The diet consumed by our Paleolithic ancestors could hold the key to better health and nutrition according to experts gathered together by Unilever.
Unilever has brought together scientists and experts in the fields of evolutionary genetics, anthropology, food science and botany to try to understand the foods that would have been eaten by cavemen two million years ago.
They believe that altering our diet to mirror that of early man could be the key to fighting diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
What Did Paleolithic Man Eat?
When we picture cavemen they tend to be sitting around munching on giant animal bones, but the fact is meat wasn’t the only food eaten by our early ancestors. Although they would have eaten meat and fish for protein, they actually ate a wide variety of vegetables and fruit as their staple diet.
We think we’re doing well if we manage to get our five portions of fruit and vegetable each day, but our Paleolithic predecessors would have consumed around 20 to 25 different varieties of fruits and vegetables each and every day.
Staple foods would have been seeds, plants, herbs, wild berries, roots, and pulses, as well as fish and meat. Their diet would have included far fewer carbohydrates and a lot less fat. They were also unable to drink milk as their bodies weren’t able to digest it.
The Evolution of Our Modern Diet
The foods that we rely on today and see as staple foods include cereals, potatoes, bread and milk, but these would only have started to be included in our diets 10,000 year ago with the dawn of early agriculture.
Although we have evolved and adapted to these foods, experts believe we may still be better suited to the diet adopted by cavemen. Just because our bodies have managed to adapt to a certain diet, does that mean it is really good for us?
Mark Thomas, professor of evolutionary genetics at University College London says “There is a mismatch between the diet we’ve evolved for and the one that we have. Ten thousand years ago, humans had access to milk but couldn’t drink it. We couldn’t digest it. Now we’re 100% adapted to a milk-rich diet.”
We also have a far smaller range of food varieties available to us. The crops we grow have been refined over time to allow us to produce them on a large scale for commercial gain, and very few varieties of cereals such as wheat and maize remain. As part of the Unilever research, experts will aim to discover the nutrients that were present in the numerous other varieties of cereal crops that we have lost over time.
Look Back in Time to Reduce Disease
The main message from the experts involved in the study is that we currently rely too much on carbohydrate rich foods, refined sugar, and dairy products, which aren’t naturally suited to our bodies, and that these can be held responsible for certain conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and strokes.
Reducing our consumption of these foods and introducing a greater variety of vegetables, nuts, fruits, pulses, roots and plants could be the key to combating the most prevalent diseases in the western world.
Comments from Dr. Esposito
The Paleolithic diet will not only help reduce many of the chronic health conditions rampant in our society today but it will also have a major impact on your hormonal health, your energy and your physique. Adding exercise to this style of eating will provide an amazing impact to your physique, helping you lose fat while gaining healthy muscle tissue.
It is important to understand that this diet is not based on consuming massive amounts of meat. As the article states they, “consumed around 20 to 25 different varieties of fruits and vegetables each and every day”.