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The Evolution of Diet 281

An anonymous reader writes Here's a story from National Geographic that looks at the historical diets of people from around the world and what that diet might look like in the future. From the article: "So far studies of foragers like the Tsimane, Arctic Inuit, and Hadza have found that these peoples traditionally didn't develop high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, or cardiovascular disease. 'A lot of people believe there is a discordance between what we eat today and what our ancestors evolved to eat,' says paleoanthropologist Peter Ungar of the University of Arkansas. The notion that we're trapped in Stone Age bodies in a fast-food world is driving the current craze for Paleolithic diets. The popularity of these so-called caveman or Stone Age diets is based on the idea that modern humans evolved to eat the way hunter-gatherers did during the Paleolithic—the period from about 2.6 million years ago to the start of the agricultural revolution—and that our genes haven't had enough time to adapt to farmed foods."
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The Evolution of Diet

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  • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @06:47PM (#47752285) Journal

    So far studies of foragers like the Tsimane, Arctic Inuit, and Hadza have found that these peoples traditionally didn't develop high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, or cardiovascular disease.

    What's the obesity rate in those populations vis-a-vis the Western World?

    Anecdote time: My family has a history of heart disease and diabetes, largely self-inflicted via eating ourselves to death. My blood markers (fasting glucose and cholesterol) follow my weight, up and down. Weight loss brought them into the normal range; dietary changes made no discernible impact whatsoever. I eat all the things that are supposedly bad for you, refined carbs, alcohol, greasy foods, and so on. The difference between me and the rest of the family is I exercise self-control and keep my net calories to a reasonable level. Reasonable ranges from 2,000 on days of doing nothing to >5,000 on days with mega hikes or long runs.

    People need to stop buying into fad diets and nonsense theories. Barring allergies, most humans are fully capable of assimilating anything they throw at their GI system. Exercise some bloody portion control and get off the couch once in awhile. The rest will take care of itself.

  • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @06:48PM (#47752297)
    It's like calling modern man "manhattanman" because a fraction of the world's population lives in Manhattan.
  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @07:18PM (#47752505) Journal

    It's funny, funny strange not funny ha-ha, but increased longevity enables us to die of more cancers and organ failures than our generational predecessors were allowed.

    That's correct kids... dying slowly at eight-five is a luxury.

  • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @07:21PM (#47752519)

    Inuit in modern Canada eat less walrus and drink more beer than Inuit from three centuries ago.

    There lives were even shorter three centuries ago. Their low blood pressure and lack of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease may have had something to do with their diet of walrus blubber, but it just as likely was due to their lifestyle of long distance kayaking and aerobic snowshoe journeys across the ice pack. Chinese peasants also have low blood pressure and little cardiovascular disease, yet they eat a very high starch diet.

  • by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @07:31PM (#47752591) Journal

    So you're saying, eat less, exercise more, and do it for the rest of your life?

    You'll never sell that. People want to know what magic food you can eat that will make the bulge from all the cheetos go away. Telling them to eat fewer cheetos only makes people hate you.

  • Keyword: Believe (Score:3, Insightful)

    by roninchurchill ( 2991659 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @07:58PM (#47752745)

    "A lot of people believe there is a discordance between what we eat today and what our ancestors evolved to eat"

    "The popularity of these so-called caveman or Stone Age diets is based on the idea that modern humans evolved to eat the way hunter-gatherers did during the Paleolithic..."

    The emphasized words sum up the evidence backing up a "Paleo Diet"--it's a belief system, not science. We have a bevy of research to support the health benefits of foods such as legumes and whole grains and barely a scrap which suggests they cause harm. Is there a chance some future research will demonstrate that whole grains and legumes cause health problems that more than offset any potential benefits? Sure, but there's also people holding out for proof that homeopathy works.

    I'm not saying you can't eat a Paleo Diet and be perfectly healthy, I'm just saying that it's pseudoscience based on an appeal to wisdom and an appeal to nature. We might also argue that humans haven't had time to evolve for wearing clothing (based off low circulating vitamin D levels) and that therefore we should definitely stop wearing them, and there is a similar paucity of research. Suffice to say: it's not science, it's a pure-and-simple belief system.

  • Re:Citation Needed (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 25, 2014 @08:04PM (#47752773)

    I think we need a new rule in science. Nobody should be allowed to cite an experimental research paper unless the experiment was independently duplicated, or the paper is directly relevant to duplication of that experiment.

    I know it would be a huuuuugeeeeeee burden, but I imagine that in a few years time science would become more efficient and faster at churning out useful research.

    I know this will never happen. It would result in significantly fewer papers being published, which would undermine career trajectories.

