Looking to our ancestors for lifestyle evidence

Asking the big question: What is the natural human diet?

There is a lot of debate about what the correct / natural human diet is. This isn’t surprising, because humans live all across the world in everything from ice and snow (the Inuit) through the Africa and Australian deserts. We’re very adaptable, and clearly very flexible with our diet.

Until very recently with the development of supplements that enabled the arrival of the modern vegan diet in 1944 (which is not even a blip on the scale of human history), no human society on earth has evolved or subsisted on a completely animal-free diet. All societies and cultures consume and use animal products to greater or lesser extents, and the vast majority consume animals as a significant part of their diet.

Furthermore, as more than 90% of human history predates agriculture and the advent of farming, humans developed as hunter-gatherers, and I believe it is safe to say our bodies and brains naturally evolved and are suited to this lifestyle.

Farming is very recent to humanity. Agriculture is believed to have been developed about 10000 years ago in the area that is now Israel and Syria. China is believed to have developed rice cultivation approximately 6000 years ago. By comparison, anatomically modern humans have been hunter-gatherers for at least 200,000 years. Some societies around the world never developed agriculture and are still hunter-gatherers.

WHAT DO HUNTER-GATHERERS EAT?

Hunter-gatherers eat by consuming wild animals and plants, and do not generally have a fixed meal routine (i.e. three meals a day, eating a standard number of calories every day).

Their nutrition is very seasonal, their food is local, and there are often significant differences between the periods of feast (particularly in spring and summer) and famine (in autumn and winter).

Contrary to common beliefs, archaeological and modern evidence suggests human hunter-gatherers were and are, for the most part, well nourished and well fed, rather than starving.

Typical foods for human hunter-gatherers include large game animals, seafood, nuts, eggs, fruits and insects.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM ALL THIS?

We can learn the following from all this:

  • Physiologically speaking, human bodies are primarily “designed” for hunting and gathering, as for more than 90% of our history this is exactly what we were doing.
  • All human societies included animal products in their diet. Typical animal foods included big game, seafood, eggs and insects.
  • Some human societies, such as the Inuit, consume virtually no plant-based foods yet remain completely healthy, which indicates that plant-based foods do not have to be the core of the human diet.
  • Hunting and gathering included irregular eating, periods of fasting (no eating) and no set meal schedule.
  • Food was seasonal, local and unprocessed. Fruits in particular would have been available only seasonally.
  • The foods of farming (bread, cereal crops, grains, processed sugars and refined oils) came much later on and much more recently.
  • All hunter-gatherer societies included significant movement in their lfestyles, but none needed to go to a gym to keep fit and well!

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