fat, more leptin) and plasma insulin levels, as well as more fat mass. In contrast, the leptin concentrations from the hunter-gather communities were found to be the lowest mean value ever reported from a population of healthy females.
There’s no question that our genes, if you will, dislike a processed, grain-heavy diet. And that’s a shame for our bread-loving friends as many folks, including the misguided ADA folks who established the recently revised yet still grain-laden food pyramid, have considered processed grains an essential part of a healthy diet. Not so – although some grains, the unprocessed kind, can be part of a healthy, physique enhancing diet.
Of course, it’s important not to go to extremes here. Just because diets full of grains (at the expense of other foods like protein, fruits, veggies, and good fats) are a nightmare for most folks, especially non-exercisers, we shouldn’t go as far as saying non-fruit and veggie carbs should never be eaten (as some evolutionary nutritionists do). Research has indicated that there are times when our genes do like carbohydrates that aren’t of the fruit and veggie persuasion. During and after exercise, our ability to tolerate carbohydrates is dramatically increased – even in type II diabetics!
Based on current literature, we recommend that foods like grains–even simple carbohydrates – can and should be ingested during and after exercise for optimal recovery and muscle gains. However, for the rest of the day, and on non-workout days, it’s best to get your carbohydrates from slow-absorbing and vitamin-rich sources like vegetables and fruits.
Whole, unprocessed grains, nuts, and legumes are also acceptable in moderation, as part of a well-balanced intake including protein, fruits, veggies, and essential fatty acids. But don’t go hog-wild on the grains. Your best bet is to follow the 10 Habits we outline in our Gourmet Nutrition book. These are:
1) Eat every 2-3 hours
2) Eat lean, complete protein with each meal
3) Eat veggies with each meal
4) Eat “other” carbs only during and after exercise
5) Eat a balanced fat profile containing 1/3 of each type of fat
6) Ditch the calorie-containing drinks
7) Use whole foods as your primary source of nutrition
8) Have 10% foods
9) Develop food preparation strategies
10) Balance daily food choices with healthy variety
4. Balanced Fatty-Acid Profile
Although prehistoric fat intake may have been similar to the modern western diet in terms of overall percentage of fat calories to protein and carbohydrates, the breakdown of saturated fatty acids (SFA), monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) was considerably different in the past.
In general, the ancient diet was richer in MUFA, with a better balance of SFA and PUFA. Most notably, the overabundance of omega-6 fatty acids, at the expense of omega-3 fatty acids, that we see in the modern diet has been shown to promote a blood fat profile in which “bad” cholesterol (LDL) is elevated.
In addition to this, LDL cholesterol is more prone to oxidation and, downstream, the development of coronary heart disease. Add to this the fact that omega-6 fats have been shown to be pro-inflammatory and you’ve got a pretty strong link between our current, out-of-balance fat intake and our high prevalence of disease.
The primary culprit for this imbalance is vegetable oil (e.g., corn oil), which is rich in omega-6 fats. Wait, didn’t prehistoric people in the Americas eat corn? Sure, but remember that unprocessed corn has very little fat per unit of weight. Corn oil is a hyper-processed product of our nation’s massive corn industry. Let’s put it this way: to get the same amount of fat from 1 tablespoon of corn oil, you’d have to eat 4 1/2 POUNDS of corn kernels. How many prehistoric people do you think had access to that much corn?
Not only is vegetable oil added to most foods during preparation, our feedlot animals (such as cattle) are fed the same grain fat, which is stored in their adipose tissue, and then transferred to us in the food chain.
Wild and free-range animals that feed on wild grasses have a much more favorable fatty acid profile, and thus are much healthier for human consumption. Further, domesticated (feedlot) animals have much higher proportions of fat in general, and saturated fat in particular, than wild animals. Wild animals almost always show a seasonal variation in storage fat, and even the very fattest wild land mammals contain 60-75% less total fat than the average domesticated animal.
Eat Like The Ancients?
So now that we’ve discussed our evolution as well as our ancestors’ dietary intake, hopefully it’s clear that invoking a “paleo” diet in the name of lean bodies, big muscles, and disease prevention is a bit misleading for the following reasons:
1. For starters, there was no “paleo” diet. The ancients ate what they could, when they could, where they could. Their (and our) genes were well adapted to a variety of dietary intakes. If there was one common “paleo” feature it was this – they didn’t eat processed foods or feed-lot animals.
They ate foods in their natural state with little processing and they certainly profited from this lack of “manipulated food.” Of course, we’d profit too if we’d stop being so lazy and start taking an interest in what we’re feeding our bodies. But come on now, do we really need to examine the evolutionary record to realize that Wonder Bread and McDonalds are bad for us?
2. Secondly, there is no single, big muscled, ripped-up, ancient prototype. Bodies in ancient times were almost as diverse as we see them today, outliers like Ronnie Coleman and the 1000lb man removed. Of course, in ancient times, bodies were shifted more toward the lean end of the spectrum as a result of 2 things: first – food scarcity, second – the high energy cost of obtaining food.
Eliminate our current food surplus and get us to move around more and obesity would disappear overnight. Again, it doesn’t take an evolutionary expert or a hunter-gatherer to teach us that eating less crappy food and exercising more means fewer fatties.
3. Finally, the lower incidence of disease in our ancestors was likely due to one or a combination of the following factors. First, they had a high fruit and vegetable intake and there’s a correlation between fruit and veggie intake and disease protection.
Secondly, hunter-gatherers were much more active than the cubicle-dweller and as activity levels are associated with disease risk, it’s easy to understand why our technologically assisted society is suffering at the hands of CVD, obesity, and diabetes.
Finally, early moderns simply didn’t live as long as we do. Many of our current diseases of aging begin to show up after our 30s. As the average age of our Paleolithic ancestors was 32, perhaps they simply didn’t live long enough to manifest the diseases of aging. Modern medicine allows us to live seven to ten decades when our ancestors couldn’t.
Yes, there were some Paleolithic people who lived well into their 40’s and 50’s, and yes, there were some Paleolithic people who clearly died of debilitating diseases, but they were not typical.
In the end, to attribute some magical, mystical, muscle building, fat reducing, disease preventing powers to the diets of the ancients is an oversimplification at best, and at worst, it is purposefully misleading people in an attempt to fleece them of their money.
The ancients lived completely different lives, lives that few of us today would choose if given the option. Therefore, rather than trying to mimic the ancients, we need to find ways to develop healthy lifestyle patterns relevant to today’s world. Sometimes there’s overlap. Yet there’s no need to try to “eat like a caveman” when you can eat like a healthy modern man instead.