    But the current state of affairs is hardly any better than citing to Wikipedia.

    Not that I dislike Wikipedia. I think it's one of mankind's most amazing creations. People who criticize Wikipedia tend to overestimate the rigor behind "real" scientific literature. That fact that somebody bothered to cobble together a nice looking P-value does not magically make the research better. In fact the obsession with P-value, as opposed to actual, independent duplication, has been a serious detriment.

  • by dasunt ( 249686 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @08:14PM (#47752851)

    Speaking of the idea that we haven't evolved for the modern diet, what about modern exercise, or lack thereof? It's only been in the past few generations that a large percentage of the population have had a mostly inactive lifestyle. We sure didn't evolve under these conditions.

  • by avgjoe62 ( 558860 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @08:20PM (#47752903)
    I'm willing to bet that those "...losers who have nothing better to do with their time than putz about the countryside" still lead a better life than some lardass troll that has nothing better to do than sit around in their Mom's basement and make asinine comments on /.
  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @08:49PM (#47753113) Homepage

    Actually, that's not quite true. Having an extended family (ie, grandparents) has been noted in many cultures to afford a survival advantage. It allows for more education time, more time for other family members to get food and shelter and allows for skills to be honed and passed on. So humans may well be different in this respect although extended social groups are found in many animal genera.

  • by Loki_666 ( 824073 ) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @01:40AM (#47754277)

    Actually, that comment just added nothing, ill give an example.

    My mother in law is obese. She suffers from problems with her heart, her thyroid, and a leg joint problem (because after all, those two stubby legs are trying to carry the weight of an elephant).

    Doctor has told her she must loose weight, and they can't do anything about her leg until she does.

    All she does is consult doctor after doctor until one gives her a new pill to try, because she doesn't want to actually do anything to get healthier, she just wants the pills.

    When i try and encourage her to lose weight instead, she points to her illnesses and says she can't exercise because of them.... she says this while sat there drinking coffee, snacking on chocolates and other high fat foods.

    In other words, she doesn't want to expend any real effort or change her diet in order to achieve a longer life. She expects miracle cures, even though none have been forthcoming. She simply blames the doctors and looks for a new one.

    If she doesn't change her lifestyle, i'm estimating she will be bedridden within 5 years and dead within 10, whereas if she put some effort in, she would have a chance of living a lot longer. She just isn't willing.

  • by countach ( 534280 ) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @02:50AM (#47754455)

    It's not so much "the pinnacle of evolution" (whatever the heck that means), but rather the diet that we were evolved to eat. Many animals are evolved to eat all sorts of things that we are not. We would die quickly if we ate what they ate, and they would die quickly if they ate what we do. But the point is, we should eat what we're evolved to eat. That's probably not coca-cola and crisps.

  • by Philus ( 58941 ) <steigre@@@fikas...no> on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @04:37AM (#47754765)

    Want to see some deeply flawed studies and legislation processes? Look up Ancel Keys, how his research into fat/cholesterol as a cause of heart disease formed the basis of the McGovern committee's reccomendations to cut saturated fats and eat more "healthy whole grains". Or something along those lines.

    "we Senators don't have the luxury that a research scientist does of waiting until every last shred of evidence is in." ~ Senator McGovern.

    The link between saturated fats/cholesterol and heart disease have yet to be proven, despite billions of dollars spent on studies for the last four decades.

  • by Brulath ( 2765381 ) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @05:09AM (#47754839)

    The foods our ancestors consumed don't really exist anymore. No, really, that broccoli you're eating didn't exist back in their times, and the ancestor of the broccoli plant that they ate bears little resemblance to the vegetable today. They didn't eat fatty cuts of meat, they ate super-lean meat when they could catch it. They didn't eat onion and garlic fried in olive (or coconut) oil. If they found carrots, they weren't anywhere near as large, sweet, or nutrient-rich as the ones you buy in a supermarket. Here's an archaeologist talking about it [youtube.com].

    So given that we can't eat the diet our ancestors consumed, why discount an enormous range of foods that we have created because some others we have created (through very selective breeding) evoke some "natural" ideal? It's not difficult to argue that eating excessive quantities of deep-fried starchy food is bad for you, but that's not cause to throw out grainy breads as well. You can try arguing that coconut oil is good for you, but there isn't enough research on the subject available to conclusively decide one way or the other yet - or we would've decided already.

    The argument that you can eat "what we evolved to eat" is an appeal to nature [yourlogicalfallacyis.com], essentially. It's not possible to eat what we ate 150,000 years ago without putting a lot of effort into finding some really crappy meals. Paleo is a fad diet which may not be harmful, but its rules are as arbitrary as any others.

Mathemeticians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes. -- Richard Hamming